A few days ago, I got back from a weeklong trip to India, where I spent a few days at a government school in Maharashtra for my non-profit, Aboli Foundation. I was also on assignment for my internship with the Bangkok Post to write an article and visually profile the Adivasi community in the region. Needless to say, my camera would be my new best friend during the trip (not that it isn't already).
I prepared for my first day. Notepad? Check. A bottle of water? Check. Napkin for the heat? Check. Macro lens? Check. Camera?
I brought my camera out, thinking that I'd have to charge it overnight. Luckily, its battery was at a 100%. But unfortunately for me, that was all the juice my camera would have for the trip: I'd forgotten my charger in a drawer at home.
There are no words to describe my frustration and anger at myself for forgetting one of the most essential things I would need in order to complete my internship stories and take photographs of the students at the school. How on earth would I stretch out a single charge over an entire week packed with activities, travel, interaction and more?
I knew I had to bounce back from this and come up with a plan fast (other than collapse onto the floor and cry). I had a limited amount of photographs I would be able to take, that was for sure. Realizing this, I decided that this week, I was going to try something new: selective capturing.
Throughout the week, I assessed every situation I encountered a couple of times before whipping out my camera and photographing the scene.
While interviewing people from the community, I kept the camera aside, waiting until the very last moment to ask them if I could take a photo of them. Because of this, I didn't impose myself onto them, and they didn't feel like a deer caught in the headlights: to them, it was simply a conversation that ended with the flash of a camera.
Because I wasn't able to constantly photograph the children at the school, I didn't hide behind my camera as much as I had done the last time I visited. I connected with them at a much deeper level. Originally, I had planned to do a video series on the students. Instead, I decided to do photo profiles instead, sitting down with every student to ask him/her about their life, family, and dreams.
I learned that a small second-grader in my class had lost his father due to a kidney disease just a year ago, and that a shy fourth-grader wanted to become a teacher. I learned that almost all the female students in the school helped their mothers out with cooking and household tasks, while this didn't seem to be the case with the male students. I learned that a first-grader had a lot of difficulties getting registered into the school because his mother had gotten remarried, meaning his last name would have to legally be changed.
That week, I learned a valuable lesson which I am going to try to stick by from now on. As a photographer and journalist, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the people, events and information we need to report on. Because we get easily distracted by this surplus of data, we try to cover everything and thus, decrease the value of what we have covered.
Leaving my charger at home was certainly a stupid mistake, but if there's one thing I can take away from it, it is this: if I had taken photographs of each and every single scene in the community, I wouldn't have focused on capturing the rawest, most honest moment. Instead, I would have simply tried to capture everything I could see. And what would be the point of that?