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Far Away, So Close: Photography Project with the National Institute of Design in India
Participants: Five master’s and doctoral students in Inter-Media Art
Location: Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad, State of Gujarat, India
Period: September 24-October 1, 2016
Students at the Department of Inter-Media Art in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA), are encouraged to practice beyond existing fields of art, using different media including but not limited to painting, photography, film and video, music, literature, performance, and installation. In this collaborative project, five graduate students accompanied by Prof. Risaku Suzuki and a teaching member of his laboratory that primarily deals with lens-based media, visited the Post Graduate Campus of National Institute of Design (NID) in Gandhinagar. They worked together with fifteen NID graduate students and faculty from the Department of Photography Design with the aim of bringing a new perspective into their thought process and practices.
The collaborative project started with introductions by the participating students from the two institutions. It served as a valuable opportunity for them to give and listen to speeches which reflected socio-cultural diversity of respective participants. In contrast to NID students who were used to speaking English as the common language of communication on campus, some TUA students were seemingly struggling with communication in English.
On the second day onwards, the participating students formed small groups of three or four to work together on research. Each group was assigned two photographers, one from Japan and the other from India. The group members studied and explained mutually about the assigned photographers, and discussed the characteristics, differences, and similarities between the research targets. In this process, the students were expected to consider and explain the assigned photographers with their own words so that they could have others understand their ideas. This experience allowed them to find some commonalities between and acquire a new perspective about the two photographers, who were believed to have no contact with each other.
When there were no classes, the TUA members joined a guided walking tour in the city of Ahmedabad to visit historical buildings such as the Jumma Masjid mosque. They also visited the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi, so-called the “Father of the Nation”, spent some of his life.
Furthermore, Prof. Suzuki offered an artist talk as well as a special lecture titled History of Japanese Photography, which was attended by many local students and faculty members.
As the collaborative project reached the phase of actual production, the students and faculty members of TUA and NID started working in pairs on portrait photography. During the photographic session, the person who was photographed, the sitter, was asked to think of someone he or she cherished. Before the shooting, each pair discussed how they should collaborate in making the portrait, including the topics of who they cherish, shooting locations, costumes, and poses. The sitter was later asked to write a letter on the final print of his/her portrait addressed to the person who he or she thought of while being photographed.
This collaborative project aimed to connect the sitter, the photographer, and the person in the sitter’s mind beyond time and space through the portrait and hand-written text. It also aimed to welcome the viewers of the portrait to the small circle of friends as if the four parties held hands together. The series of twenty-two portraits by students and faculty was named Far Away, So Close. Following the review by the faculty members of TUA and NID, it was presented in the form of an exhibition, which was visited by a large number of people including the Director and the Dean of NID. The catalog of the Far Away, So Close exhibition was printed in India as another outcome of the project.
Looking back on the entire project, it seemed that NID aims to train students who can produce works that are relevant to and required by society. Likewise, NID students chiefly associated their works with social causes or issues, which TUA students found different from their own creative approaches. The collaborative project encouraged the TUA students to step out of their comfort zone and reflect on their art practices and goals. At the same time, it served as a meaningful opportunity for them to identify their personal challenges such as the improvement of English communication skills.