PHOTOGRAPHY AND SACAC
Q. Where do you feel the visual arts education is headed?
I feel in India, finally the need for a degree programme in photography is being felt and recognised. I am hopeful that in the near future, the main centres of liberal arts education will also embrace an academic view of photography. We (SACAC) as an institution are very clear about the nature of our course —we want to nurture young documentary photographers and artists working with the medium of photography.
The curricula has been re-structured of late and a few short courses like book-making, sound, the moving image and creative writing have been added, while some other existing courses like analogue photography, developing and printing have been removed. However, last year there were eight or nine students who wanted to learn alternative printing so we organised a special workshop for them. This led to one of the students using the analogue method of Cyanotype printing for her final project.
In order to create a general awareness at the very beginning, we send the students on a walk with the historian, Sohail Hashmi. While on the walk, they are discouraged to take images and the idea is to make them listen to and understand the history of the place and think about and reflect on how it can be documented later. Another assignment they are given is what I call the ‘frame’ assignment. Essentially, they have to photograph so strangers on the street with the frame of each image remaining the same. This forces the students to stop people and talk to them and engage with them at various levels to make the portrait.
Q. What do you feel will lend more criticality to such courses?
At Aurobindo we have always endeavoured to teach photography not in isolation, but in relation to other art forms. We believe an interdisciplinary approach will lend criticality to such courses. As a result, we have a paper that looks at photography in relation to cinema, literature and music. For our upcoming graduate exhibition for instance, we have a student working with sound and images; another project is inspired by the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock and Alain Resnais; and a series on self-portraiture that borrows from the writings of Kafka and works of artists like Salvador Dali and Man Ray.
While the admission process is on, we look for potential and commitment, and many a times students are asked to come to the institute to access the library for over a month before they are given admission. The idea is to gauge the seriousness of the students and to make them aware that the course is as much about making images as it is about informing oneself by holding a book and reading it. We also want to ensure that their expectations from the course are matched with what the institute is providing. Also, the emphasis is on assignments that need to be completed within a specific deadline that hone their conceptual and technical skills. All assignments are critiqued and assessed in a class review and it takes thrice as much as time to critique each assignment as to teach a topic —and this is where we believe we connect with each student and the actual learning happens. The course is dedicated to making our students technically sound and recognise their unique visual aesthetic. We also aim for every batch of students to volunteer at a photo festival as there is huge learning to be derived by interacting with international artists.
Q. What are the expectations of students today and how are educational/outreach models derived?
Many who apply for photography courses across the country have only a vague idea about the Kind of photography they want pursue. Many are enamoured by fashion photography, while others by the notion of travelling and taking photos. Thus it is a challenge to curate a course that will ensure that all these different voices and expectations are addressed. Also, most students go against parental and peer pressure to enroll in a photography programme, hence there is a burden of earning a living from the very beginning.
As a consequence, we try our best to ensure that our students find the right work opportunities after they graduate. This year we have instituted three photography grants for our students and alumni. Our aim is to equip them with the skill set and confidence required to publish their photo essays in journals and newspapers, exhibit their work in leading galleries and receive grants and awards to take their projects forward. Keeping this in mind, the last semester allows the students using all the skills acquired during the course to focus on a photo project that best defines their understanding of the photographic art form. For this period, the assigned mentors are available any day and any time over a three-month period and we have group discussions, individual interactions, critique sessions. This work culminates in the graduate show exhibition at the school and at the India Habitat Centre. The students are involved in the entire process —that of printing, framing and laying out of the exhibition itself. The school gives a lot of emphasis to the Graduation Show. Before I joined, the previous batch had 14 students and only 7 got to exhibit. Personally, I believe that every student’s work should be shown, however strong or weak as the purpose is to push them as much as one can.
SACAC also offers an artist-in-residence programme to the students wherein they travel to Pondicherry, away from the umbrella of the classroom to freely immerse themselves into their craft. This residency provides the students with opportunities to ideate, conceptualise, investigate and execute a project within a fortnight under the guidance of a professional photographer.
SACAC student Azra Sadr’s installation of her work Surface at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
SACAC student Rakshita Boken’s installation of her work State of Mind at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
SACAC student Affan Ahmed’s installation of his work Traditional Butchers at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.