Covid, Photography and the PSSL
by: Laya Alles –
Covid epidemic has really changed the landscape and the social fabrics everywhere in the world. It has put a lock on everyone, without exceptions. One good outcome was the ability to work from home for some, giving much needed flexibility to get the work, home and leisure balance right. And of course, the daily commuting together with fighting the daily traffic is now less, giving rise to less pollution all around. But that too might become boring after some time, because the social aspect of going to work is now lost for many. While Covid is definitely something we all do not like, on the balance, it has also provided many opportunities to do things that we would never have done otherwise.
Photography is one such opportunity. Typically, for many, the cameras come out only for family social events to capture a few moments, or when there is good weather and sun shine to venture outside, or when going on a trip or wild life safaris. Otherwise, the cameras tend to be restricted to the camera bags for the most part, or in Sri Lanka, the desiccators. For many of us, none of these previous opportunities would happen any time soon, because of Covid, and the uncertainties it entails. But all is not lost. Photography looked at differently affords many opportunities that we have either neglected or never looked at before.
Perhaps learning to take photographs, that are better than snap shots might be a nice pastime activity that could be learnt and developed at home, while one cannot leave the home or the region for some time. Contrary to the popular belief, there is much more to good photography than family social events, sunny days or travelling. The modern digital cameras allow many more interesting and creative things to be done, than just shooting snap shots. It is very sad that people pay lots of money for expensive DSLR cameras, but end up using less than half their full capacities or the capabilities. Many take snap shots of family, selfies, food and moments in time using the mobile phones. This is good; but digital cameras give us far more opportunities, capabilities and flexibilities.
Photography is fun. Those who are not very conversant with it could learn. There is much material in the internet. Learning keeps the mind occupied. It is often said that a usefully occupied mind is more likely to avert illnesses such as Alzheimer than a mind that is idling, or is being bored to death, literally, watching endless television. Learning and engaging in photography is highly relaxing. This permits one to achieve relief from tedium of daily living, be it work, house work or any other occupation. It is an excellent way to relieve stress. Completely focused engagement in taking photographs, ‘dark room work’, of course on the computer these days, is an excellent way to fully occupy the mind on things that are interesting as well as being outside of the normal daily chores. Focused attention to one thing, at the exclusion of other distractions, that tend to pull a person in different directions, is an excellent way to obtain complete mind and body relaxation; and of course, that eliminates stress. It is much healthy than watching TV. Photography promotes a healthy life, an outdoor life also, while being a useful, productive and creative occupation.
Photographic Society of Sri Lanka or PSSL, is a very fertile platform, that brings photographers from all walks of life, together. It is fertile because it promotes learning and improving the skill set of a photographer. It is also an excellent social platform in that like-minded people with similar interest can interact and share ideas, creations, and socialize, albeit over the zoom technology. The technology and the activities allow the photographers to get together while maintaining the distance, without having to put on the masks. Now that is an opportunity.
It has many competitions with open judging. Open judging forces people to do their utmost in terms of taking creative photographs of highest quality allowing one to develop and improve to make full potential as a photographer. This specific activity within PSSL has spawned highly competent photographers over its 150-year history.
During this 150-year old history, which even pre-dates independence, PSSL has seen, many outstanding photographers within the hallowed halls of the Lionel Wendt. Many outstanding photographers have used the resources of PSSL, including the dark room facilities at Lionel Wendt during the film era in the past. One of our prime Ministers, Mr. Dudley Senanayake was a member. He was a proud owner of a Leica M3 Camera, even today known as one of the best miniature cameras.
Although the dark rooms are no longer in active use (but still available), 99.9% of the members use digital cameras, and use the computer based ‘soft’ dark rooms to creatively enhance the photos out of the cameras. Today PSSL uses the Zoom technology heavily to effect the meetings, that used to be held at the hall at the Lionel Wendt. Although this was interesting and nice, with ‘malu paan’ and drinks, the Zoom technology is equally effective even though one must provide one’s own ‘malu paan’!! World class photographers who happen to be members of the organization, and at times invited outsiders, present and share their work in public meetings held for members using zoom technology. These are both technical sessions and art expositions all at the same time. This level of learning via interactions, is never possible using resources available on the internet. It is interesting to note that the Zoom technology would never have caught on outside the corporate sphere, if not for Covid. The weekly or b-weekly meetings are open to all right across the island of Sri lanka, but also to people who are residents overseas. Previously one must admit that the members living outside Colombo had difficulties attending meetings and being active in the PSSL. It is no longer the case, everyone can now attend the meetings, interact and be active withing the various activities. Members are very much encouraged to take up this opportunity from all across Sri Lanka, from North to south and East to West.
Some of the activities such as the street walks of the street photography group, or the wild life photo tours, or the fashion shoots cannot happen as public events during the times of the lock downs. But the members could still do a lot within their own ‘covid bubbles’ and share the work. For example, there is much “wild life” in ones back gardens, perhaps no leopards and bears, but many birds, squirrels, cats and dogs. These are all excellent subjects for photography. The limiting factor is only but creativity. Food photography, astro-photography, macro and micro photography are creative fields with many opportunities. There is also a film group, and depending on the interests the real dark rooms might become active once again.
The beauty of the PSSL is that it allows people to see the works of world class photographers. If one to purchase a beautiful and colorful, (well black and white as well) photo books, it would cost an arm and a leg, not less than Rs 3000 for a good book. For that amount one can become a member and get to see ten time as much beautiful photographs, at the comfort of your own home. Not only that one also gets to show case your own work, and get critiqued with the opportunity to improve. That also could mean wining excellent prizes at the capture this competition.
Currently, there are many special interest groups within the PSSL. The wild life and nature, street photography, creative photography and fashion and black and white to mention a few. Finally, it must be stressed that photography at PSSL is an excellent medium for socializing between like-minded people from all walks of life without having to effect physical contacts. While it does not alleviate the physio-social void, it can be used fairly effectively. In that respect this is an excellent hobby for those who are retired to keep the minds active and also exercise creativity, it is also an excellent pastime for those who are restricted to the home, and not yet retired.