Teaching Photography – A Humble Start.

So it finally happened. Thanks to Priyanka, for her leadership and the just do it attitude that we successfully conducted our first photography workshop today. It was a humble start. About 8 people showed interest, 4 registered for the course, 2 finally turned up :). Yes! there were two instructors and two students. In the end there were 4 satisfied souls. If you are reading this blog because you like photography – here is the pdf for the Photography Tutorial ppt (~8MB/88 slides) for you. We decided to make the presentation available online. Most of the content is self made, but we have taken some content from here and there, most of which are cited at the end. If you are interested in photography workshops – Yes, we are going to conduct more of them in future. Please email us if you are interested and we will keep you updated on it. Perhaps, you are here because you like reading what I write :D, if that infinitesimal probability event has happened then please read on.

Imagine standing at a beach. Seeing the waves hitting the shoreline, you want to get into the water. But the water is cold. Not freezing cold, but cold enough to be a deterrent. You know once you get in, your body will get used to it, but thinking about the first few steps makes you shiver. The workshop started on a similar note for me. I knew four of them had registered (over the phone) but since there was no registration fees, I was not sure how many would turn up. Priyanka was managing the registration, so I asked her, picking her up, how many are coming. She said Suraj called to say that he is. Atleast one was coming :)! …and that she is positive about Vijay too. That makes it two! Last night I had a feeling that one would be one too less for the workshop, so the figure of two was perfect. We started at around 10:15 in the morning. The first half hour went into introductions and talking about what is photography, its history, some nice anecdotes. Enough to warm us up. The pleasure of teaching kicked in. It was nice to see that they seemed happy to hear these tid bits about photography. Next, we started of talking about compositions. The basic guidelines in composing a shot – lines, shapes, angles, perspectives, color, etc. Its always fun to analyze aesthetics.  Aesthetics being at complete odds with logic in general, the idea of “analyzing aesthetics” is an oxymoron itself in my opinion. Nevertheless, there are certain basic guidelines that somehow work on average. This was kind of evident when the participants got back, after an hours worth of shooting, with the shots they said they had taken keeping these concepts in mind. Some of the shots which broke those rules, the participants themselves found to be little unpleasant.

It was getting a bit too hot and the midday sun being a bit too harsh we decided to head to Studio Chhavi for the rest of the session. The next part dealt with knowing the camera. Having being using the camera for the past six years, I had become quite comfortable with the basic concepts. However, teaching them transported me back to Spiti valley (Himachal Pradesh, 2004) when I first used an SLR camera. It was a completely manual camera, with the light meter broken.  So all the shots I took I had to ask Vishnoi and Archisman (who knew these basics) to tell me what setting they think would work for the given scene. Some of them worked some didn’t, but the joy of using a camera that had no battery, the joy of controlling the ISOs and the Apertures and the Shutter Speeds was a joy in its own right. Something similar happened at the workshop. Vijay and Suraj had heard these terms before but were completely unaware of what they meant. Once they began understanding them, their joy of understanding photography was clear in their enthusiasm to experiment with their cameras. For the next three hours we kept on going around the fundamentals. I realized that there was much more in the presentation that we could have covered today, so we decided to move about half of the material to an advanced class. Having a strong foundation in the fundamentals (Compositon, Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, Focus) is the most important aspect of the basics of photography in my opinion. So, we concluded with some knowledge about post-processing and how its not “cheating” to post-process the images (really its not, upto a point you think its not). Some display of our work and we ended on a note which felt like they were interested to come back for the advanced class. I think I like teaching.

Return to India – Why did I?

Now the post title is a big clue as to what this post is about – my returning to India. Lets get some facts out of the way first. I was in the US working on my doctorate for the past six years two months and few days. I am in India right now. Its not been even 24hours that I arrived.

My decision to come to India probably happened sometime last year. I dont know the exact date or even the month, as it was a gradual thought forming process, but by the end of last year I was pretty sure I wanted to come back to India. After that it was more of what I would be doing in India and getting that sheet of paper that says that I am done with school in US. So another fact is that I graduated and will be joining Yahoo Labs as a Scientist in Bangalore. I will start on the 5th of Dec.

