The Great Demystifier | a review of Rabari - Encounters with the nomadic tribe

If we were suddenly filled with the urge - or the financial means - to go back to the moon, we could probably take the photography books published in the last three years, stack ’em in a great big pile and climb our way up. The amount of material out there is just staggering.

But while there is no shortage of engaging and detailed technical expertise, I often find that many of these publications perpetuate the dreaded myth of “minor adjustments”. As in: “we lit our subject with this super-duper-biga$$-mega-octa and after a few minor adjustments… Here’s John Keatley’s portrait of Annie Lebowitz.” Hmm…

I have two problems with this: - It creates false expectations with regards to the super-duper-biga$$-mega-octa. - It makes you feel pretty crappy when you’ve shelled out the big bucks for that super-duper-biga$$-mega-octa and aren’t getting anywhere near the same results. Moreover: it can make you believe you’re somehow doing something wrong. Or need to spend even more hard-earned money on even more gear.

Fact is, depending on the style of the final picture there’s usually a bit more than just minor adjustments involved. Post is part of the process of modern photography, indivisible. No matter the equipement.

Just before the holidays I received a new ebook to review from Light Stalking: Rabari | Encounters with the nomadic tribe by Mitchell Kanashkevich.

The book is billed as part of an “insider series to travel documentary photography” and it certainly lives up to that claim. It’s also a first for Light Stalking and more of these guides are apparently in the works. Refreshingly, beyond the simple guide paradigm, Rabari is also a great “demystifier”.

The layout follows a strict, repeating structure and while this could easily become tedious, it doesn’t. It offers a very clear and concise framework that allows for easy referencing and a quick assimilation of certain key concepts. For every single picture there are clear sections outlining background information, objectives, light, moment/pose, composition, challenges and the “what” and the “why” of post processing.

On this last point Kanashkevich says: “This sub-section is all about demystifying the idea that the photographs you see come out perfectly, directly from the camera. Post-processing is an integral part of each photograph. Our cameras have limitations - colors often don’t come out as richly as we saw them and the tonal range that the eyes see is simply impossible for the camera to reproduce. I always shoot with post-processing in mind and my primary aim with post- processing is to make the image on the screen match the image that I saw with my eyes. Keep this in mind when looking at this section.

Seeing this raw output, the straight capture alongside the final edit is a great way of grasping the process that images undergo. It’s a look into what post adds to the mix, how it enhances a good capture to make it stand out. The author also covers all aspects of his journey, how he dealt with local communities and cultural barriers. He gives insightful background on the thought process behind each image, includes lighting diagrams… the works.

We even get to see several of the takes surrounding each final select. I always love seeing these. I’m a sucker for contact sheets and the old work prints of famous photographers. It just shows how obviously subjective our final choices are. We all possess our own vision, our own baggage, background and agenda that shape how we edit our shoots, what we choose to show in the end. All the images in the book are beautiful and extremely well-crafted but I sometimes found myself preferring some of the alternate takes, as I often do, simply because they spoke to me on another level. For instance, I tend to prefer subjects who look more sullen or appear to be doing something else, in the midst of an unfinished action. I tend to move towards interstices.

There’s no right or wrong. It’s all part of how we see and interpret the world around us. So I always feel privileged when I get to see another photographer’s outtakes — in a strange way it feels like a tiny glimpse into that person’s makeup, the beginnings of understanding through selection and omission.

Rabari ticks all the technical boxes and will certainly feed all your EXIF hunger, but in the end what remains is the portrait of a culture in the midst of change, the documentation of a disappearing way of life through one photographer’s eye. It’s a journey well worth sharing that bodes well for the upcoming series.

Rabari | Encounters with the nomadic tribe is available in PDF format from Light Stalking (through e-junkie).


One issue: I didn’t talk about price. The book is $24.95.
To be perfectly honest, I do have some concern about that and would feel awkward not mentioning it just because I was graciously given a copy. Let me be clear: it’s a very good book filled with beautiful photography and insight. But I do find that price to be a bit steep, especially in light of other titles out there, notably from Craft & Vision. This is almost what I paid for Joe McNally’s Sketching Light, hardcover and shipped. And that one’s 400 pages.

Now, I’m sure the folks at Light Stalking did their math and aren’t trying to pull a fast one. I have no doubt they’re just trying to be fair to everyone involved in this project. Books are a lot of work and digital distribution doesn’t change that fact. Still, I do have to wonder if this is a good strategy going forward. Hopefully it will be. For me it certainly highlights the difficulty of pricing digital books in the first place.