Sunday, 11 October 2009

July 16, 2009: (Session 2)

Charged with new hope and anticipation about what new windows would the wide lens of photography show them, the 17 ladies had brought with them a couple of photographs which tugged their hearts and minds. They also reflected upon the photographs that were shown to them as part of the presentations from the previous week and most of the women expressed the way they related to those photographs at different levels.

For Rubina, the photographs taken by Jyotika struck a chord with her. She could relate to the working class women who travel by train to and fro their work place daily, and who, in order to save time in the kitchen, they clean and cut vegetables. The women who travel together and thus formed a close-knit group of their own, would freely share details about their new purchases – be it clothes or accessories or jewellery or appliances. “It is interesting to note about Mumbai’s working women that the trains are their lifeline and that after a long journey home by train, they have to wake up after a few hours, freshen up and then catch the same train again to work. They care least about the world as it goes passing by because their mind is already preoccupied. These women demonstrate a rare kind of stamina and grit to face the same routine of their days, each day of their lives,” said Rubina.

Nilofer was thankful to the photographers for giving them the opportunity and hope to think for themselves that yes, they too are capable to learning something as beautiful as photography and thus do something worthwhile out of it. She was impressed by the photograph taken of a child selling some hair accessories on the train to earn a living. “It is sad to see how these young children, who should be having a normal childhood of playing games and studying in school, are pushed to work to earn a few rupees,” she said.

Taking photographs is something that Gazala loved doing, and she said that her enthusiasm for the workshop was therefore evident. For her, photographs taken of the routine of urban life interested her and she found it intriguing that there was actually so much that could be done with the camera. A photograph taken by Ritika, of a foreigner in Colaba, with a miniature of the Taj in the foreground caught her eye. She said that Ritika had an interesting perspective while taking the photograph – India is synonymous with the Taj for foreign tourists, and Mumbai is also almost always part of tourists’ itinerary. She said, “Various ideas were beautifully expressed in a single photograph.”

Raziya was glad about the fact that the photograph of a eunuch was also taken by Jyotika. “Eunuch feel most comfortable in the ladies coach and often women shoo them away or having negative prejudices against them, whereas they are just like any other human being.” Razia was also much on awe of the photograph of Sonal Patel, who had introduced the concept of micro-tunneling to the Indian construction business. “It was refreshing to see women like us breaking the societal barriers in order to do something for themselves and the society at large,” said Raziya.

There weren't more participants who were forthcoming to talk about the photographs that they has seen the previous Thursday and hence it was decided to now let them speak about those photographic images which they had brought along. It was more essential now to hear each of them speak about their choice of photographs. Again, each of the women were called one at a time to sit on the chair next to Sudharak and Ravi, and speak to the others about why they chose to bring along a certain image clipping. After about 5 seconds of hesitation, the presentation of the choice of personal favourite photographs began with Reshma.

Reshma brought a newspaper clipping from a Hindi newspaper and showed it to all present for the workshop. The photograph was that of some men tending to an ailing parrot and tortoise at Crawford Market. She explained that those birds were ill and so that they could be successfully sold in the Wednesday market at Crawford market, the vendor was taking the pain to examine the bird and the animal’s wound. “People usually never give a minute of thought towards animals, let alone ailing ones. But these men were tending to the parrot and the tortoise simply because they knew that they had to fetch a good sum for selling them, and hence they thought it worthwhile to get them treated. Here too, the aim of commerce led the men to take care of the animals, and this is a sadly selfish situation,” she said.

Saira had bought a clipping of print ad for a new show on TV called 'Ladies Special'. She said that the photograph depicted something that was out of her daily life – women jostling for space in a local train as they head to their workplace. “Despite the efforts that the women have to make to finish their household work and get to their workplace on time, it is nice to see that these women in this photograph are smiling – it seems like they are ready to take on life as it comes,” she explained.

Heena, who always has a beaming smile on her face, showed a paper clipping which was an advertisement for eye lens. “Many people do not know that if they have to wear eye lens, they need to maintain a strict hygiene routine. I used to wear lens earlier and I know well how it needs to be maintained. Although I do not wear lens anymore now, I still recollect the regiment I had to follow, and hence this photograph connected with me deeply,” she explained.

