Mahesh Bhat trips on nostalgia and photo festivals of the past.
It was 1990, some of us, commercial photographers had gotten together to form an association – Advertising & Industrial Photographers Association of India (AIPA). It quickly took the shape of a pan-India group and we were the Southern chapter. It was the time of 250% customs duty on camera equipment. And photo education was nil. Even information was hard to come by as there was no Internet.
We decided to hold a seminar on commercial photography. It was called NEWSCHOOL and the first edition of it happened in the second half of 1991 at the beautiful West End hotel in Bangalore. Several Indian photographers, art directors and a couple of international photographers gave talks and demos. Would you believe, that we had to obtain permission from RBI to pay for the airfare and accommodation of foreign photographers then? NEWSCHOOL was India’s first photo festival if you will. And talks with the government to reduce import duty began there. Salman Khurshid visited the festival and had a round table meeting with us. The second edition was in Delhi in 1993 and the third in Mumbai in 1995. I was in the core team of the first two editions.
There was a lull of almost 16 years in community photographic activities after 1995, till the Delhi Photo Festival launched in 2011 –! Since then many festivals have sprung up – Focus in Mumbai, Goa International (I was part of the core team, there as well), Indian Photographic in Hyderabad, Just Another Photography Festival in Delhi – this quarter is witnessing three!
Too many? Hmmm… That’s what I thought when I heard about three festivals happening in the span of two months. On the other hand, no.. I don’t think it’s too many. There are several film, music and dance festivals that happen through the year. And for a country for the size of India, we perhaps should have more. I would pitch for one in Kashmir and a couple in the North East…
The issue is that of money. There isn’t enough to fund these festivals. Actually there is, it just isn’t available. People use all their monies to buy the latest phones, jewelry (have you seen the jewelery shops in Bangalore?) and coffee at Starbucks. Yes, if 20,000 people give up two cups of coffee at Starbucks and put the money aside, a photo festival can easily be financed or may be three. In 2011, we did a small event in Bangalore called Weekend of Photography in Bangalore…it was pretty good, may be it’s time to revive it?
I won’t be visiting DPF this year. As I wrote to Dinesh and Prashant sometime ago, the loss is mine. I wish the team the best and may it be a joyous festival!
Mahesh Bhat has been a photographer for the last 25 years. He is based in Bangalore and is also Head of Photography at the One School Goa.