The Student Issue |


Suryanandini Narain

Q. What are the expectations of students today?

Students of the history and theory of photography at SAA, JNU hope to understand the camera’s past in India, as well as theoretical paradigms that they have heard being mentioned in texts or talks previously. They realise that there are regional and cultural particularities in the way photography is being practiced, and that there is a larger context to the act of taking a photograph. The location of photography as a medium of image making for ads, fine art, journalism, or the personal realm of the family, each need to be analysed for their specificities.

Q. What is the preferred model of teaching being adopted by you?

I combine class room lectures, interactions with practitioners, collectors and curators, archival research and an extensive reading of theoretical texts. It is important to explore the dialogues on dichotomies that photography allows, such as the public and the private spheres of visualisation. I encourage my class to come up with their own critical approaches for new theoretical paradigms in photography that still need development.

Q. What are the future prospects that students look forward to once they pass out?

We have a wide range of students interested in photography for their own particular reasons. At the most common level, everybody will use photographs in their theses at the School although it is not necessary that they would know how to do so. Hence we try to integrate a session on research methodologies of photographic use in writing and publishing as part of their coursework.

As they pass out, students are usually interested in contemporary art practices, visual culture studies, media based work, the moving image, photographic praxis and tend to integrate photography into larger themes of socio-political or cultural relevance. Students go back into being practicing photographers, or they take to curating, critical writinglediting, journalism, or museum studies.

Q. Does the nature of the course reflect social changes, and how does that also account for changes in technology?

The first part of the course deals with theory, and the second part focuses on India. The lectures are paired as contrasts such as the studio and the home, local and global and so on. A theme such as the ‘home’ for instance, is about the use of the camera in domestic spaces and private uses of photography. The course does not position gender and race as categories that are separately dealt with. There is also the subject of the materiality of photographs — how images are used in archives, in homes, in exhibition spaces, and how that really brings a different dimension, or feeling to the reception of photography.
The course heavily reflects on social change, historically as well as in the contemporary context, as the camera is seen as one that is integrated into the fabric of the time and space where it operates. For instance, there is the question of how aesthetics are determined by technology. Technology has led the way changes in society have been perceived, and society too developed new cultures of photography in response to technology, eg. the selfie culture.