Rinki snuggled up to his mother. Both are clearly brimming with excitement. They study a block of four photos taken by a 14-year-old student at the Shiksha Education Center in Gurgaon.
“I love this photo with the cat in it. It’s hard to take pictures of animals, to have good eye contact,” says Rinki, convinced that she has an almost perfect capture in the click she is talking about.
She is one of many disadvantaged teenagers who have had the chance to learn photography from Aditya Arya, renowned photographer and founder-director of Museo Camera in Gurgaon, a museum dedicated to the history and art of photography.
As India emerged from the pandemic-induced lockdown, groups of 15 children, armed with iPhone 12s, began to learn the nuances of photography, without being intimidated by a more traditional camera. âUsually the engagement is 15 to 20 days, mostly on Sundays. The kids come in the morning for a briefing, then go out to shoot and once back there’s a review session, âArya explains in a gallery filled with photos showing the results of the sessions he had with the Shiksha teens. and Saksham Bal. Vikas Sanstha.
“Why did you shoot him? Have you been interested in your topic? What did you talk about? What did you hear? Arya wide-eyed as she describes the sessions where the results were discussed and how the barriers were ultimately broken for these children.
The adolescents seem to have received an appropriate education. For Tanya, another 14-year-old girl from Shiksha talks about balancing her photos and getting the perfect eye line. His photo series also explores everyday life, but can be viewed through a different lens, with a different level of confidence than offered by the camera. While Tanya wants to pursue an acting career, Rinki has been sufficiently evangelized by the power of photography to consider it a career option, perhaps with a âsuitable cameraâ.
At a small event to celebrate the success of young photographers, Manisha from Saksham points out how amazing it all seemed to begin with: âImagine these kids having an iPhone 12 with them, using it, being with professional photographers, listening in the studios. It was really surreal for them. She says that while there were first questions about what these sessions will accomplish, then, through Arya’s eyes, everyone started to see learning as a new experience. âWe don’t really have to teach to learn. We have to teach children to learn for themselves.
Nearby, Ashish Gupta of Saksham Bal Vikas Sanstha shows her father her series of photos. A note with the ensemble indicates that after the sessions he is more confident in talking to strangers and now âI know all of Chakkepurâ. All in all is a photo of a young tea vendor pouring out his brew while enveloped in a mesh of light that would fit in any gallery anywhere. In the eyes of the father, a clear pride shines despite the lights of the gallery.
Udai Malhotra, administrator of the Shiksha Education Center, says the program came at an important time as there was a lot of pent-up energy in the children after the lockdown and much of it could be funneled here. âIt’s wonderful to see a cultural institution in Gurgaon running a program like this for children from disadvantaged backgrounds,â he adds.
If these workshops were about empowering children, then Arya says the mission has been accomplished. âAt the end, they could go to anyone with a phone and say ‘Bhaisahab main aap se baat karna chahta hoon’ (Sir, I want to talk to you),â Arya said, standing next to a collage of the 30s. faces that attended its first two sessions – the selection process itself takes a few weeks as they have to gauge the children’s interest in being part of the sessions.
Each workshop has 15 candidates because that’s the number of phones Apple donated to Museo Camera for the program. âIt becomes manageable to deal with them individually. Because what you teach them is visual language.
Weighted down by all his experience as a traditional type photographer, Arya says that the smartphone has yet removed all the complications. âThey don’t need to learn the grammar of photographyâ¦ the aperture, shutters and other technical details. It’s purely a tool that helps you communicate and engage and then there’s a dialogue between the two, âhe explains, adding how the experience of teaching photography is so different. here only when it comes to high school children. âThese kids have parents who do the daily choresâ¦ it gave them a glimpse into understanding their own communities. “
Museo Camera, India’s premier center for the photographic arts, has over 18,000 square feet of photography space with a collection of over 2,500 cameras and other equipment, some as old as the mid-19th century. It is the largest non-profit photography museum in Southeast Asia.