Rubina had three paper clippings with her, each of which were different from the other. The first was a news clipping about a boy called Vivek. “Vivek's only crime was that since he was hungry he had stolen an egg. His head was tonsured for committing that petty crime, and hot tea was poured on his bald head. A reporter, who was walking past that area, managed to get a quick photograph of the little boy and put the story across newspapers. It is sad that people torture children for such a petty crime. He is not a criminal in the making either – his dire hunger compelled him to steal an egg. People can be very ruthless with children,” said Rubina. Her next clipping was about a news story wherein a woman is some hinterlands of the country was getting married to a dog, with all Hindu rituals in place. The marriage was performed because the woman believed that only dogs are most faithful and hence she wanted that faithfulness from her partner, indefinitely. Rubina said that the news item intrigued her and had made her wonder about the ideas of trust and marriage.

Ayesha had a news clipping of a some rural women who were all smiles, as they brandished their inked fingers. “Most tribal and rural women have nothing to improve their lives. They are always neglected, so when they have been bestowed with the right to vote for their franchise, their happiness at the thought that their vote will be counted is well evident in their faces. Suddenly, the feel empowered and their inked finger is something that they would love to show off,” she explained her interpretation. She showed another newspaper clipping about a high society lady who was seated on a classy sofa and was in the news for having designed dresses for dogs. “It is funny to see the entire photograph – you look at the lady's confident body langauge and you know that she is someone who is rich, and can afford to even spare a thought on her pet dogs. So here she hasn't only spared a thought – she has gone ahead to in fact design clothes for them,” she said.

Paigumberi brought with her a photograph of ace tennis pro Monica Seles, and it was nice to know that Paigumberi was well aware of the trials that Seles had been through. Paigumberi explained how Seles was the top seed player for 178 continuous weeks and many books had been written on her. “One day, a man attacked her with arms with such gravity that Seles was unable to recover for many months. She was able to get back to the tennis court only after 26 months of the incident. I am inspired to see women like her who have fought many battles and have emerged successful. She is truly an inspiration for me, as I too was interested in sports as a child,” Paigumberi said.

Raziya had brought with her some photographs which appealed to her because of the way the colours were arranged in them. One of the photographs had a girl trying to swim with rubber floaters on, while another photograph showed an airhostess doing about her work inside an aeroplane. “The airhostess has a very busy job and she has to be constantly on her feet, she cannot afford to not smile because her job is to ensure that the people flying in the aeroplane are in comfort,” Raziya said. She also had a photograph of the newly-opened Bandra-Worli sealink in the backdrop of the sunset. “The new sealink is something that has added to the beauty of our beloved city. The sealink looks very beautiful at night when it is brightly lit and I hope that we all are able to go there soon and soak in its beauty.”

Raheema was shy to talk about the pictures that she had brought along. She had a clipping of two young girls who seemed to be friends and looked excited. “The photograph is very refreshing. It is nice to see the girls smiling about something, and it seems that they are very good friends.” Raheema also had a photograph of a young girl dressed in the garb of a bride. “The sight of a bride is always very delightful. The bride is well decked up, and she has many hopes and dreams in her decorated eyes. The entire visual of a bride is always pleasing to the eyes,” said a shy Raheema.

Shabeena had brought along a cutout of actress Priyanka Chopra, in which the actress' back was shown while she turned around to flash her smile. “I love Priyanka Chopra as an actress. Plus, in this particular photograph, she is wearing a very gorgeous saree. I think nobody could take her eyes off this photograph and hence I like it very much,” she said.

Yasmeen had brought along a photograph of two people enjoying the rains. “I like the colours in this photograph. Rain by itself is very refreshing and it is nice to see the two happy people having a good time in the rains.” Nilofer brought with her a photograph which appealed to her funny bone. “This is a photograph of a man taking the picture of a monkey. People always want to take photographs of beautiful things only. But this is a picture which shows the lighter side on each person. The monkey by itself is a funny animal and I found this photograph quite hilarious,” said a coy Yasmeen.

The last person to talk about some images that caught her eye was Gazala. She had brought some photographs of a little girl trying to slience someone – the image said it all, with the girl putting her lips out and pointing her finger towards her lips, in a bid to silence something or someone. Gazala also brought a photograph of a picturesque locale. “It is nice to see perfect surroundings of a foreign place – where there is no dirt, only greenery, white clouds... the oversall sight of such a perfect landscape will make anyone happy.”

