i to eye workshops aim to use photography as a therapeutic aid. They create a fun and engaging environment in which the participants learn the basics of photography whilst being encouraged to use their cameras as a means of exploring and expressing themselves and the hardships many of them have endured and continue to face on a daily basis. i to eye hopes to redress the balance of photojournalism a little by placing the camera in the hands of those often the subject of photographs and allowing them to tell their own stories for a change and to control the context in which these stories are then seen.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The first few days...

Firstly I want to introduce the ten amazing girls I am teaching; Priyanka Ral and Priya, who are sisters, Deepeka and Aarti, also sisters, Bhavna, Priyanka, Sapna, Rajni, Radha, and Sultana. At the bottom of the blog there are photos taken on the first morning of the workshop. I will try and give a brief outline of the first week which may be quite difficult as it feels as if a month has gone by already. I can’t begin to explain how much I feel I have learnt in that time. Probably a lot more than the girls though I feel sure they are at least learning something which is good news! I know it’s predictable for me to say but all the girls I am teaching are fantastic. They are overall overwhelming eager and perceptive and they are picking up the basics of photography very quickly.

A few of them have a tendency to gossip amongst themselves while others speak which is not surprising for teenage girls but I was quite strict with them and tried to explain that they cannot expect others to listen to them or show them respect if they are not willing to do this for others themselves. The most extravert girls seem to be those with sisters as they are used to having someone to talk to and play with. The girls on their own in a family of men seem significantly shyer and uncomfortable with the concept of expressing themselves. These are also the girls who struggle with reading and writing more than the others and it makes me realise just how vital these basic tools are for the girl’s confidence. These girls tend to look to me or the other girls to answer for them.

Community is an omnipotent force in Indian culture and these girls, outside Sambhali, have never really been taught or encouraged to become individuals or to promote their own feelings, thoughts or vision. It is this unique individual vision that I hope this workshop will foster though I am already aware what an alien concept this is for the girls and realise it is something I will have to constantly remind them of and encourage. I made them laugh the other day when I realised that one of their brothers had taken their journal and written all about himself in it. I told the girl concerned to tell her brother that if he kept doing this I would come to his house and tell him off. Though shocked at the thought of this they found it very funny. I tam trying to get them to understand that they must not let their brothers or fathers take the cameras or their journals as I am not interested in what their brothers think or feel but only what they think and feel.

It was a little difficult on the first day of teaching as we did not have the room to ourselves and there was a lot going on to distract the girls and the teachers, Simi and Tamana, who are wonderful and were there to translate. Since then I have ensured we have a room to ourselves so that we can concentrate and yesterday I decorated the room with photographs so that it feels more specific to the workshop. Having joked around learning the girls’ names I started by giving them their diaries and boxes in which to keep their prints which I encouraged them to decorate with pictures, words, crayons etc. They were excited to be given these things and I must make sure we put time aside in class for them to work on them and utilize them as a form of diary for themselves and for the workshop itself. I then handed out a window mount and discussed the concept of framing, asking them to pass it around and look through it to make sure they are aware of everything in the frame when they take a picture and that they take care to see what is happening at the edges and corners of the frame as well as at the centre.

The rest of the lesson was spent handing out the cameras, explaining the various focal distances, and loading their first roll of film. They were very excited about the cameras and just wanted to be off taking pictures straight away which was understandable. It was a hard balance to find between talking them through the process, in the hope they would avoid certain mistakes, and letting them go, knowing that they would learn more from making these mistakes for themselves. I did not want to dim their enthusiasm early on by focusing on too much theory.

After lunch the girls were raring to get going with the cameras so after talking a little about portraits I sent them out to take portraits of themselves in pairs and to find something out about each other that they could then come back and share with the group. As I expected the girls initially tended to take a picture of each other in the same spot holding the camera in exactly the same way and I tried to encourage them to branch out and to think for themselves a little more. It was great to see Depeeka and Priyanka later carefully arranging their portraits of each other and really thinking about the shot they were about to take.

What was less successful was the idea of sharing information. The girls were too excited about taking pictures to remember and were not so interested in asking questions of each other. I could tell they did not ask while taking the portrait and were just making things up when they came back to the class. It also took a long time to go round and answer the questions by which time some of the girls’ attention had started to wander. I tried to explain to them that it might seem boring but that taking a portrait created a dialogue between two people, the photographer and the subject, and that it was important for the photographer to make their subject feel comfortable and to create a rapport. I also tried to encourage them to speed the answers up and got them to repeat the answer out loud together so that no ones attention could wander. Things got better but it was not as successful an exercise as I had hoped. Perhaps it was just too much for the girls to think about and do on the first day. They were too preoccupied with the cameras to really concentrate on anything else.

As we ran out of time I sent them home with the cameras to finish their first roll of film taking pictures of their families. It was interesting to see that a few of the girls had taken less pictures than others. I think this may in part be to do with the fact that if there is not enough light the camera will not fire but the girls are not yet aware that the camera has not actually taken a picture. This is something they will learn and is more something they will learn to sense than something you can easily tell them. Anyway all in all I think it was a good day. I am sure there are many things I could do better but I think the girls had fun and are genuinely excited about the workshop. That is the most important thing and should always be my primary concern rather than specifically what I am teaching or what their pictures look like.

The only problems I have really faced so far have been concerned with the development of the films which I had already anticipated might prove to be a problem. The first time I got the films back two were missing and when I looked at the quality of the development I was not very happy though to be fair many of the girl’s pictures were out of focus which I had expected as I think they were a little too excited by the cameras to take on board the need to focus! Since that first day I am pretty sure I have been to almost every photo lab in Jodhpur and could give someone a very good tour of the city according to their developing needs!! Hopefully things will run a little smoother in this department from now on.

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