In black and white
S. Balaraam, secretary of Andhra Pradesh Photographic Society, talks of the pros and cons of running a club dedicated to a largely neglected fine art.
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"PHOTOGRAPHY IS the most neglected fine art in Andhra Pradesh," he says under his breath. The disappointment is apparent in the voice of S. Balaraam, secretary of Andhra Pradesh Photographic Society, one of the oldest photography clubs or societies in the State. Balaraam has been the principal force behind the rejuvenation of the society since 1998.
"Our society was started way back in 1957 by stalwarts like Raja Trayambak Raj, one of the greatest pictorialists of the country, Dr. Bhagwan Das, K. Tirumaleshwar and other passionate lovers of photography in Hyderabad. Among our members are M. Hasan, Shah Ali, K. Rajan Babu and J. B. Pentoo who have all received the prestigious associateship of the International Federation of Photographic Art (FIPA) based in France, for their work."
Talking of the association's achievements Balaraam is quite unassuming. "Our greatest achievement has been that we have remained active for over four decades without a break. For an amateurs' association whose only source of funding is the annual fee collected from its members this is significant I think."
EARLY BIRD: K.V. Ramudu captures the female pied bush chat.
The association meets every month on second Saturday evening at Chaitanya Vidyalaya (behind Pingali Venkatarama Reddy hall) in Domalguda. Competitions are held for members on a given theme and each of the photographs submitted are critically discussed. There is usually a talk or lecture-demonstration by an invitee on some aspect of photography to help members hone their skills.
"We conduct photo workshops every two or three months with an expert, which are open to non-members as well. And every month we organise photo outings to interesting spots to help members learn from each other. Some of our members are regular participants in the tours conducted by the Birdwatchers' Society of Andhra Pradesh, the Save Rocks Society and the tourism department's Heritage walks in the old city," Balaraam elaborates.
The society has the distinction of organising 13 all India competition-cum-exhibitions for amateur photographers so far. It has been an annual feature from 1999. "We are taking a break this year in preparation for an International Exhibition, probably early next year. Once we receive the approvals from FIPA and the Photographic Society of America, we want to work vigorously to make it a grand success," says he excitedly.
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For the last two years, the society has been holding an annual exhibition of the best of its members' photographs to create an interface with the general public. Here too the fund crunch does not allow them to have the display beyond two or three days.
"The galleries have become so costly that we can't afford most of them," rues Balaraam. He is remarkably unblinkered about the quality of photographic work being done in Hyderabad. "There is little opportunity for enthusiasts and amateurs to learn from their peers here. Even otherwise the general standards are very low compared to what is happening in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka."
As for the support from the government, Balaraam sees a paradoxical situation. "On the one hand, the Telugu University into which most of the State Akademis were merged does nothing for photography. On the other, we have a four-years bachelor's course run by JNTU and an exclusive akademi for photography, which managed to escape the axe from the late N. T. Rama Rao's government."
IN CAMERA: S. Balaraam
"But what is the Andhra Pradesh State Akademi of Photography doing? It is supposed to work like any other `academy' educating practitioners and lay people and enriching the field. But it has been dormant and virtually invisible for so many years. It doesn't even boast of premises of its own!" The situation can be improved only by working from the ground level up, feels Balaraam. "In the meanwhile, the government could at least take some initiative like instituting an annual open photography competition and supporting exhibitions of eminent photographers from outside the State. We haven't approached the government seeking help so far but I think now we should!" is his parting shot.
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