“Learning cannot be stopped, and we have to find alternate and safer ways to do so.”
Only a person who enjoys teaching and believes in sharing his leanings with others would think so passionately about looking for alternatives during the lockdown, a time when the world has come to a standstill.
Sandeep Biswas has over two decades of experience in Art, Commercial and Social Documentary Photography and is also a lead curator for Photographic arts for VASA, an international online platform for media studies. But teaching is where his heart is. Despite his busy schedule, he always found ways to make time for his students.
Developing more photographers with a creative eye for the art is where he is focussing his energies during the lockdown times. And who ever thought that his concept of floating academy would become one of the most viable modes of teaching soon after launching Grayscale Academy of Photography and Creative Vision in 2019.
“People are looking to keep themselves engaged, since time is not as scarce anymore. Photography is not only an education, but also a way to revive oneself, especially in today’s circumstances.”
TEACHING IS WHERE HIS HEART IS
Sandeep Biswas has been interested in photography since school but his passion for teaching the medium was realized when he got his first opportunity around the year 1999-2000 from a small creative arts school in Delhi. Around the same time, he got an opportunity to go to Japan as an associate visiting fellow with the photography department at the Kyoto University of Art and Design after receiving Japan Foundation Fellowship in 2001. After returning from Japan, he started teaching twice a week at a couple of design schools for about a decade along with doing commercial projects and establishing himself. Then in 2019, he decided to take his passion further.
“Grayscale Academy of Photography and Creative Vision is my baby. It is a result of a certain personal ideology towards the pedagogy I feel, I could not fulfill, while I taught at certain institutions offering the subject. I have always been an idealist in my own manner and have actually managed to constructively contribute to my students better outside the institutional space.”
A NOVEL CONCEPT
And thus, came the concept of a floating academy of photography, where the teachings are not bound by a physical structure or a standard class pattern. Sandeep believes in taking the photography to more and more people through workshops in art-inspired places and one-on-one mentor-ship programs. The budding photographers learn at their own pace by working on the subjects of their choice under the guidance of a mentor.
“I do understand that being an institution needs sustenance and therefore becomes a business. I founded Grayscale Academy in 2019 with a bare minimum investment. It is still in the experimental stage and growing slowly. Presently my focus is in helping the students realize their creative goals. I want them to understand the true struggle that every creative process is all about, rather than showing them only the shining surface. No creative success is possible without its hidden hardships. Without this understanding, the fun might get over the moment the institutions release you into the harsh reality.”
And it is his belief of creating meaningful education that is helping him tide over lockdown. In fact he believes his concept of floating academy with minimum investment is a positive way to move forward instead of larger and well-established ones with recurring overhead expenses.
“These sorts of ventures take time and are meant more serious teaching rather than only a profit-making business. I will need to investment more in the near future, but with the present situation of the pandemic, I need to be careful of not making any miscalculated move and put myself under needless pressure, which might stray me away from my focus. I am very patient with myself, and the growth of the academy. I am selective on my modules. It is a long-term project, and in its nascent years”
He still remembers his first two workshops in Lucknow and Ahmedabad. It was a tough beginning, but the workshops set the ball rolling. He thinks of the tough times more as a learning phase.
“Both the workshops were held in venues important to Indian History. Lucknow was held at the Mahmudabad House, once the palace of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and Ahmedabad at Navajivan Trust, which was founded by Gandhi ji and this is where he first published his weekly newspaper “Navajivan”.
LIFE IN LOCKDOWN
Before lockdown, he was busy with various photography projects and curating apart from managing the academy. He been just finished working on few projects before lockdown was announced – 2 coffee table books which recently got published and one shoot for an NGO.
He was in the middle of relaunching the mentorship program and planning photography workshops in collaboration with The Create Studio and the India Habitat Centre for the summers when the lockdown happened, which has now gone on hold. He was also scheduled to go again to the Changan University, Xian, China in July to teach but that is now suspended.
Curating online photo exhibitions for VASA Project is keeping him busy apart from planning for future operations for Grayscale Academy.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Sandeep Biswas is a person who does not give up easily. The lockdown has only got him thinking of alternatives.
“Now I am working on re-launching our workshops online. It is a new medium, there is a lot to understand about it and I am trying to adapt to this new system of teaching through the screen. Though it does not seem as much fun as a conventional classroom, but it is the future.”
Fun or not, we are sure Sandeep Biswas will come up with yet another creative way of reaching his students because that is his way of giving to society and empowering budding photographers.
To stay updated, keep a tab on his Instagram page.