By His Example
The Wit and Wisdom of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
PORTRAIT FOR THE BOOKS
I acquired price lists of various 35mm cameras, including the Pentax prices that interested Swamiji. I submitted these to him, and he accepted gracefully. I watched him scrutinize the lists. Then he put them aside on his desk, looked encouragingly at me, and said, "Brahmananda has asked that we make one portrait photo for our books." He held up a letter and tossed it into the air for me to catch. By Krishna's grace I caught it deftly. The letter from New York requested an official formal portrait that could be used as a frontispiece in all published items. As I handed the letter back to Swamiji, our hands touched, and I felt the warmth of his comfortable and protective touch.
"Do you want me to take the photograph?" I asked.
"Here is fine. Is that all right?" he asked.
Since I had lived at the Swami's Willard Street apartment before him, I knew when and where the sunlight best illuminated the back room. I also knew that Swamiji's morning schedule was taken up with writing, a massage around 11:30, followed by a bath and lunch. After this, he would take a short twenty- to thirty-minute nap (even with this nap, he slept only three-and-a-half to four hours in every twenty-four!)
Upendra told me that the best time for Swamiji would be at four in the afternoon, and this was fine with me because the light was good at that time in the late afternoon, softening everything into a pastel, velvety glow. The back room facing the ocean was well lit, and I could use available natural light, which was softer and less shadowy than artificial light. I arrived at 3:45 P.M. to find everything already prepared -- Bhaktivedanta Swami was to sit on a mattress covered with a tasteful madras.
He came in smiling and, like a nesting bird, gracefully sat down on the cushions. The flowered early American wallpaper behind him was distracting, as it was too busy and would take away from the portrait. At first no one moved. Then Govinda dasi went out to search for something in another room. Swamiji took off his charcoal-gray chaddar (shawl) and asked, "Will this do?" Even though I thought that a white background would be best, this was what Krishna had supplied, so I agreed to try it and secured it to the wall with pins.
I was anxious to complete the session as quickly as possible so as not to inconvenience the Swami, whose time was so valuable. He sat with his right hand in his japa bag and started to chant quietly. Then he motioned for the three Srimad-Bhagavatam volumes to be placed to his right side. In one camera I had a few color exposures left, and in another I had loaded black-and-white film. Swamiji watched as I took the light meter readings and, by the look on his face, it seemed as if he wanted to come over and play with the light-meter again. He remained seated on the mattress, however, as I staggered the f-stops (used different lighting sequences) so I would be certain that at least some of the photos taken would produce good negatives. I included some close-ups taken from the ground so that his compassionate face looked down upon me, blessing me. I was so taken with his mercy that I had difficulty functioning. When I developed the black-and-white shots and printed them, they all were sharp. A smoky golden aura, a special light, emanates around Swamiji in these portraits, instead of the charcoal-gray of the chaddar hanging behind him.
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