Published: 23rd March 2020
Here's why everyone should check out photographer Amita Talwar's 'Art for Causes'
The photographer from Punjab is currently working on her second book of photographs. A documentary and a theatrical presentation on Sahir Ludhianvi are on the cards too. So let us wait and look out
Where is the happiness in enjoying what appeals to our heart by ourselves? Photographer Amita Talwar thought along the same lines when she started the non-profit Art for Causes. Most recently, Amita, who was born in 1954 in Patiala, taught the kids of Khusbow Vidya Nikethan School, Hyderabad, photography under Art for Causes and experienced the delight of teaching. "The enthusiasm and the ability of some of these students to learn and experiment is mind-blowing. Their energy is palpable and invigorating," she shares. Her photographs were even recently exhibited at the State Art Gallery in Madhapur during the Resilience exhibition. We caught up with her to find out more about Art for Causes, her documentary-making experience and what she is up to now. Excerpts from the interview:
1. You trace your interest in photography back to your grandfather and father, but when did you know for sure that you would be taking their legacy forward?
My father was an avid photographer - a lawyer by profession, with photography as his passion. In the 1950s and 60s, there were no avenues to exhibit one's work, especially in a small town like Patiala. So, most of my father's work remained in our family albums and some adorned the walls of the houses of friends and family. I had no focused plans or intention of carrying his legacy forward at first. Perhaps, it was my genes that took over or life charted its own course and I meandered into photography.
"If photographers and their work result in an uplifting experience of any kind, it's a job well done!" she says Amita Talwar
2. Tell us about your initial experiments with photography and two of the most exciting projects you have undertaken.
My earliest memory of the first camera that I held was a Kodak Baby Brownie, a tiny contraption that would fit in the palm of your hand. My serious pursuits began after marriage, when my husband gifted me a lovely Nikon FE and there was no looking back. Cameras, lenses, filters - all of these keep me happy, engrossed and broke! (laughs) I had done my Master's in English Literature and followed it up with a short correspondence course from the London School of Journalism. I started taking photographs related to the articles I was contributing to the Khaleej Times and Times of Oman, during our spell in Oman. Before that, my pictures were of the casual family and holiday kind.
3. You have also shot documentaries, one on poet Kaifi Azmi nonetheless. Tell us about exploring this medium.
My parents were fond of Urdu poetry and I had the good fortune of getting exposed to good poetry during my formative years. I graduated with English Honours and my postgraduation in English Literature fuelled my interest in poetry further. Being an avid film buff, I enjoy old Hindi film songs and wanted to learn more about the poets and lyricists who influenced our romantic sensibilities! That's when I decided to work on a documentary on Kaifi Sahib and it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. After that, I went on to do a six-week course in filmmaking at the New York School of Professional Studies where there were students of varying age groups and nationalities.
Amita Talwar | (Pic: Amita Talwar)
4. Tell us about your goal of starting Art for Causes back in June 2014 and what kind of artforms are introduced to children to prevent them from dropping out.
Art for Causes was set up with the intention of helping non-profits raise funds for their ongoing projects and create awareness about their programmes. I started off by donating the proceeds from my photography exhibitions to Society to Save Rocks, Blue Cross of Hyderabad, Impact, Multiple Sclerosis Society of AP. Then, we decided to launch our own educational initiatives with the primary focus on locating bright students from low-income schools and offering them financial assistance within our resources to prevent dropouts. Simultaneously, we wanted to introduce the students to different artforms like music, painting, photography and yoga to explore the potential of they pursuing these interests professionally.
5. Tell us about the photography workshops you have conducted for students, their reaction to photographs and the output they have produced.
Last year, we launched our photography initiative Udaan at Khushbow Vidya Niketan School and invested in ten cameras. Around 18 students evinced interest in this programme and we took them out on eight weekends with three mentors and introduced them to the fundamentals of photography. As many as 35 pictures were shortlisted and displayed at an exhibition 'Perspectives: Public Spaces' at the Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad, our collaborative partners. The output of the children was amazing and we sold twenty-five photographs. The proceeds were used to open bank accounts for the participating children. Currently, we have 30 cameras and 30 students from five different schools in the second round of Udaan. We plan to exhibit the photos sometime in June/July, when schools reopen.
Recently, she used a technique of digital merging of her paintings and layering photographs. "I loved the funky outcome that was printed on canvas and also used for a fundraiser calendar for Art for Causes last year. It was much appreciated and many corporates and individuals supported the initiative," she shares
Two of her noted experiences:
- When she got the opportunity to showcase her work alongside two art stalwarts, Pablo Bartholomew and Prabir Purkayastha, in New York's Wendt Gallery at the exhibition titled 'Vanishing Spirits'. "This was a fundraiser for the Salaam Baalak Trust initiated by Mira Nair and the who's who of NY were present," she shares
- She initiated The Power of 100 where she collaborated with 100 artists. "I shortlisted around 150 photographs that I had shot over a period of time and invited artists from different parts of the world to chose from them and represent them in their own style, their own medium. The outcome was incredible, varied and awe-inspiring. The proceeds from this went to support Art for Causes, the non-profit that I initiated along with my friend Renu Swarup," she says
Some of her clicks