Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Alone Ranger

S Is For Solitude

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


This shot of the Rialto against the Melbourne sky was taken in 2006 - and I guess it’s a good way to depict this week’s theme of solitude. Until Eureka Tower was opened just across the river, the Rialto was the tallest building in Melbourne and this frame of the distinctive building was my way of capturing its lonely splendour against a striking sky.

When I was a cadet journalist in Calcutta, I worked under the editor and author M. J. Akbar, who began editing "Sunday", the national magazine, when he was still in his late twenties. The magazine was slanted to politics, news and current events, a perfect mix for a vibrantly democratic media in the post-Emergency era.

On one memorable occasion, Akbar decreed that the magazine was to be edited, in his absence during a brief overseas trip, by his good friend, the poet and film producer Pritish Nandy who would later move to Bombay/Mumbai to successfully edit The Illustrated Weekly of India. After that success, he moved on to the role of publishing director of the Times of India group before founding Pritish Nandy Communications.

Nandy declared that "Sunday" would be running a cover story on the theme of "loneliness". I blinked. I was surprised, but I was not alone. Every member of the editorial staff seemed puzzled. Why would a magazine, whose readers expected a weekly diet of politics and news, suddenly deal with what seemed to be such an ephemeral subject?

But I was a cadet, remember. And this was a learning curve, remember. Nandy asked the brilliant New Delhi-based photographer Raghu Rai to send him a selection of black-and-white images to go with the cover story.

The upshot? Simple. The magazine's mailbag was overflowing. The cover story touched a chord in the hearts of hundreds of readers from all round the country. I guess that was the day I learnt that there are other things – apart from headlines, deadlines and breaking news – that matter to the readers.

Solitude is an amazing thing. We all crave it sometimes - but we never crave too much of it. So often, in everyday life and in corporate halls, we hear the phrases "give me some space" or "I need time out" or "I’ll get back to you". So many of us seek "our space".

But do we truly revel in being alone? Truly? Probably not, but I'd like to know what you think.


I took this shot (above) in a Montreal park in late 2005. I used a Canon EOS 3000 and it’s interesting, in retrospect, to note that I only shot one frame. Across the street from where I stood was a man on a bench. He sat alone, and whether or not he had a companion elsewhere in the park, I could not tell.

I didn’t want to encroach on his space as he delved into a paper bag containing his lunch. His clothes were well worn but not threadbare. He was unshaven and his hair was long. Like most human beings, he probably had a poignant story to tell. But all I did was frame him on film, enshrined in a cathedral of ancient green trees. Maybe if time wasn’t so tight, I would have said "G’day" and asked him if he was lonely and sat and chatted to him for a while.

Many times since I was blessed by becoming a parent, I have played the card game Uno with my children. Solitude is a fleeting theme in this grand game, where the object is to get rid of all your cards before anyone else, and where the word "Uno" (Italian for "one") must be spoken aoud before playing your final card.

But there are many types of solitude, most of which we do not seek. There is even medical solitude, which I would not wish on anyone. I saw one of my parents ravaged by Alzheimer’s. That’s not solitude. That is loss. Everybody’s loss. And I really mean everybody.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

31 comments:

aims said...

As with Nandy - you have got me thinking on this one David. And you snuck in so many different ways to go about it!

I think I could write reames on this one....

Charles Gramlich said...

Some great work has been done on the theme of loneliness.

polona said...

well, i know i need solitude as long as it is not a permanent state. being constantly in the company of other humans drives me crazy.
love your shots and story behind them

Kathryn said...

I think we only ever really want to be alone when we know we can't be. Otherwise being alone gets old.

Love the shot and the story.

Cuckoo said...

Oh oh you know almost every high profiled person in India !!

Very nice story David. And that up shot to describe lonliness ? Raghu Rai is my fav. too.

I think there is a fine difference between loneliness and solitude. Correct me if I am wrong.

Cuckoo

Max-e said...

Interesting post David. I guess man is a social "animal" and therefore likes company. I certainly enjoy the company of other people, especially my wife. I draw a distinction between solitude and loneliness.
Solitude is when I disappear for a while to be on my own. Just to have some time out or do what I want to do - on thise occassions I don't need people.
Loneliness for me is that craving for company, when none is to be found, even in a big city, when surrounded by a multitude of people.

Ida said...

I think that everyone needs solitude from time to time.
A break.
That`s necessary, i think.
As long as we know that there are someone to come back to.
Many times we don`t reach out to people who really needs others.
They are feeling loneliness....

Great story David!

My S

Sandy Kessler said...

We crave solitudde when the "world is too much with us" but know we are in trouble if left to mind's tricks when alone toooooo much.

imac said...

