I love photography. At least that is how Week 1 of the digital photography class at a community college begins for me. Signing up for a class was a normal trajectory of a general lack of success on the do-it-yourself pathway.
I’ve learned that I learn best, in most subjects, when given a formal classroom setting to learn the fundamentals of theory and application, as well as get constructive feedback from an instructor and interaction with peers engaged with the subject.
Photography has always been a part of my life experience. I often felt a deep urge to capture my life experiences with a camera- often being taunted by my friends as the “paparazzi.” I felt that there would be no record of it if I didn’t capture some snaps. And without a record there would be no true memory. This fear stems, I believe, from how memories were transmitted to me as a child.
My particular familial experience includes not only the tribulations of modernization but also the aftermath from the brutal split with historical and geographic continuity in the form of the partition of South Asia and the further dislocation and dissolution of traditional family structures through immigration to the United States.
Three generations of my family have lived as refugees, immigrants, and foreigners. A people without a true sense of place, constructing from the past for the future in the present a patchwork of constantly changing understanding of what it means to be, how to conduct oneself, and to hold onto truths. I learned these truths and experiences through oral narrations, but I had always wished to see the proof- documents and especially photographs- of where we came from.
Susan Sontag observed that photographic culture is most prevalent in societies that have experienced traumas that shatter the past from the present, and in particular those societies that go through industrialization and modernization through brutal impositions. In my families context, it was not surprising that I held onto the camera for photographic evidence of my own journey, and in the hopes of keeping a record of my families existence, given the general lack of records that connected my existence to a historical past like so many of peers in school could point to.
I feel incredibly privileged. I am living at a time and in a place where I can now begin to document and piece together my family’s history. but I can’t help feeling a sense of loss given that many who held my families truth have passed away and my motivation only came with the realization that I am loosing the clarity of oral memories.
In this context this class falls into the larger mosaic of things I have pursued these past few years. I am learning to be a better photographer not simply because of my personal interest but because I hope to bring that skill set to bare on a personal project of mine to collect the remaining stories of living survivors of the 1947 Partition of India.
Here is to a wonderful 16 weeks of photography challenges, learning, skills growth, and reflection on the realm of digital photography.