Friday, May 30, 2008

Picture this

What possible good can come of this? I'm being asked this question by a lot of people. Sometimes I feel they'd accept it better if we had organised for a tailoring training session or even a handicrafts workshop. But digital cameras? How will communities use this skill in the long-term?

One year ago, we did a small experiment with a group of slum children and cameras. During a discussion on photographs I was asked to explain why I liked a particular picture. After I said my piece, the girl sitting next to me, turned around and said "you know, I'd have liked this picture better if the flower in the foreground took a little less space in the frame".

At that moment it just didn't matter that she came from a slum and I didn't or that she was 11 years old and I was older, or that her mother tongue was Urdu and mine was not - what mattered was that we were talking as two people interested in photography - talking as equals, each with a point of view derived from the skills we had acquired as amateur photographers, me from an institute and she from the photo workshop that was being run by Kathryn, a volunteer from the US.

For me that's when Freedom of Expression was born The F.O.E team in action

The spirit behind FoE has never been to create a link to earning a livelihood. If that happens, brilliant. But what its main intention is, is to be an equaliser. By making the camera accessible, by demystifying it, it becomes one less thing that’s a divide between us and them.

I have in the past enrolled myself in salsa classes, my friends are learning foreign languages, some have joined bird watchers clubs and others join up for treks - these decisions haven't always been made to enhance our professional or earning capacities. But personal, yes, definitely. They are new exciting skills to have and they make you say 'hey I didn't know I could do that, but I can!'.

They've opened our eyes to a lot experiences, made us feel more connected, enhanced our feeling of belonging to a world that does these things. And we are definitely the richer for it.

This is exactly what a digital camera is doing in the life of a child or a man or woman from a village. It's giving them an opportunity to experiment with something new, something exciting so they too can say 'hey, I can handle this!' and they can feel the power of achievement.

FoE is training children from slums in Hyderabad. Villages in Sheopur Madhya Pradesh (near the chambal valley), tribal farmers in in Araku valley who are growing organic coffee, men and women (from extremely patriarchal villages) in Punjab and women farmers and self-help group member in Nagaland.

None of them have ever held a camera in their hands because no one gave them a chance to, or even thought that this could be something they'd like.

We are hoping they do.


F.O.E halts at Sheopur

Yess! The Freedom of Expression team made it to Sheopur, despite all the logistical barriers such as flight and train delays caused by the Gujjars-in-Rajasthan-strike.

But sometimes it's worth taking the effort reaching a destination despite all the roadblocks. Like when you recieve a heartwarming welcome from sweet, sensitive little children.

One can be even more elated at the sight of children with an infectious ebullience and who are in an on-the-mark-get-set-go-mode holding steel plates with nimble hands containing the red tika and fresh flowers to welcome YOU! JUST YOU!

About the programme: Day 1 of the 6-day workshop went on well. All the 12 participants who will surely transform from photo enthusiasts into amateur photographers by the time you read the next blogpost are running short of words to describe their joy on being photographed and on getting an opportunity to photograph.

Now, back to the picture. While, master photographer Rajendra Shaw and the F.O.E team were excited about the grand welcome they recieved, for us, it looked if children were apparently preparing the ground for Shaw to pass on the baton!!? Or so it seemed. *Sigh*

P.S.: Wonder what Shaw's thought bubble was at the moment? Wait for the next post.

Until then, even you can think about it :-D

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thus spake the pigeons...

Date: 24 th May, 2008
Location: Chowmahalla Palace, Charminar

He: There are some visitors.

She: I hope they wont disturb us.

He: Yeah. We had trouble yesterday.

She: I just can't do it in front of such a curious bunch!

And they flew a split second...thinking photographers Akhil, Sara and Gopinath will look at the pigeon shit on the ground near the lawn!!!!

[Thoughts of 11-year-old Sara, one of the child photographers, as told to the blogwriter]

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy days!!!

