August 13, 2009: (Session 6)
Charged with the experiences of the past week, the participants were ready to share their thoughts, ideas, observations with the group. While most of them had penned their thoughts neatly, it was interesting to note that they had made varied observations and the trip alone had revitalised them. Ravi asked if anyone would want to share the trip's experience with everyone, and he picked the reticent Raheema to begin with.
Raheema, who often shies away from talking, said that it was her first trip ever to an art gallery and the experience was something that she had not imagined. “There were some paintings which we had not understood, but after looking at them keenly, it was pretty simple to see that the painters wanted to communicate the ideas of peace and violence, but they said it in their own creative way.”
Naheeda had written her own essay about the trip last week, right from the point where it began to where and how it ended. “At the entrance of Jehangir Art Gallery, I noticed a family portrait and it humbled me immensely to see the contribution of a family to something like art.” She went to add about her understanding of some of the painting that were stuck in her mind. “I was sad to see the first painting which depicted Gandhi with a gun – he fought against non-violence all his life and a gun took his life. On the other hand, I saw that the painter wanted to show that Mother Teresa and Jesus wanted to communicate something to the children, who were wrapped in layers of newspapers.” Naheeda also expressed her delight upon seeing the paintings which were a riot of colours.
Naheeda added that the black and white photographs of some filmstars at the Bodhi Art Gallery were a refreshing break from the more popular colour and glamorous photographs of those stars. “When we went to the Centre for Performing Arts (CPA) and saw some fantastic photographs of Mumbai by Mukesh Parpiani – water logging in the city, the Ganpati pandals in Matunga, a train accident, a street child sleeping on the footpath near a car in South Mumbai, Mukesh Ambani's wedding function, a sadhu with sword who was seen talking to a cop with just an umbrella in his hand – the photographs were very gripping and we could identify with them. We had some good snacks and then even had good fun at Marine Drive,” she said.
Reshma said that she was enamoured to learn about the hard work that would go into making one painting by any painter. “I was enthralled to hear that the painters would put in 3-4 days for a single art work and would even forget their meals because they would be so engrossed with their work. It is also interesting to see how these artists express themselves through colours.” Reshma said that when they walked into the Goethe Hall, she firstly keenly observed Rekha and only later began to look around at her paintings. “Rekha said that she was 55 years old but she had a very elegant and confident poise that defied her age. The colours in her painting reflected the happiness and sadness in one's life, and how women get in and out of sticky situations through their lifespan. Even her husband's photographs of clouds were enchanting – while we think of taking images of what we see on the ground, her husband climbed up many miles ahead and has done an amazing job. Rekha had also painted a picture of her guru which she had kept it separated from her paintings which were on display for the exhibition. I think that act was wonderful for Rekha showed her respect to her guru by not keeping it along with the other paintings,” she said.
Reshma continued to elaborate on what all she had seen the previous Thursday and remarked about Parpiani's photograph which depicted the stock market crash: “He had torn an umbrella and through the torn section the BSE building could be seen. I quite liked that idea. I also felt honoured that he gave us his time and spoke to us well, besides providing some good snacks.”
Ayesha said that she would want to say about something that wasn't spoken about by anyone until then. “Each one of us enjoyed our freedom at Marine Drive. We weren't stopped from doing anything at all and we didn't want to get back home too. I too go to Chowpatty alone when I'm feeling low, but this time going to the sea front with so many people only heightened the pleasure. When Sudharak made us all walk together while we bent and took our photographs, we felt as big as those celebs whose photographs he often clicks. We were at once, at par with those celebs and this is one feeling that I will forever treasure,” she said.
Concluding the talk on shared experiences, Farhat said that almost all the participants had no exposure to art, and so the trip was an eye-opener. “In the photographs taken by Sudharak and Ravi, which were earlier shown to us, we could see the life of the aam aadmi, and his tribulations. But in Parpiani's photographs, we mostly got a glimpse of the high-society, the city decked up during festivals or politicians. That made me wonder – do you as photographers have your own freedom about what photographs you can take, or are you dictated by certain norms laid down by the organisation you work for? Editorials reflect a newspaper's identity, and I wanted to know how does it work with the decisions taken for publishing photographs.”
Priyanka decided to reply to that question, stating that today, news is just another business which is dictated by market forces. “A media house will refrain from writing or airing negative news about a certain company, simply because that company advertises with the media house. It is sad that when the incidents of farmer suicides were heard about a decade ago, there were just about 3-4 journalists covering that issue. It was happening at the same time of the Lakme Fashion Week, which was being held for the first time in India. However, there were more than 200 journalists covering that event. The priorities of media houses have changed; they will follow that path where there is money. They do not care about real issues really,” she said, adding that reinforcements of repeated truths and reality was needed to set an agenda for the masses.
After the discussions were done, Ravi announced that the cameras would now be distributed among the participants. He showed them the slick cameras, and asked Priyanka to demonstrate how it needs to be used. After the demonstration – about switching the camera on and off, zooming in and out, clicking on the right button by pressing on it for over 3 seconds to take a photograph, viewing the photographs that had already been taken, and deleting the unwanted photographs – Ravi decided to call out to any participant to voice out her confusion about using the camera.
Paigumberi said that she was a little confused, and this led Ravi to invite her to demonstrate the use of the camera, as far as she understood it. “I have understood that the tiny round tikli is for switching the camera on or off, while the longer tikli is for clicking photographs,” her usage of the word 'tikli' reinforced the usage of both the buttons in the camera.
Ravi then explained to the participants that he wanted them to have a look, touch and feel experience with the camera, and asked the women to pair up themselves based on their proximity of stay. Once the cameras fell into the hands of the participants, the office of Awaz-E-Niswaan was suddenly waking up to life. There was a lot of healthy commotion and the participants were moving around the office to check what all could the camera capture. There was laughter, amusement, instructions given about posing in a certain way for the camera, and the participants learnt how to be confident with the camera.
Soon, after the practice session with camera, someone noticed that the clock was ticking by and it was time to go home. Before the women could pack the cameras into the pouches and they themselves could wear their burqas, Ravi explained to them the assignment for the next week: “I want each of you to shoot around whatever you see, preferably your immediate surroundings, in three days. And then you will pass on the camera to your partner for her to shoot. Have you noticed that when you are about to take a photograph, you suddenly stop breathing for a moment? That stillness is evident in a good photograph when it turns out to be crystal clear and non-hazy. Ideally, we would want each of you to shoot 500 photographs so that you develop your comfort with the camera and you are able to capture different things and show it to us. We want to know what you see and how you see,” he explained.
The workshop had ended for the day and the women had taken along with them a lot of enthusiasm. The confidence brought about by the camera had already begun to seep into their lives – almost all of them hung the camera around their neck and stated, “Now we are also photographers.”