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In focus: the dawn of photography

In this era of digital photography, the audience at Studio21 was treated to some excellent specimens of pinhole and daguerreotype photography, some of the oldest forms of capturing images.

The talk on March 13 was by Panneer Selvam Madhavan, the executive director of Goa Center for Alternative Photography (Goa-CAP). The talk was held on the sidelines of The Interior, a photography exhibition on Iran (a joint initiation of Goethe-Institut Delhi and Rahab Allana) organised at Studio21.

Madhavan shared with the audience how he changed gear from being an investigative journalist to an investigative photographer.

He was always in love with film photography even when others were shifting to the digital form. “I continued remaining passionate about film photography. I learnt more about daguerreotype photography in Paris,” he said.

The daguerreotype process, invented in 1839, is the first official process of taking pictures. The images are formed on silver and copper plates. “I realised that there are no specimens of daguerreotype photography in India, though after Paris the movement spread to India with quite a few daguerreotype photographers being there in Calcutta. As I studied the subject I wondered where would I get the silver and copper plates for that kind of photography,” Madhavan said.

The passion to go back to the beginning of the photography movement prompted Madhavan to start Goa-CAP. The centre invites photography enthusiasts to know more about daguerreotype and all kinds of alternative photography processes. “We only get 10 per cent photographers for our fellowships and programmes. The rest are all creative people from other fields,” laughed Madhavan.

The talk also veered to another rudimentary form of photography — pinhole process — that does not require a lens and is 400 years old. Madhavan had captured the 2008 polls in Tamil Nadu with a pinhole camera. He ended his talk by showing clips of some priceless pinhole images taken by various photographers.

He also traced the history of photography from the time innovators could merely stabilise images but not fix them. “Creating image was never a challenge, but the real problem lay in fixing it in the pre-photography era,” Madhavan said.

The next day, a discussion on Ethics in Photography was organised in association with Aksgar, Goa-CAP and Goethe Institut. Anil Cherukupalli, the founder and curator of Aksgar, a photography magazine, coordinated the discussion where audience expressed their opinions about ethics in photography and related issues.