With this background, I was quite certain that the "defects" in this photograph were not technical ones. This was my first trip to see Sai Baba, in December, 1978. In every photograph I took of Sai Baba, he is almost completely blacked out. Likewise, every photograph of Sai Baba and even the temple or mandir had the dark streaks pouring in from the top of the photograph.
I shot about eight complete rolls of film that year in India, taking a great number of photographs of the Indian people . . . from Puttaparthi (the village of Sai Baba's birth), to Bangalore, the Garden City of India, to the smog-filled New Dehli. The Indian people are often very dark-skinned people, but every other face I photographed turned out "picture-perfect." Only photographs of Sai Baba turned out to be essentially blacked-out. During my second trip to see Sai Baba in 1981 the same thing happened. In 1983 every photograph of him turned out well, even those in which he was in the shade and there was not enough light to hope for a decent picture.
Every little miracle of Sai Baba's has a deeper purpose, and I knew what the meaning of this photograph was for me. I had come to India in 1978 for one reason, and that was to see if Sai Baba really did all the miracles that were said to occur around him. I did not go there, as many do, to deepen their spiritual path, to feel more peace and love, to become a better human being. Those deeper experiences came later for me. I had, what is called, a "dry Western heart." What Sai Baba allowed to be printed on this film is all I really could see spiritually, namely the darkness. I was not ready for the Light.
During that first trip, when I first looked into Sai Baba's face and eyes, what I saw scared me. I saw myself reflected by at me like no mirror could ever do. And so, this photograph also reflected back the darkness within me.
In 1983, as I sat on the grounds of Brindavan, Sai Baba's ashram near Bangalore, I looked through the lens of the same camera, the same Miranda DR that I was using in seventh grade at Track-and-Field Day, and I knew almost with a certainty that the photographs would turn out fine. When I looked through the viewer, the light falling on Sai Baba appeared Heavenly. I remember saying to myself, "He's allowing me to photograph him this time." Indeed that was the case and every photograph turned out all right, although from an artistic standpoint only one or two were really good photographs.
This miracle of Sai Baba blacking out photographs is not new. In the 1980's the BBC (British Broadcast Company) came with a large film crew, photographed Sai Baba for a week, returned home and found that there was not a thing on their film. Completely useless filming.
Sixty Minutes, the American television program, once sent a message to Sai Baba asking if they could film them. Sai Baba replied, "No they cannot film here. They are not interested in the truth." (note: This story is third-hand information, and while I believe it to be true, I would have to give it about a 50% reliability rating.)
A final note. I finally retired my Miranda camera, bought a Nikon which I
took with me to India in 1986. That was the last time I ever brought a
camera to India. There was no need for me to continue hauling equipment
overseas. And more than that, there are thousands (at least) of very high
quality, beautiful photographs of Sai Baba that one can purchase."