“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt.

Why do we take photographs? To document? To record? To cherish a memory, or as a key to the past… time travel, you see? And in worst case as evidence or proof. Right? For those of us who have difficulty with words (and even for those who have a way with words), it is easier and far less cumbersome to explain events through photographs. Ever heard of Instagram?

What would have we done if we had lived in an era where there was no Instagram or even cameras? Answer would be painting, yes? In most cases, we wouldn’t have painted those ourselves. Rather, we would have hired a painter. If we take out the elements of imagination and creativity, the primitive instinct which drives this behaviour is our propensity to record the events around us.

That, my friend, is the primary motive behind visual art! That’s where it all started.

Wait! How old is visual art?

Hold your breath!

The oldest existing painting is at least 40,800 years old (El Castillo, northern Spain). The oldest surviving examples of paintings in the Indian sub-continent are at least 30,000 years old, in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the Vindhya range in Madhya Pradesh, India. These rock shelters are believed to have been continuously inhabited right up to the medieval period. And the same primitive instinct which I mentioned earlier, was the driving force behind the paintings of Bhimbetka, for close to 30 millennia.

The procession (see photo) was one such event of ancient India, which the dwellers of Bhimbetka recorded. The painting is that of a royal procession, with possibly a very important figure seated on the decorated horse at the front. Some say, it is the royal procession of Emperor Ashoka, himself. Even I believe so, for three reasons. First, for the dwellers of Bhimbetka to depict something, it had to be an extremely important event. Second, Ashoka was the governor of Vidisha during the reign of his father, Bindusara, Emperor of Magadh. Vidisha lies about 90 kms north of Bhimbetka. And third, this painting dates back to the classical period which starts sometime around 3rd century BC, about the same time as Ashoka.

Now, go back up and the read the quote by Elliott Erwitt, while looking at the painting in the photo. Do you understand why we take photographs?

I got to confess, if not a photographer and a storyteller, I would love to be a historian. But wait, in a way aren’t historians storytellers too?

In frame: The Royal Procession, Rock shelter no. 8, Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, India

You can read more about Elliott Erwitt here.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

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Written by Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

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