Great Post and photos and story Tonto er sorry David.

pop and see my viking with his sword and shield.

Cowgirl said...

Strangely although I was so often very lonely as a child, I now relish alone-ness. I don't think I could ever have too much solitude - I'm quite reclusive.

Other people's (possible) lonliness upsets me greatly though - and the photo of your man in the park touched me. Sometimes I see an elderly person walking along alone and something about their air can reduce me to tears - it's so tangible...

leslie said...

A poignant post on the subject of solitude for S-day. My mother, also, was ravaged by Alzheimers and the disease causes a ripple effect in the lives of everyone connected to that person. I do like being alone most of the time, maybe because my work entailed being in charge of so many children and having to deal with parents, administrators, and colleagues from sunup to sundown. However I really am a very SOCIAL person and need my regular dose of time to chat with others. Solitude does not, though, necessarily mean loneliness. In fact, I think that's the actual opposite of solitude. Solitude refreshes and rejuvenates and helps one to look inward before turning outward again. Thanks for your perspective on this and the story about your learning curve as a reporter.

John said...

Very well written post, David!
Great shots and the story behind them.
Have a nice wednesday!

Sharon said...

This is a very thought provoking post. I particularly liked the picture of the man on the bench.

Solitude and loneliness. I like coming home from school and being by myself, sometimes I crave it.I'm never lonely when I am alone, but I know that family and friends are just a phone call. That has to make a difference, knowing there are others nearby. I can't imagine being in this world without any friends or family. I've seen it happen to people, though, mostly in nursing homes.

andrée said...

This is a side of you, David, that I haven't often seen and it's lovely. I require a lot of solitude but loneliness is something I have had enough of and it isn't going to go away. It's difficult to learn how to live with it. I think that is why blogging appeals to me so much. In my classes I am with people every moment yet have no one to talk to. Except here.

Travis said...

This is a timely post for me. I've been exploring the meanings of the words alone and lonely recently. I think we all need some alone time, but as we are social animals we generally limit the time we spend alone to guard against becoming lonely.

CrazyCath said...

Wow David, you really DID learn on that curve didn't you? That is quite a powerful "S" post. Brilliant photography as always, but what a theme. I agree that solitude is often sought - sometimes needed - but I certainly would never wish for too much of it. We are sociable creatures and need companionship to survive (imho).
Solitude is a punishment - hence solitary confinement. If God meant us to be solitary creatures, he would not have made Eve(and then told us to "multiply".) Medical solitude is the worst - from experience (thankfully brief compared to some permanent states like Alzheimer's) and in hospital is the pits. My weekend wandering post touches on this a bit - have you seen it yet?

My "S" is up too. And I too have played Uno many, many times!

willow said...

Too much of a good thing is not always best. An overdose of solitude can lead to lonliness. Just ask me, I know. WT travels extensively and I can be a tad lonely at times.

Uno brings back fond memories! Our kids loved it, too.

alicesg said...

Nice post David. Yes, it is sad to witness a loved ones losing their memory. My late paternal grandmother was forever doting on me, can you imagine how sad I was when she cant recognize me. I have two sons and I had to learn how to play the board games called RISK...hahaha...but most of the time, I had to deliberately lose the game cause the game is taking too long to finish and I had to cook dinner...hahaha

Katney said...

You say he is "enshrined in a cathedral of ancient trees". Inotice it is a gothic cathedral.

Rhea said...

Uno is also "one" in Spanish. We play Uno a lot here also.

Valtool said...

I wandered over here from the Wordless Wednesday home page. I may have to make sure I return. I like your style.

Rhea said...

I think we all crave the CHOICE of solitude. When the choice is taken away is when it becomes too much. :o)

Alzheimer's is such a disturbing disease.

Lovely post.

Picturing of Life said...

love ur 1st shot and the story...

Mine in here Thanks

Akelamalu said...

There is a wealth of difference between lonliness and being alone. The latter I can cope with the former absolutely not. :(

A very interesting post David.

Daryl said...

Ah vant to be alone .. like Ms Garbo?


:-Daryl

Pernille's ting og tang said...

Very nice post! The text is very interesting and the photos are very nice. But the fist one is heavenly!

Have a nice evening:)

Louis la Vache said...

Solitude is not a theme "Louis" would have thought of for "S" Wednesday - so "Louis" is glad you did. It made "Louis" pauce and think. Excellent choice.

Petunia said...

Nice story and a great choice for S.
Love the pictures and the words:)

Gary said...

Stunning shots as usual.

Gary

Liz said...

My favouruite is the photo in the park.

I do like solitude. Just me and the dog. Preferably round the cliffs walking by the sea.

Dragonstar said...

Solitude calms and refreshes, loneliness is hell, Alzheimer's is worse than hell.