Nov 24, 2007

Inspiration

Tonight I walked outside and looked up. High altitude clouds, like waves in the sand, stretched in all directions, veiling the brilliant full moon and dispersing its halos across the sky.

After a day of big, thick, low hanging clouds, the sky felt so open and so far away.

I was out in the suburbs of Cupertino, but for a moment I recalled the open skies of Kashmir. There the mountains were a little taller, the sky a little darker, and the people a little more hospitable.

In August I piggybacked a trip to our company's Pune office with a photography workshop by VII photographer Gary Knight.

I really had very little idea of what the workshop was like. Other than that it was in Kashmir, and had something to do with photojournalism and storytelling, and it was not for beginners. When I saw the website in May, I just thought "Damn, this is f!@#ing cool", and filled in the registration without too much thought.

A few days later, I got a reply regarding the registration, was out $1000 in deposit, and I emailed the coordinator (whom I later discovered was Gary's wife) with a few more questions. I got this as a reply, and although initially I felt like this description still left a lot of holes about workshop, in retrospect I'd say it's perfectly accurate:

"With regard to an average day I'm not sure there's any such thing with Gary's workshops. They're not structured in a classroom style and a lot will depend on who the participants are and where they are with their photography.
The way it normally works is that everyone has a meeting with him when they arrive (it's to your advantage to arrive the evening of the 22nd as you could then see him either pm on the 22nd or am on the 23rd and be out shooting the same day. Before you arrive you should research some story ideas. Often what you end up photographing is not what you set out to do but it's a really useful exercise in getting you focused and off the starting block.
Gary talks with everyone individually and gets an idea of their photography and what they hope to achieve in the week. You'll then work with a fixer on your story (if necessary) and go out and start work. In the afternoon/early evening there's an editing session followed by dinner with the group. It's all fairly convivial and open to change."

Unfortunately, I slacked off with the preparation for most of June and July, and by August I found myself scrambling preparting for the work part of the trip, that I really didn't have much preparation at all for the photo part. I did use the trip as an excuse to get some new gear (Canon Rebel XTi, and a the 10-22 EF-S lens). I had thought, maybe when I'm in India for work, I can catch up on my research on Kashmir, but really, that didn't happen.

The one interesting tidbit I picked up was an Indian Express (delivered daily to my hotel) about independence in Kashmir. Another editorial expressed desires of reunification between India and Pakistan (it was approaching the 60th anniversary of India's independence from the British Empire.

So as the plane headed through the mountains towards Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir, I had a great sense of trepidation. The greenery below and the blue skies above were a far cry from the vast stretches of slums in Mumbai and the brown-grey haze over Delhi. The Kingfisher airline flight landed in the small airport, alongside military jets and helicopters. It's one of those airports where attendents roll a staircase on wheels up to the door of your plane, where you disembark and entire an empty hall, guarded by men in army fatigues and submachine guns. While you wait for someone to cart in your luggage, you fill in registration forms for foreign nationals, as locals pester you with offers of beautiful houseboats that are cheaper than the one you already have booked. At this point I was still a little hesitant to mention why I was there. I didn't want to be accidentally mistaken as a journalist, who tend to be less welcome than tourists.

I had email confirmation that Gary had arrived. I had the address of the houseboats I was supposed to head to. I had a fair bit of Indian currency. I had the expectation that there would be a driver to pick me up. But as I walked out of the single building arrivals terminal, along a long driveway to a gate thronged with rickshaw drivers, I really felt like I had absolutely no clue what would happen next.

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