The Light and Life Academy in Lovedale celebrated its 14th anniversary by teaching photography to kids from three village schools and a boarding school

Celebrated photographer Iqbal K. Mohamed stands with his camera on a tripod, waiting to capture a sunrise which he tells me will happen at 6.25 a.m. I am at the next window with my tablet waiting to do the same. He helps me hold it at the correct angle to get a better shot. Iqbal sees a lot of this preposterousness in his photography institute, Light and Life Academy (LLA), the only one of its kind in the country. He is used to dealing with attitude, he smiles.

LLA fans out right below us, a clutter of green roofs that spans 35,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art studios and equipment, meticulously planned, built up and added to since 2001. It has been alma mater to some big-deal photographers in fashion, food, industry, wildlife and travel. Iqbal and his wife Anuradha are immensely proud of them.

This year, that pride went up a notch. Wanting to do something special to mark the academy’s 14th anniversary, Iqbal, Anu and their current batch of students held a photography outreach programme. They invited kids from the Government higher secondary schools in the villages of Athigaratti, Kathadimattam and Nunthala, and Lawrence School, Lovedale, and taught them the basics of photography.

New cameras were bought for the village kids who were beside themselves with excitement. Some of them had never held a camera.

Kids come up with images that are not often seen by an adult... we get more than we give – new perspectives and newer vision

The workshop was a big hit. S. Sharmila, from one of the Government schools, giggles. “I was scared at first. But they taught me how to hold the camera, and I learnt not to be frightened.” There was a slide show of the photographs the kids took — a puppy on a drum, a well-used kadhai drying in the sun, village elders staring sombrely into the camera, a wrinkled pair of feet, a lamp post, flowers and bees and butterflies... all seen through the eyes of kids.

While the Lawrence School students came from affluent backgrounds and some of them had more sophisticated cameras, the subjects all the children shot were the same. Says Anu, “The aesthetics were the same. It is the eye that creates pictures, not the camera. The big idea is to make photography a tool of empowerment and not just recreation. What they can’t say in words, they will say it in pictures. They will learn to document their unique lives and become custodians of their culture,” she says.

Madhavi Ravindranath, Programme Director, All India Radio, Ooty, agrees with her. “The initiative to teach Government school children was particularly interesting because they would never have such an opportunity otherwise. Giving them tools to use this medium and letting them use it showed us what they could do, given the chance. The imagination, technique and confidence they demonstrated was amazing. We have to stop being patronising about Government schools. Given the opportunity, they have the same talent and skill sets as anyone else.”

Opening avenues

Anuradha says the initiative received enthusiastic support from R. Balamurali, Chief Education Officer of the Nilgiris. He too is full of praise for the outreach. He says: “The project will go a long way in opening up the world to these kids, some of whom are the first generation in their families to go to school. They rarely get such opportunities in their lives. I hope LLA will continue with more such programmes and involve more students.”

The LLA mentors to the kids were overwhelmed. Says Elyon Blah: “I always wanted to work with children, so this was the perfect opportunity. I was surprised at their enthusiasm and energy. I cannot explain my sense of pride and satisfaction when I saw the children’s images.”

Vidhya V., another mentor says: “Teaching kids photography, especially when I am learning it myself, was a bit weird! But it gave me an insight into their perspective and opinions.” LLA students welcomed the chance to revisit the basics of photography and re-learn to look at the world through the eyes of the children.