But this post is not about facts, its about fact finding. The genesis of this post was probably few minutes before landing in India. I happen to have a seat besides Sabine – a student from Denmark who was doing her studies in psychology and religion living in Benares. That and the ever pressing question that I had to confront these past few months – Why are you moving back to India. Well, you must be wondering how does Sabine come into the picture. Not much relevance, just that in all of my air travels, ever, this was the first time I had an interesting neighbor to talk to, which I wanted to document itself and that she also reminded me of my reasons to come back, which is when I thought that those reasons need documentation in a blog.

Now, the simplest and the truthful answer to the question – Why am I returning to India is – I just feel like it. It truly is just a feeling that is bringing me back, not a concrete laundry list of reasons. But me being me, I cant allow myself to think that I just acted on feelings alone. So this post diggs into that feeling giving/finding reasons to legitimize it.

Let me start the first reason with a quote.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
–T. S. Eliot

Before elaborating on this, I have a disclaimer – this is a romance which is being presented as a reason, and I fear being judged, by you and by myself, on not being able to fulfill the romance in future, but then that is the reason for this post too, a constant reminder for why I acted against the flow. So the romantic reason behind the feeling is India itself. Growing up in India, everything was assumed to be the norm. The culture, the thought process, the people, the strife, the joy, the food, the sights, the everything – to me, as I saw it, was the only possible way it could be. I did not have a perspective. Its like I was in a maze, the way out I knew, but did not know the beauty of the maze itself. That you realize only when you see other mazes and start to appreciate the subtle differences that sets them apart. Earlier for me India defined the only possible maze. But then looking upon India from a view of being in the US, made India much more interesting. As T.S. Eliot puts it, I have come back to know the place for the first time. This ‘should’ manifest itself into reading more about India, its history, its current culture and traveling to more places to see, maybe the similar sights that I saw before, but now in a different light.

The second reason, is that I feel India at heart. No, that is not from a patriotic point of view. I do not wish to defend India, or argue for it, it simply means is that I am more comfortable and can relate to the culture of India. I tried molding myself into the American culture, but America for me just remained a learning ground. It taught me things that I would have never learned in India, infact for that matter anywhere else in the world. But India I think I carry it everyday. I feel that I belong to the unorganized, the chaos of India. I know it comes with its added disadvantages – the traffic, the pollution, the adulteration, the social chaos, the information chaos, the wannabe chaos – and frankly this is what I fear might turn my decision sour, but then I am depending on getting used to it in a while.

The third reason — now as I write it, I am not sure if this should be made public, but its more beautiful and more truthful to share it, so be it — is that I can get more for the same amount of hardwork in India than in America. Now, lets be academic and accept it is all about demand and supply. In America the demand for Phd’s is quite high, so is the supply, with the latter being in excess. In India, the demand compared to America is much less, but then the corresponding supply is much less further still. So, being a Phd in India puts you at a better balance of the demand and supply seesaw. Yes, its a bit of escapist attitude, but honestly so.

The fourth reason, without the need to elaborate on, but still requiring a mention is, family and friends.

So begins Incredible India! Reloaded!

Beauty! but then… what about Truth!

“It is complete”, they said. They were confident. Confident of knowing it. “But how could it be complete, with all those holes in the edges”, he thought. It did not seem complete to him. The holes were bothering him. Like an earworm, it was stuck in his head and he could not get it out. It played repeatedly, “how could the jigsaw puzzle be complete with all those holes in the edges”.