Sudharak then got down to business and elaborated on how photographs have their own way of communicating. He stated that it was evident that everyone was trying to show happiness through the photographs that they had selected. “It is the desire of everyone to be happy, to give happiness to others and spread that happiness around. We all want to be surrounded by positivity at all times and photographs often convey that message. Even if it s simple photograph of someone like Monica Seles, her history alone is very inspiring and compels anyone to reach higher in their own fields,” Sudharak elaborated.

He then went on to speak about the different types of photographs that were seen – they all belonged to different genres and hence he felt that this exercise was surely a successful one. “If you comb through any newspaper, you will get to see different kinds of photographs, in different pages. Hence the types of photography can be divided into many genres – sports, fashion, film, stock, news, etc. After a photographer has done sizeable amount of photography, he/she is able to decide what interests him/her the most, and the person can pursue that genre of photography. But as said earlier, it is all about respecting what you see and only then proceeding to take a photograph of what has been chosen by the eye,” explained Sudharak.

He then egged the women to speak out about their immediate surroundings which they would like to capture through their camera lens. The women, who were still trying to open up themselves in the second session of the workshop, were hesistant about coming up and sharing their ideas. We understood their apprehensions – fear of being ridiculed, fear of their idea not being good enough, and the general lack of confidence. But Sudharak and Ravi were aware of what was holding them back, and hence there was no percieved need to rush with pushing the women to speak up.

Paigumberi then came up, and was made to sit before the audience. She explained how she had once seen a woman without a hand. “The person who has lost a hand is not bothered about what people say and the constant glare that she has to deal with all the time. Rather, she has faced her reality bravely and has decided not to let anyone, anything or any circumstance come in the way of her life. She would want to fight it all and lead her life as though nothing has happened at all. If I had the chance, and if I had a camera in my hand at that moment, I would have surely taken that woman's photograph,” elucidated Paigumberi.

Fatima was the second person who walked up to talk about what she would love to see through her camera. Fatima's children stayed in a hostel and they would come home during the weekends or longer breaks. “When my kids come home, I love to hear them talk about their hostel experiences. They talk very animatedly and recite their poems and songs. My kids also catch up on their games with my brother's children. It is wonderful to see the house colourful when all the children are playing their own games in all earnesty. All the children often recreate the classroom at home, with one of them becoming the teacher and the others enact themselves as students. Sometimes, even when I am trying to fall asleep, I can see them playing and it is very interesting and hilarious to see them trying to play quietly, so as not to disturb me. My children and their innocent games is what I want to capture through my camera, and each time now, ever since the workshop has begun, I keep on thinking about what all I can possibly take photographs of,” said an excited Fatima.

With the rest of the participants still trying to muster the confidence to stand up on their own and talk about their desires, Ravi decided to talk about being playful in every aspect of work and life. “What does Zakir Hussain do? He plays with the tabla, and out of that playfulness has emerged tabla playing as his profession. Now that is exactly what Sudharak, I and Mexy do with the camera – we play with the camera. We play with seeing different things in different ways. We cannot get a good photograph unless we are relaxed while taking photographs. Imagine what a bad performance would Zakir Hussain deliver if he was all nervous on the stage! He is able to deliver a good performance only because he is relaxed and is in a playful mood, when he has his tabla with him.”

Ravi then asked the participants if they watched TV, and what did they see in the shows. The participants replied in a faint chorus, “We see love in the serials; we also get to see mindless arguments and people manipulating one another.”

Ravi then asked the participants whether they had a chance to take a look at the latest TV show on Sony channel, called 'Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao'. “What do you think is the show all about?” The replies were varied: “The show is about people's attitudes while they are made to stay in a jungle,” “The show is about celebrities showing their true colour without any makeup,” “The show is about how celebrities tackle crazy stunts with weird animals.” Ravi went on to add that if we minutely observed the each and every frame in the show, we could get a glimpse of the way the celebs were dressed, how they would talk to each other, and what they were feeling which they were communicating through speech and their body language.

