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Photoworkshop | © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai

What constitutes the city that we live in? What makes it special? And how does one capture the atmosphere and convey the same to another person, who lives in another city, another country, embodying a totally different culture?
With these questions in mind began the intercultural photography project in August 2017, for which Beata Weber, Director of the Language Department at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai invited school students from the partner cities of Stuttgart and Mumbai. The Goethe-Institut Mumbai hosted 15 youngsters between 14 and 17 years from 7 different city schools as participants in this project. From Stuttgart there were 12 students in the similar age group from the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which has a partner school in the Indian metropolis.

By Juliane Schöning

Spritzer “Sudden monsoon showers cause a hustle amongst Mumbai’s rickshaw drivers. I clicked this photo because people in Mumbai love the rains.” | © Dhruv Bangera

Learning to see

For six months, every 4 to 6 weeks, the students from Mumbai met up for an intensive weekend of work, where they learnt not only how to handle a camera professionally but also how to see and what to look for while taking photographs. They were guided and supported by Gaurav Juyal who has earned his fame as an animation and graphic artist (he became famous through his television show “Art Attack” on Disney Channel), and Jochen Weber, a photographer from Stuttgart currently living in Mumbai, who specialises in photo documentaries and “story-telling”.

The programme initially focused on the basics of photography such as exposure, aperture, ISO as well as image composition, effects of light and other photographic techniques like motion blur and dragging. Apart from that the workshops also focused on intercultural approaches to “seeing” and people-photography.

The participants in the group first explored the immediate environment of the workshop location and through this simple exercise they established how these various aspects could be perceived and presented in diverse ways, such as by “moving in the right light”. In between the workshops the participants went off on their own to search for and capture, with the help of their newly acquired knowledge, the typical and the mysterious elements of their city.
Burden of Happiness “Street hawkers are typical of Mumbai and one can find them in every market. They generally carry their items in a basket.” | © Mihika Bendarkar

Travelling as a tourist in one’s own city

The resulting photographs became more focused, and the image composition more creative during the course of the project. Not only did their craftsmanship get further enhanced, but for most participants their approach towards the everyday environment also changed immensely. “It’s as if I became a tourist in Mumbai and saw ordinary things with a new perspective”, said Sanika Nayak, one of the participants. And it was precisely this “change of perspective” that was the underlying idea of this project.

By looking through “The eyes of others” the individual perspective changed. The young photographers had to take on a new viewpoint and keep in the back of their mind what aspects a foreigner from another culture would find fascinating or interesting in their city. The very ordinariness of daily things assumed a totally different value. “This project helped me discover a new love for my city”, so summarised Avan Hathi, one of the young photographers, her experiences.
Gateway to the City that never sleeps The Gateway is a landmark of Mumbai and at night, it is lit and many people come to visit it. I was there and had a tripod with me. So I clicked it. | © Uditi Joshi

But the work of the participants was not done with simply the photography. After the best photos were chosen, the next task was to find a creative title as well as compose a short descriptive text for their photos. Here too it was important to explain the cultural uniqueness, which did not always prove to be easy.
The discussions about the photographs, which took place partly in German, helped the students to further train their German language skills and encouraged each individual to formulate the descriptive text in German despite having only basic-level knowledge of the language. The project resulted in not only fascinating photos that showcased interesting narratives but also personal and poetic texts that makes for worthwhile reading.
Empyreal - Himmlisches Paradies The Bandra-Worli Sealink connects the city of Bandra to Worli. It’s one of the most magnificent constructions in not only the city but in the whole country. Every Mega City needs that one icon, a sharply defining symbol. The reason I clicked it is, because I admit the cable-stayed structure that spans the Mahim Bay. | © Tanisha Malekar

50 Years of Sister Cities Partnership

The city partnership between Mumbai and Stuttgart goes back to the past 50 years. Four schools from Stuttgart and nearby areas have partner schools in Mumbai and they invite the selected students from these schools regularly through their exchange programmes. Through this project the partner school students make their own city accessible in a special way, even for those who cannot travel.
The exhibition, “Mumbai: Ansichten einer Stadt” (“Mumbai: Views from a City”) showcases the results of the project in Mumbai. It will be displayed in the Stuttgart Town Hall from 4th to 20th July 2018. The opening is on 3rd July.
The parallel exhibition, “Stuttgart: Views from a City”, which is being accompanied by the photo-artist Antonio Zambito from Stuttgart, is in the preparation phase and will be showcased in the autumn of 2018 at the Goethe-Institut in Mumbai.

Text: Juliane Schöning
Translation: Chandrika Javeri / Amrita Dhara