When Khalil was six years old, he had found a little piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Then, he did not even know what a jigsaw puzzle meant, but he was happy to see the mysterious picture his little piece begot. The mystery amused him. It gave him joy to think about the myriad things it could be. As time passed by, he found other pieces. Some pieces were given to him by his friends, some by his relatives and some others he just picked from here and there. Initially he did not know what to do with those pieces. All of them had a fragment of a picture, each painting a mystery of its own. But slowly he learned; he learned that if a piece had a hole, another piece will fit the hole, and their edges would match too. His joy had taken a new form; the joy of mystery gave way to the joy of structure, the joy of creation. It brought him sublime satisfaction to see two pieces fit together; to see from two random fragments, a structure emerge.

But that was almost fifteen years ago.  The structure that had given him joy all this while was his concern now – he was out of pieces to add to his puzzle. There were a couple of pieces that he had, but those did not fit anywhere in his puzzle. This is when he started asking around, and They said, “It is complete”. The extra pieces were deemed superfluous, purposeless. And why shouldn’t they be. The picture seemed complete without them. There was no need for more pieces and they were confident of it. Khalil was not satisfied. “How could the jigsaw puzzle be complete with all those holes in the edges”, he thought. But he knew it was futile to tell them. Most of them would not understand – for them, the holes did not matter because all other pieces were fitting so well. And those who could, did not care – they were happy with the image that they saw. A beautiful image indeed it was. But Khalil understood and he cared. No, he did not want to be different or anything, he just wanted to complete his jigsaw puzzle. Worship of beauty was what he believed in, but for him beauty was no substitute for truth.

Khalil tried to look for more pieces that could complete his jigsaw puzzle, but not to much avail. Sometimes he did find a piece or two from people he did not even know, but none of those pieces fit his puzzle. This confounded him even more. For one, he could not believe what They proclaimed – that his puzzle was complete. To make it worse, he was left with few fragments that did not fit anywhere in his picture. “Maybe there is another jigsaw puzzle somewhere else. Perhaps, if I travel I could find an answer to my puzzle”, he thought. And so he decided to step out of his well and experience the world. With his beautiful yet, to him, an incomplete puzzle he started his voyage. A step at a time, he kept on moving. Crossing the seas, he kept on moving. Walking the land, he kept on moving. And along he met more of Them. Some of them took no notice of Khalil and his jigsaw puzzle; they just passed by as if he was but a small inconsequential pebble in the rivers of their lives. Some others stopped their flow for a moment and were intrigued by his jigsaw puzzle. They exclaimed that they had never seen anything like that before, but then moved on. The unfamiliarity of the picture scared them. But sooner or later, he found one among them who resonated with his quest to complete the puzzle. Who themselves had some pieces of a puzzle and had figured out how to connect them. They were happy to share their knowledge and pieces with Khalil. He found comfort in the fact that he was right – the jigsaw was indeed incomplete.  The pieces he found made his puzzle grow. He found pieces that were a perfect match to his holes in the puzzle. Most of the times these new pieces had holes in them too, but sometimes he found a piece that were unlike any he had seen before. These pieces were smooth on one side. It finally seemed to him that his puzzle could be completed.

After about six years, he had found all the four corner pieces. He had most of the edge pieces too.  Although some pieces were missing, but it was not the lack of these pieces that bothered him anymore. He was confident that with a little more effort he would find all the pieces. He knew truth was by his side now. But what about the beauty. The beauty of the picture that was borne by the connected pieces of the puzzle. A hideous picture it came to be. The sweet surrealistic image of his yesteryear puzzle was now enveloped by an ugly tyranny of incongruous images. So much so that even his original little image danced at the inharmonious tunes of the bigger picture. It was a mockery. A mockery of life. How could, why would, anyone ever make a puzzle so grotesque and then let someone build it, only to realize how grotesque it is. All these years he was hoping to soak in the beauty of his completed jigsaw, but here he was looking right through his darkest truth. There was no beauty in the puzzle. Perhaps, They were right all the time – the puzzle should have been deemed complete when its beauty shone through. Perhaps he should have listened to them – stayed back and enjoyed like everyone else. Perhaps, some of them knew it, the completed puzzle would be ugly. But then… But… He took a long deep breath. Perhaps he shall someday be wise enough, to see the shining beauty of even this dark truth. And he moved on.