This is the twenty sixth blog in a series on COVID-19 and lockdown, edited by firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
AD: Hello Rajen, the Photography talks that you have been hosting for the RPS India Chapter and Circle of Confusion during COVID-19 lockdown have attracted audiences from Singapore to as far north and west as the USA; thank you for sparing the time to talk today. Please tell us about yourself.
RN: I’m an industrialist based in Mumbai. I inherited my grandfather’s company. We are in Gypsum business (commonly known as Plaster of Paris) since 1918 and we are the pioneers in India. We have a huge legacy and a glorious history. In late 1970s the business was at a crossroads – either to continue on concentrating on plaster architectural decoration business or develop our smaller division of manufacturing specialised plasters. I had to look to ways to expand into specialities, which then was almost dependant on imports. The technology was not available nor the current world’s computer science or Google. I experimented making specialised gypsum, borrowing my wife’s rice cooker (we were newly married, and she was quizzical when I borrowed it). In a short time, I developed a new material and subsequently many formulations, which is exported to several countries, including the UK.
AD: There is a Hindi word “Jugaad (जुगाड)” which means to achieve a low-cost makeshift solution – what you have achieved appears to be a great example of that. Perhaps it should have been mentioned in the book published today ‘Jugaad Innovation’ which has come from our mutual friend Jaideep Prabhu, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Business and Enterprise at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. OK, so now tell us about your interest in photography.
RN: I’m a self-trained photographer. I recently acquired a medium format mirrorless camera – the Fujifilm GFX 50S. I consider myself to be a perfectionist and hence I have spent considerable time reading and upgrading my photography knowledge. As I travel a lot abroad for my business, I steal a few days of the time taking pictures. I have to admit despite this effort I have never been able to devote more than 5% of my time. I invested in learning how to print to the highest specification and acquired a Digigraphie certified Epson 24 inch printer almost ten years ago. Recently I upgraded this printer with the latest series 44 inches. I enjoy making prints and I am a member of Epson Digigraphie.
I enhanced my knowledge in master printing techniques from a friend and one of my gurus, R Mac Holbert (former manager of the folk-rock supergroup Crosby Stills and Nash) as well as the famous Nash Editions in USA. He is also a part of Pixel Genius.
AD: I understand that you also teach photography – can you please elaborate? This is in keeping with the RPS mission of education.
RN: I have a room in my office building equipped with AV equipment. Since 2009-10, I founded the ‘Circle of Confusion’ (CoC) – a non-profit body where we have conducted several workshops on photography – free of cost – every Saturday morning. CoC is a knowledge sharing platform. Amongst other things, we have covered several topics in the art and science of photography. The name ‘Circle of Confusion’ is a pun – a play on words for a term in photography that is used to determine the ‘depth of field’ – the zone of acceptable sharpness in an image. That’s what I wish to do – to sharpen the photographers’ minds! So far, we have shared knowledge with approximately 1500 photographers. I must admit that this would not have been possible without the support of Rohinton Mehta, Technical Editor of Smart Photography magazine, plus some other friends and supporters of this wonderful sharing platform. Eminent photographers from India and abroad have shared this platform for the benefit of the participants. Especially, not to forget my friends and India’s leading photographers Rajeev Asgaonkar, Nrupen Madhvani, Ian Pereira, Dr Anish Andheria, Pallon Daruwala, Vinod Krishnan and Subir Chatterji. These friends have helped me immensely not only in physical meetings prior pandemic but also the new ‘avatar’ of e-learning.
There are approximately two million active photographers in India, so the RPS has a role to play here.
AD: When did you first become interested in the RPS?
RN: In 2009 I befriended a previous President of the RPS, Roy Robertson. He was the second ever Scottish President of the RPS since the inception. One of my images was chosen for the 152nd RPS Print Exhibition. Several of my photographs have gained recognition in national and international competitions and have been displayed at “Digigraphie gallery at Zingst photo festival and Photokina, Germany.
AD: With a population of 1.4 billion, a burgeoning use of mobile telephones and 2 million active photographers with antecedents in the nineteenth century, the potential for photography education and participation is enormous. How did the RPS India Chapter come about?
RN: I started this 10 years ago, self-funded to date. This vision has developed. We now have international audiences and speakers, including recent speakers, Sigurjon Pétursson from Iceland and Nicholas Vreeland, who studied photography from Irving Penn and who later became a friend of Henri Cartier-Bresson. A film on his life, “Monk with a camera” – was Portrayed by Richard Gere. A RPS Contemporary COVID-19 blog by Nicholas Vreeland is at: https://rps.org/news/groups/contemporary/2020/december/buddhist-perspective-on-the-pandemic/
We plan to collaborate with RPS Australia and some other countries, through mutual exchanges of webinars. A talk on landscape photography by the RPS Hon. Treasurer, John Miskelly, is forthcoming.
I’m thankful for the support from RPS Trustee Janet Haines and pleased to report that there is now an RPS India Chapter page on the RPS website, thanks to Kate Constance, volunteering manager.
AD: How did you come to be in London during the first COVID-19 Lockdown?
RN: I flew to London for a six-day business trip in March 2020. My son in Mumbai rang me frantically to urge me to fly back home within 3 hours to escape the closure of return flights. It was not possible for me to make it back to the airport. Instead, I stayed in my London home. I only had two lenses, a 100 mm f/2 and a 32-64 mm f/4 with my Fujifilm GFX 50S and used my enforced time in London to photograph what I witnessed over the next six months. I would walk 10 km each day which replaced the exercises in a gymnasium. Observing UK government guidelines, I also travelled to Cambridge and Hampshire.
AD: Your wonderful images convey the relative emptiness of London and its environs during the Lockdown. Thank you Rajen, for sparing your valuable time to talk with the RPS about yourself and mutually beneficial photographic initiatives.
Other blogs in this series: