The digital SLR and her obsession with it is what came to Koramangala resident Chitra Aiyer’s succour about a year and a half ago. Chitra tragically lost her father to an illness and in her own words, photography helped her cope. “I found that when I was looking through the viewfinder and clicking, it helped me deal with the whole thing a lot,” says the photographer and blogger. Like Aiyer, who specialises in wedding, children and family photography, the camera opened several avenues for many in the city.
Bangalore Photography Club’s (BPC) Mayur Channagere gave up being a solutions consultant at Infosys to take up documentary and commercial photography. Time Out magazine’s Vivek M worked as a surgical resident at Manipal Hospital for a while and says the move to full time photography was gradual.
For others like advertising professional P Venkatesan, better known as PeeVee, it’s been a way of getting to know Bangalore. “Photography helped me to learn about the city,” he says, “without the camera, I wouldn’t have travelled around.”
Call it a consequence of the IT revolution or a knock on effect of a fast growing cosmopolitan city but photography has become Bangalore’s favourite hobby. Regular photowalks held by different groups that are active on Flickr, such as Bangalore Weekend Shoots. Bangalore Photo Walk, Bangalore Travel Photographers, Bangalore Black and White, Bangalore Birds…the list is a rather endless one.
These online groups organise and meet for photowalks and shoots around different places in the city depending on their interest such as heritage, streets, birds, etc., as do offline groups such as Bangalore Photography Club (BPC). Many also hold photo exhibitions and workshops to encourage beginners. BPC organises Frames of Mind, an annual exhibition by its members that’s in its fifth year now.
PeeVee, an advertising professional, who joined Bangalore Weekend Shoots (BWS) in 2006, has done more than 130 walks and shoots with the group till date. He says the enthusiasm for photography in the city is amazing. “People are looking for avenues and are ready to spend money, get good equipment and learn,” he says citing examples like a photowalk in Lalbagh where 40 people turned up and InfinityF, a workshop held in association with Better Photography last year that saw 70 people registering.
Groups help newcomers in exchanging ideas, exploring new concepts and exposing them to good work. Chitra, a Flickr regular says, “Flickr contributed to my photography as you find other passionate photographers. In terms of learning it has been the only thing that has helped. You look at various kinds of pictures and over a period of time, figure out what appeals to you and what is it about a frame that strikes you. You are also able to decipher the technical aspects quickly and subconsciously it becomes a kind of visual training.”
Channagere calls it “developing the eye.” He thinks people should look at others’ work “you get an idea, get inspired and over time, develop your own style.” According to him groups like BPC give members ample opportunity to hone their skills through the activities they organise. “We have officially documented the Rangashankara Festival and Bengaluru Habba that give our members an opportunity to try a different genre at events which usually are difficult to get access to.”
For PeeVee, the best place to start is street photography. “It’s a platform for people to learn how to shoot and break their first level of hesitation.” He thinks a great way to learn is to get to know people, understand the group, try out all the different genres, before deciding what you want to focus on.
Dr Vivek, one of the founder-members of BWS, has his own cautious take on starting with street photography. He feels Photographers do take a lot of liberties like shooting people without permission especially in economically backward areas. “What’s important in street photography is to understand and be part of a scene. And for that, you need to create a rapport”he says. Vivek adds that that street photography has a lot to do with “communication, body language and keen observation.”
The Digital SLR has certainly made photography one of the easiest hobbies, at least among those with comfortable incomes, to acquire. The number of diverse groups also means that everyone has something to match their interest. But some photo-enthusiasts feel it has resulted in too much competition and too little originality. On any photo groups, there are more discussions on different kinds of cameras, lenses and filters than on the actual photograph itself.
Vivek thinks people are getting too obsessed with technique. Composition is what actually matters he says, adding that “photographers have to find their own voice.” Channegere agrees, saying that they help BPC members to think in a way that tells a story.
One of the best outcomes of Bangalore’s photography phenomenon is how it has been documenting a changing city. From the green cover giving away to the concrete of Namma Metro to the ever-colourful Russell Market and Sampige Road to performance spaces, temples, birds and flowers. Is it just random documentation lost in individual laptops or a part of the city’s changing history?
Peevee thinks it’s the latter. “Our group itself has photographed places at various timelines. We have documented the changes that the metro has brought to the city and most people have the images on Flickr or their own sites.” While the photos are available, there has so far been no streamlining process that can bring it all together, except for stray exhibitions. “But at least it’s been clicked,” says Peevee.
In 2009, BPC brought out a self-funded coffee table book called Bengaluru Mandis. Channagere, a part of the project, thinks the city is indeed being recorded brilliantly but the images can get repetitive. “As a community we should look at bringing these resources together and curate something interesting,” he feels.
Vivek and Aiyer feel that any kind of documentation is great. “A lot of the stories we got to hear from our grandparents has been hearsay, there were no pictures. It’s a good thing that now there’s a lot of photo-documentation,” Aiyer says. And while many may have photographed Lalbagh, Sankey Tank and the city markets at some point or the other, Aiyer feels it offers a varied take. “It shows how everyone’s perception is different,” she adds.
Vivek, one of the early ones to start photographing various parts of Bangalore, thinks that it is a great resource. “In 10 to 20 years time these pictures would show a very different city.” He adds, that apart from markets and landmarks, it’s also important for people to document their own neighbourhoods and the changes around them. A case in point is a project Vivek has started shooting around Mantri Mall to document the changing landscape. As PeeVee puts it, “if someone takes the initiative, we have the documentation.”
The original article was commissioned by the Goethe-Institut as part of a joint project with Citizen Matters and Art & the City. This version is produced by Citizen Matters.