Does time fly when you're having fun with the camera? If not, you have an about-to-retire camera. Or you do not know its operations exactly. Or hate photography (watta readin' on this blog anyway?!)

The last 6 days (since this very blog and the project got kicked off) seem like the shortest in our life. Rather, we'd say, time flies like a piece of fruit! Yup!! More so, if you are a child seeing, holding and experimenting with the camera for the first time in life.

After having plenty of fun, laughter and learnings, it was time for the 16 children attending the Freedom of Expression programme in Hyderabad to bid adieu. Here's what they had to share at the end of the 6-day workshop.

M Vineetha, Std V: "I ate, drank and slept photography all 6 days. Will you teach us next summer too?"

U Gopinath, Std V: "I want to be a photographer. I know, I am going to be one."

B Venkatramana, Std V: "It was so thrilling to hold the camera and click pictures. This is the best time I ever had in my life."

Arshad, Std V: "I want to make films when I grow up."

Bhavani, Std V: "I never thought of taking so many pictures. Or holding the camera. I visited places that i never heard of."

Little wonder, it's a great learning indeed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Through an artistic third eye...

Photographer: K Padmaja
Class: Std V
Location: Church, West Marredpally

See the picture. What comes to your mind first? Ok. Hang on. Before you think and transform your thoughts into words, we will share with you thoughts and words that sprung from the photographer's brain and jumped onto this blog *gee*

For Padmaja, this image is an intersection of two objects where the tree with full of life is calling out the lifeless building to enjoy the seasons of the sun. "They also seem to be close friends and enjoy rain and sunshine equally every year. Being there. Together. All the time," she says.

Come to think of it. Just an 11-year-old but so much interpretation per frame!!! We wonder, if Padmaja's inherent thoughts and intrepretations are nurtured by the workshop or if the workshop is allowing wonder kids to look through an artistic third eye.
Guess, there's an intersection. *Sigh*

Now, back to what you think. Let's not dabble about technicalities here. And if you have better words to explain the image, do leave it in the comments section.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Crowds don't bug photographers...

Ameena, Std V, showing her work to the subject

When the master photographer Rajendra Shaw decided to take children out to shoot the streets and shopping lanes of Charminar, we were a bit skeptical. The busiest bazaar that it is, children will get distracted. Crowds will interrupt our budding photo enthusiats. We relented nonetheless. But it was only when we got there that we realised how children with their polite requests sought permission to shoot, managed to move unwanted crowds and eventually got their frames right.

Little wonder, it's not the crowds that bug photographers. It may be vice-versa :-)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No kids stuff...

Meet N Akhil Kumar, Std VI, Government Public School, Mustaidpur, Hyderabad. This 11-year-old first took the tutor's picture the moment he laid his hands on the camera. "I'd like to take Sir's picture so that i can remember and also tell people who taught me photography," quips Akhil.
And guess what Akhil wants to capture through the lens? Monkeys!

While we were racking our brains identifying a location where we can get him the subject of his choice...Akhil, with a composure cool as a cucumber, gave us the clue.

"Teacher, why do i need real monkeys when my friends out here can pretend as good as simians!"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just born!

Yay!! We are just born. Both the blog and the project. We believe in photography. Totally. Whoever said, life is not worth living unless there's a camera around... well we don't deny that *gee* All of you who were either photographed or clicked a few pictures - if you liked them is a different matter altogether - know that photography is great fun. Yet, a powerful medium.

Freedom of Expression - a first-of-its-kind project initiated by Naandi - is a blissful marriage of both fun and funda. We are empowering underprivileged children, rural men and women across 5 locations in 4 states to express their hopes and aspirations, share glimpses of their lives and times through this alternative approach.

In the subsequent posts, you'll find loads of interesting experiences from the participants - who rarely had an opportunity to be photographed and who'd seldom clicked pictures so far in their lives.

Our current mood quotient: Excited!
So wait to hear more from us.
Until then...have fun.