The workshops, explains Michael, were an elaborate process, through which the theme of memory and how to express it through photography.
“Not everyone can become a great artist, but great artists can come from anywhere,” goes the famous line from the Disney movie Ratatouille. It is this philosophy that Elise Foster Vander Elst, organiser of the FOCUS Photography Festival, has followed when curating her exhibitions with photographs from young, up-and-coming talent. The youngest of the lot are actually students from three different schools from the city, who were part of a three-month-long workshop, and now have their works displayed in different art galleries across town.
“The best part about having these workshops for kids is that they start to believe that they can also explore creative avenues like photography as viable career paths,” says Elise, who added this section to the FOCUS’ repertoire in 2015. “I have had quite a few kids come and tell me that they want to be a photographer,” she adds.
This year, the curators have worked with kids from different economic backgrounds from the Dharavi Art Room, Muktangan and Bombay International School. “There is an entire mosaic of images, with different interpretations by each child, but you can distinguish them in terms of their backgrounds as well, since on the one hand you have kids from Muktangan, which is an NGO-run public school and Dharavi, and on the other, you have kids from Bombay International School, which is one of the best schools in the city and have students from much higher income backgrounds,” explains Michael Cutts, one of the curators of the project, who’s been working with Muktangan for years.
The workshops, explains Michael, were an elaborate process, through which the theme of memory and how to express it through photography. “We first discussed how the word ‘memory’ can be interpreted in various ways. Then, we went on to see how it has already been represented through art,” he elaborates.
The depth of each photograph and the varied story behind them become aparant when speaking with Om and Aishwariya, two 13-year-old students from Muktangan. “I took a photograph of a Rubik’s cube, because, when I look at it, I remember that nothing is impossible if you use the right formula. My other picture is of a keyboard, which I wanted to play when I was in class six and played when I was in the seventh. I reminds me about the confidence and happiness I felt,” says Om.
Aishwariya’s photograph of a cityscape, she says, “Is a memory of my loneliness. Because I am alone when I look out at the city. My other photo is about a childhood memory.”
Some of the photos, which have stood out to Michael, also demonstrate the varied ways in which the kids have interpreted a simple theme. “There is a photograph by one of the kids at Dharavi Art Room of the koyla maydan, which symbolises how the greenery that was once there is lost; one of the kids at Muktangan took a photo of his father with his Marathi books because that’s what he pictures when he remembers him, and a student from Bombay International School took a photo of a girl on a swing to symbolise the passage of time and present swinging into past,” lists Michael, adding that the workshop was instrumental in helping the kids open themselves up to the possibilities. “A two-day workshop may have resulted in nice photos but it wouldn’t have resulted in the same depth,” she shares.