Sudharak elaborated on TV shows further, stating that people's expressions on TV conveyed most of what was to be told. “There is some reason why we repeatedly watch something on TV and why we want to continue doing that. The reasons we continue to watch some films is maybe because of the actors, the story, the comedy – it could be any reason that drives us to go back to something again and again. It is due to the visual splendour that we want to watch something repeatedly, and that is exactly what we watch with keenly and with concentration.”

Ravi continued to stress his point by asking rhetorical questions related to the participants themselves. “Do we observe things around us? Do we really observe around our house, our neighbourhood and the path during our journeys to this workshop? Often, we do not really 'see'; we only 'look'. We take the animate and inanimate things around us for granted, and we go about doing our work as though we are half asleep. So it wouldn't be wrong to say here that our mind is somewhere, and our eyes are somewhere else. There is no sync in that and that is something a photographer cannot afford to do. Forget photographers; we need to have our minds in sync with whatever we are doing at the moment,” explained Ravi about the metaphysical aspect of seeing differently.

Ravi and Sudharak then decided to bring in some visuals to break the tedium of chats and discussions. A presentation ensued which had many photographs on aerial shots from across the world, followed by a presentation of predominantly Muslim women from various parts of Islamic countries. After a long presentation with about 60 photographs, the next step was to gauge the response from women about the photographs that they had just seen.

“It is not everyday that one gets too see aerial photographs. Aerial photography takes a lot of effort, and the photographer just hires an aeroplane or helicopter to fly around for sometime and take photographs from around the world. Sometimes he is sponsored, sometimes he spends the high cost of hiring the aeroplane on his own. Moreover, newspapers hardly carry any aerial photographs, unless there is a drought or flood situation. The beauty of the earth captured from many miles about the land is completely missing from popular media. We might get to see some of these on TV channels like National Geographic Channel or Discovery, but that again is not an everyday thing,” explained Sudharak on the rationale behind doing the presentation on aerial photographs.

He added that the participants were being exposed to these kinds of photographs so that they are able to get a wider perspective on seeing things in a different way. “Due to the bombardment of similar kinds of images all the time, we have lost the ability to think or see differently. Hence it is all the more essential that we regenerate new thoughts in our minds and thus open us our horizons,” he said, before egging the participants to talk about what they observed or liked in the presentation.

Ayesha said that she could instantly relate with one particular photograph of a woman in her burqa, who was enjoying a dip with a bare-chested man in some water body. While most other participants laughed upon seeing that photograph, commenting that it was weird that the burqa was needed even in the waters, Ayesha said that she had been in a similar situation before. “When I had been to Tikujiniwadi with my in-laws, all the women in the group wore burqa. It was a water park but never once did we shed our naqaab.” Ayesha also said that it was an eye-opener to see the photographs of the minorities in the world – the Africans, the Jews, labourers, the Afghan girl on the National Geographic magazine. She said that anyone could look at a photograph and decide upon what the situation could be like, when the photograph was taken. “However, when we have information about a certain photograph and the incident which led to the moment to get captured on camera, it is then that one begins to look at the photograph differently,” she said, after she asked questions about certain news photographs and the reason why the moments were captured in a certain way.

Sudharak emphasised the need for getting out of the comfort zone to be able to face one's fears, and thus be confident about anything that needs to be done. “The reason I ask you all to talk about the photographs that you liked or left you thinking is because I want you to get out of your shell. It also helps us understand the way you look at images, and thus we are able to decipher more about you.”

Ravi added to it, stating that the centre of one's body has to be essentially comfortable. “When we sit up straight, we find the centre of our body to be our stomach. That part of our body has to be relaxed and from therein comes the feeling of accepting ourselves the way we are. And once we accept our own body completely, the confidence in us can never hide then on.”

“When a person walks into a room, the way he stands, the way he bends down to take off his shoes, the way he walks – his entire body language speaks volumes about the person's self confidence. This is exactly the reason why we want you to come up here, and speak for yourself about what you liked or did not like,” said an encouraging Sudharak, whose words prompted the participants to make a beeline to come and talk about the presentation they had witnessed few minutes ago.

