Monday, 30th October 2017

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Life lessons through lens

New York photographer engages with mentally ill

By Jhinuk Mazumdar in Calcutta
  • Published 20.11.19, 2:06 AM
  • Updated 20.11.19, 2:06 AM
  • a min read
Ken Kurzweil (extreme left) talks to a participant at the workshop. Picture by Gautam Bose

A photographer from New York helped individuals with mental illness to “look out and explore” during a recent visit to the city.

Ken Kurzweil, 70, used photography lessons to urge participants at the workshop not to focus on themselves but to look beyond.

Many of the participants had never held a camera and Kurzweil taught them to “start thinking what they want to take pictures of”.

“I told them to find something that is happy, find something that made them feel good and look out of the window and find something that they would like to take a picture of,” Kurzweil said.

“Many of the students were more focussed on themselves and not the outside world. Using a camera and asking them to look through it made them explore the world. What I tried to accomplish is not just to teach them to use a camera but also how it can be used to look beyond the self.”

The workshops were conducted for students of Turning Point, an NGO that works with children and adults with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Kurzweil was in the city on behalf of Photographers Without Borders, an organisation that works with small non-profit groups across the world that cannot afford a professional photographer. Photographers Without Borders is made up of volunteers who work in 50 countries.

For Turning Point, it was a valuable opportunity.

“We try to focus on the strong points of every individual. I have seen some of my students doing very well and gaining confidence after they have focussed on photography. Some of them have also participated in exhibitions and hence I grabbed the opportunity for them to learn from a professional,” said Ishita Sanyal, the director of Turning Point.

Kurzweil made the lessons interactive by showing photographs taken by him and asking them to guess why he had clicked those.

Having taught high school students biology, chemistry and computer science for over three decades, Kurzweil believes in individualised attention.

“No matter where or who you teach you have to individualise your instruction. Everybody is different even in a regular class,” he said.

Kurzweil’s lessons helped Dipan Khastagir “focus” on objects that he sees around him.

“I would only take photographs of nature but after this workshop I have also learnt to photograph objects around us that also make interesting subjects,” said the 24-year-old.