It’s been eight years now.
I completed my first (and only) formal learning in photography on this day, eight years ago. The week-long course, called Photography, Art & Architecture (PAA) was held at Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design, University of the Arts London.
I was working in London at the time, and I had decided I’d make the most of it. It seemed like a good idea to take up some formal education in an activity that I was pursuing for so long. There was no way I could pursue a long-term course because of my work, so this seemed the perfect thing to do. Just a year ago, I had invested in my second digital camera, the Canon Powershot S2IS, which I had fallen in love with it for its versatility.
The PAA was especially interesting, because at least by the title of the course, it brought together the three things I was interested in: Photography, Art, & Architecture. The facilitator for this course was Diego Ferrari. (Some of his work may be NSFW). I didn’t know anything about him at all, but he turned out to be a very interesting person and a photographer. The first half of the first day was a general introduction, where I saw a few photographs of some well-known photographers (I had never heard of them) that, in a near instant, destroyed the sense of photography that I had accumulated for the last 28 years.
It was on the 10th of July 2006, that I was introduced to Candida Höfer, and I believe, from that day, my photography journey changed, forever.
In the week, the eight of us in the class, travelled to museums and art galleries, walked along streets, had conversations, asked questions and tried to make sense of what we saw and heard through three different accents: Spanish, Chinese and Indian. The visual language prevailed, however. As our day of watching visuals and taking visuals came to an end, we all shared our work with each other. Diego used to flip through the photos on our cameras, and we learnt that he could give feedback in three ways: (a) Naaah, (b) Comme ci comme ça, and (c) Good! Very few of our photos in the first 2-3 days got a “Good!” When I think back now, I guess the first couple of days were all about unlearning; the next two about imitating, and the last day was when we noticed a slight hint of our own work appearing.
There were two other things I discovered, which I am able to articulate now, after eight years:
One, a good photograph is not necessarily the result of a sophisticated camera. A sophisticated camera gives much more control, but what matters more is the seeing. The tool is only as capable as the hands and the mind that wield it. An example.
Two, there is a way to capture the intangible in a photograph. Again, this is a factor of seeing and perhaps that one week changed more about how I saw things than the technique of taking a photograph. I still consider myself technically very weak, as far as photography is concerned.
But this day, eight years ago, as we finished and presented our portfolios to each other, little did we know that our photographs would change forever. And since what we seek is so different, this is a frustrating journey, filled with distractions in the background and blurs in the foreground.
And then, there’s a moment, when things are in focus, fit perfectly in the frame, and just make sense.