The series of feedback began with Rubina who said that she liked the photographs of the mountains, in their different colours, sizes and shapes. “It was also interesting to see some women wearing naqaab, who were seated in front of computers. To me, that was a very positive sign because Muslim women are mostly pushed behind, in terms of education and personal development. That particular photograph was like a refreshing beacon of hope for women like me, and other marginalised Muslim women,” she said.

Naheeda noticed one photograph which disturbed her a little bit since it was reflective of her community. “The photograph showing a cloth partition between some Muslim men and women showed exactly how our society operates. Women are subjected to a life of seclusion, and this is evident even when they do a common activity like praying. In that sense, Hindu women have it easier as they are at least allowed to roam around and pray freely, in an open space,” she remarked.

She said that the photograph of some women on a beach wearing jeans as opposed to some other women in burqa, at the same place. The ones wearing jeans seemed to be most comfortable in the open environs of the beach, as opposed to the women in burqa. “There was also one photograph of Muslim men engrossed in their namaaz to such an extent that they have not noticed that one of the men's bicycles had fallen off ands was likely pull down the entire line of cycles near it. Maybe that's what one can call the power of prayers,” she said.

For Ayesha, photography was about instantaneous moments that she would want to capture in her camera and freeze it forever. “It is, however, only here in this workshop that I have learnt that women are also doing very well in this field, across the world. It is through photography that we have had a chance to see the beauty in diversity of the world. I especially liked the photograph where a cow was beheaded and the knife still pointing towards it, while a woman's face was also near the beheaded cow. The fear in the woman's face seems so real, as though she is trying to convey that after the cow, it was now her turn to go under the knife. It was also intriguing to see the photograph of some women in an Islamic country, who were being tried in a court of law, since their only crime was that they had allowed themselves to be photographed in public, while a judge or some official walks past them. That photograph was rife with irony – the same women who were being punished for posing in public now had their photograph taken in a court!” she remarked.

Mexy stated that it was nice to see a woman like Ayesha put forth her views and understanding of the photograph that she liked, and encouraged the others to be more forthcoming with their views too.

Next, it Reshma's turn to voice out her views. She said that the photographs they saw seemed more like paintings since they looked so pristine and perfect. She said that it was quite funny to see a woman in a complete naqaab in neck-deep water, along with a man. “it is understandable that a woman would go into the water too with her naqaab on, but the fact that she was still wearing her gloves in there was like taking the issue a bit too far. Other than that photograph, I also loved to see the flowers' farm which was so colourful! Then, the houses in Sweden looked all so similar although they were very colourful and clean and neat. But when I saw the photograph of a man taking a picture of some women – all of whom were in a burqa – I could connect with the photograph easily. Once, my brother had asked me to pose for a photograph, but I refused to so as there was no point in taking my picture while I was all covered in a burqa, with just my eyes visible,” reminisced Reshma.

She added that it was a daily thing to see Mumbai through photographs in newspapers and magazines, but it was nice to see the foreign locales too. She found the images of the effects of the Hurricane Katrina and a volcanic mountain quite riveting.

Tabassum said that the photographs of some water islands and that of Iceland appealed to her greatly, but those of the women in burqa disturbed her as it reminded her of the tough times that Muslim women have to go through. “Hence I liked to see the photograph of the women on the beach – they seemed to have been enjoying themselves and their freedom. Other than that, when I saw a photograph of some people in a queue, I could instantly identify with it because that activity is also part of my daily life,” she explained.

While Gazala said that she had loved the photographs of the Taj Mahal and those taken in Rajasthan, Paigumberi said that the photographs of Mumbai, where people were getting onto a crowded bus was easily identifiable. She said that the rains were an integral part of the city and the way the people get accustomed to it after some point of time, while they also enjoy it. “The photograph of the smoke emanating from a volcano seemed like Shaktimaan was leaving the Earth to go away somewhere far off. And that made me think hard about how are aerial shots really taken. In fact, as I was coming to the workshop today and saw Ravi taking some photographs, I decided that someday I will take his photograph when he is engrossed in shooting!” she said, inviting a lot of laughter.

