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5 Things That I learnt by Assisting a Photographer

Its 4:30 pm. I am sipping a cup of hot tea with a cigarette in my hand. I am home early today from office. Exhausted. As a matter of fact, these days I wake up tired. I think the routine is killing me. I resonate with Jon Krakaeur’s words of wisdom “ Nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit than a secured future”. Almost at the same time, my phone beeps and I get a text message from a friend saying, ‘there is a Canadian Photographer by the name David Goldman, who needs an assistant for a week’. Its 8:00pm. Being the over thinker I am, I am still thinking. Confused. The next instant I call David up and tell him that I am available. I was desperate for something new to learn.

We were supposed to meet the next day for an informal introduction. I wanted to be ready. I checked out his Instagram handle and website. David was in India doing a personal project on ‘the de-notified tribes’. He had already photographed in many other places and Rajasthan was his last stop before leaving India. Everything went out as planned and I was going to Rajasthan with David for a whole week. My job was simple. Look out for his equipment’s and help him set up the background and lights.

The next few days we spent photographing different communities from the de-notified tribes. De-notified tribes were originally listed in the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, as criminal tribes and addicted to the systemic commission of non-bail able offence. David was trying to document this community and create some public awareness for the 146th year of the bill. He calls it, ‘the birth lottery’. Here are the lists of things that I learned while assisting David.

Conversation prior to shoot: The sun had almost set by the time we reached Jaipur and therefore we had a narrow timeline to make some outdoor portraits. We decided to visit a family from the Meena Community in Jaipur. David made it clear in the car that I had to converse with them prior to the portraiture session and talk to them about his project, and what exactly he was trying to achieve in his portraitures. He says and I quote him, ‘ I don’t expect everyone to understand what I am doing or why I am doing, but; but they have to know’. It is like that photograph has no meaning if they don’t know his intentions. During the whole trip, he often kept repeating how honored he was that these people allowed him to make a portrait.

Having a clear idea of your responsibilities: As our faculty in the school often says, learning on the job is the best way. There were times when I drifted from my responsibilities, which lead into me losing one of his equipment. Although it wasn’t serious at all, I realized I had to take control of what I was doing. There are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ or excuses. I had to be on my toes. And have a clear idea of what my number one job was- looking after his equipment’s. At times, I would freak out because he had so many equipment’s and remembering everything was so stressful. It was only during our second day that I prepared a detailed list of his equipment’s and that settled my nerves down.

That things will not happen as expected: At the end of our second day, we hit a dead end. The one guy, with whom we depended upon our access, seemed to have misjudged the situation a little and we were in the hotel, in the evening, not knowing what the next day had in store for us. Personally it happens to me a lot when I got out to shoot. I have this preconceived image in my head, no matter how much I try to avoid. But eventually, every time things don’t go as I expect them to and I am always stranded. May be that is how it should be. Although we were help-less, it sure provided some time to talk about our personal lives and bond a little.

Keeping your focus: There are a lot of things that you are required to do as an assistant besides just looking after his equipment’s and setting up the lights. When we were in Kota, we went to visit the Baori community. We set up our background and lights, and next thing I see around, there are hundreds of people breathing down my neck, wanting to know what was happening, who was he and oddly, how much I was charging him. For a moment I freaked out and lost myself in a blank space. I had to control the crowd, look after the background, explain to these people, look after his equipment’s and simultaneously shoot behind the scene photographs. Later that day after we had finished our shoot I asked David, how does he keep himself so composed in such situations? Because it happens to me every time, I lose my mind and I have to keep talking to myself to calm down. David said that the best possible way was to concentrate only on the subject and ignore everything that was happening in the surrounding; converse and just focus on creating a good portrait.



From random conversations about everything:
For some time now, I had this internal struggle between selling myself on social media and keeping my work with myself. Frankly I hate it. Posting photographs on social media. I don’t see the point. I saw David posting photographs on Instagram quite frequently and shared my concern with him. He said that what else would you do with images and how would people know that you make images. The purpose of art basically is to say something and give your opinion or express something about yourself. How would you otherwise sustain yourself in such an economically competitive world?
Although I am still wondering, it sure helped me get some clarity.

Unfortunately our trip was cut short due to lack of access and we had to return to Delhi. We weren’t feeling good about it, at all. On our way, we made a random stop at a brick factory and we met this guy who was kind enough to show us around. And it made our day. One good image! And it is all that takes to make your day. That is why probably doing what you love is so important. It was a long and tiring return journey from Kota to Delhi. Personally I would have liked to spend some more time but overall it was a unique experience. Seeing an experienced photographer and his process caused me to think about mine. It is different from what you learn in a classroom or even by yourself. And it isn’t a bad job at all. It has its perks one of which includes extensive travelling and in the end making yourself better at what you did than yesterday.

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