Q. What are the expectations of students today and how do you assess them?
The basic eligibility criteria for admission in NID’s Masters programme in Photography Design is a Bachelor’s degree, or Diploma in any discipline. Therefore we get candidates from very diverse academic as well as social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Their expectations also vary considerably as a result. Some already have a sense of enquiry within and around the medium. By the time they reach their final year, most of them begin to formulate a more realistic understanding of the profession, and a handful are also able to put aside their apprehensions of placements in the industry and manage to chart a more challenging path to push the envelope and come up with new vistas pertaining to the medium. A lot of their expectations are also affected by what they follow on social media platforms.
The parameters of assessment depend upon the nature of the module-based coursework, which is broadly divided into categories like skill-development, studio-practice, theory, research-workshop, and design-project. For each coursework, the parameters of assessment may vary from studio skills to cognitive skills, ability to learn and make connections, ability to articulate visually and verbally, or general motivation and self-initiative, to the overall quality and understanding of the context of the final product.
Q. What is the preferred model of teaching being adopted by you?
Photography was introduced at NID in 1964 as a training course by Christian Staub, a German photographer from Ulm School of Design. By 1969, Photography was formally introduced in the curriculum of the three-year programme in Visual Communication. The training was primarily focused on the understanding of the physics and chemistry of the medium, i.e. the optics and the darkroom. Sensibilities of form, balance, composition, etc. were drawn from training in other courses offered at NID. Apart from being used as the primary tool of documentation and reproduction of visual content, it also opened up possibilities of material and form explorations by design apprentices and students.
NID started offering a one-year certificate course in Photography only in 2008. Then in 2010, under the mentorship of Dr. Deepak John Mathew, Sunil Gupta and Prof. Anna Fox, the course received a grant from UK-India Education and Research Initiative, and was upgraded to a two-year Postgraduate Diploma programme in Photography Design. In 2014 NID received the status of Institute of National Importance by the act of Parliament and essentially got recognised on par with other sub-institutes like IlTs and IlMs and started conferring degrees.
Now Photography Design at NID has evolved into an interdisciplinary programme that strives to give potential students a thorough grounding in the practice of photography, as well as a sound contextual understanding of the medium, in terms of its history, philosophy, social relevance and function. Through a series of projects of increasing complexity, students develop their own visual language. Photography has a rich past and a rapidly changing future with the continuing advancements in digital imaging. At the Photography Design programme, students learn the specificities of both historical and present-day photographic practices. The programme therefore aims to support the advanced study and practice of a wide range of photography methodologies. It offers an opportunity to develop a body of work within the context of a critical understanding of contemporary photography and visual culture.
One of the concerns I have when students join the programme is the baggage that they carry from a largely compromised educational system in India at school and college levels. Existing social structures also encourage and reward ‘achievements’, and young people start correlating education with success, and in turn a good lifestyle. So one of the things that we tend to do at the onset is `decondition’, or reorient students to the deeper values associated with education and encourage unique and often competing, or polar perspectives in the classroom. I also tend to remember what my professor at the Visual Studies Workshop, William Johnson, used to say —”photography is not made in vacuum; it is made in a social context”. So we very much emphasise understanding historic, social, cultural and political contexts of image making. Also, this being a Masters programme, a greater impetus is on conceptual and philosophical explorations.
Q. What are the future prospects that students look forward to once they graduate?
The Photography Design programme gives equal importance to the development of skills that are necessary for students to survive as photography professionals in real world contexts; it therefore strives to impart abilities that are both technical and theoretical. At the end of the programme it is expected that students will be able to tackle any photographic challenge, whether it is a commercial assignment, a photojournalistic project, or an artistic commission.
Students’ expectations tend to evolve with their journey through the programme. The prospects may vary based upon the students’ personal ambitions and ideologies. A few of our graduates take up serious independent practice primarily relying on limited grant opportunities in India, and some freelance commissions from time to time. Some consider further research and opt to work in academic environments. Many have also been exploring allied career opportunities by combining their Bachelors level education with photography, in jobs like game design, or virtual interface design. Full time employment opportunities as photographers is very hmited, but I Know of a couple of recent graduates who have also managed that. We are also encouraging some of our senior students to consider working as editors, curators, and writers on photography and visual arts in general.
Q. Does the nature of the course reflect social changes, and how does that also account for changes in technology?
In fact, this is expounded in our programme’s introduction on NID’s website. One can also get a glimpse of this attribute in our semiannual publication 1 2 magazine, which is now 5 issues old, and will be available at select outlets shortly. Just to give you a brief overview here, the theme of the 3rd issue was Entropy, and most of the featured projects were rooted in explorations of urbanity. The 4th issue showcased explorations made on and around the idea of Politics. Speaking of technology, and beyond the debate of analogue vls digital, many of our students are exploring multiple aspects of imagery, such as medical diagnostics, surveillance, geo-satellites, and algorithm-based explorations to name a few.