Fatima said that she had seen photographs of foreign locales before, but it was only at the workshop that she realised how tough it was to take them. She said that through the explanations put forth by Sudharak, Ravi and Mexy, she could understand the many procedures needed to take just one photograph and hence its significance grew even more. “I loved one photograph of some logs of wood being transported on a river. Doing such a thing was tough and I can only fathom how tough it must have been for the photographer to take that shot. It is nice to see that the photographer has captured man's various ways to ease his own life and the way he does commerce. At the same time, I was saddened to see the photographs of women in their naqaab, but at the same time, it was encouraging to see women in similar situations sitting in front of the computer or having guns in their hands. This reassured me that women can indeed achieve anything they may desire,” she said.

Raziya told the group about the photographs that appealed to her – the women in an Islamic country who were being punished for having their photographs taken in a public place; women in naqaab who had lined up and had guns in their hands; the difficulties faced by Mumbaikars during the floods during 26/7; the woman wearing her naqaab who was enjoying some moments with her man in the water. “All these photographs represented different genres of photography and it was interesting to learn the stories behind almost each of them,” she said.

Raheema, who was still nervous about coming up and talking before an audience, was shivering when she it was her chance to talk about her favourite photographs. She said that she liked the photographs of the women working on sewing machines because it seemed empowerment to them. “When I saw the photograph of the women with guns in their hands, the thought running through my mind was that I wish I had a camera in my hand to take that photograph myself. That picture was very powerful and struck a chord with me. I also would have loved to take photographs of the women labourers who toil to be able to earn their daily bread,” said a shy Raheema.

Shabeena said that since water would enter her house during the floods, she could easily relate to some photographs which showed the effects of heavy flooding. “If the camera was in my hand, I would have taken photographs of people while they are working, as well as photographs of women who choose to dress in trousers and jeans like men do,” she said.

Yasmin was also of a similar view – she talked about the photographs she would have loved to clicked herself, had she been given a camera. She talked about the funny element in the photograph which showed a frog atop a bike, and the women in naqaab who had guns in their hands. “I would have loved to take photographs of farms around the world because I simply enjoy being in a farm, and through this workshop, I have seen so many different farms which are very colourful because of the varied crops that grow on the fields,” she said.

Both Nilofer and Heena had their favourites in the aerial photographs. While Nilofer said that she was glad to see the women wearing naqaab with guns in their hands, Heena said that she couldn't stop laughing when she saw the photograph of the frog atop a bike.

The photograph that most appealed to Badrunissa was that of a car being taken on a cart. She said that the picture was humorous, and that no words were needed to explain what was going on. The photograph was simple and self-explanatory, and that made it interesting.

The aerial photographs had motivated Saira to such an extent that she wished to be taking those photographs herself, especially those of the melting glaciers. “The photographs of women were quite inspiring – they conveyed a message that women are capable of doing and achieving anything, provided they have the will power, courage, strength and motivation to attain what is on their mind,” she said.

Like all the others, Farhat said that the various landscape photographs were pleasing to the eye. However, she differed from all the others, when it came to photographs of the women in burqa. She found the series on the Muslim women very depressing because their identity was framed only by what they wore. “The world knows Muslim women only by the black burqa which they cover themselves with, and since this is a very negative image, I kept wondering about the need to include so many of such stereotypical photographs in the presentation. The photograph of women wearing naqaab but holding guns in their hands was again another reinforcement of the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorists, and that photograph seemed to convey that now women too were becoming terrorists. I personally do not like that a Muslim woman's identity is defined only by the burqa that she wears, and hence all the photographs depicting a Muslim woman were in that not in my approval,” she said strongly.

With Farhat, the sharing of ideas about photographs drew to and end. Ravi stated that he was happy to see the diversity in the views of the women, and the way in which they were seeing photographs differently. “I'm glad that Farhat expressed her disapproval openly, and I can state here that it was not intentional to depict the stereotypical identity of Muslim women. We just wanted to show the way in which despite the barrier of a naqaab, the women were doing things which would have not been expected of them for the very reason that they are Muslim.”

Sudharak concluded the workshop session stating, “As you as you have an eye and are able to see, photography and film will continue to be alive.” He signed off by instructing the participants about the assignment for the next week: bringing write-ups of what photographs they would like to take and the reason behind it. “We want to see how differently are you thinking, but of course, this doesn't mean that you bring a write-up about shooting aerial photographs. Write about what is possible by you, with your limited means. You think of the idea, and we will help you to execute them.”

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