So just like that a month has flashed past. Only about 36 hours left before I catch my flight back to Delhi. The last couple of weeks have been relatively quiet but interesting.

They began with the meeting at Ostkreuz, the photo agency, where I got to know its working and organization through Anne and met its head. Anne also looked through my personal photography projects and offered some valuable inputs which will help me greatly in my work.

The next day Anne took me to the photography school run by the head of Ostkreuz. The school offers a two years advanced diploma in photography and has become quite popular of late. I interacted with some of the students, observed a couple of classes and also did a small presentation on Aksgar to them. In the discussion that followed I got some good feedback on the work we have shown on Aksgar so far.

At the photography school

The next few days were spent in winding up work at Loupe on the background research for their documentary and the tutorial with Christof, the editor. Christof offered some basic tips on editing and he also went through the films I’ve done so far and offered some advice on some things that I could improve upon while editing. Again, valuable advice which should help me a lot with my work for WWF.

For the weekend in between I visited Prague with a friend. It was perfect timing! The weather was splendid, warm with blue skies and it was just great to just wander around the breathtakingly beautiful old town part of Prague. The city luckily escaped damage during both the World Wars and the result is one of the best preserved European capitals. Only dampener was that the city was overrun with other tourists like me!

In the remaining week a series of meetings were arranged. One was with one of the main partners of the startup media company I had mentioned previously who are doing great work with multimedia. We had a long and fruitful discussion and this might lead to some good collaboration between them and Aksgar.

I also met with Katia, the one whose flat I had sublet, at her office. Her office in fact organizes the Berlin Biennale and is located in a well known art gallery called KW. We discussed the organization of the festival and I also got to check out the latest art exhibition currently on display at KW.

The other meeting was with Andreas of European Photography. This was one of the most important meetings for me personally as what Andreas has been doing and what we want to do with Aksgar are quite similar. The meeting turned out to be very fruitful. I learnt many things about how European Photography is published and the work that goes on behind the scenes. Andreas also come up with a fantastic suggestion for an offline event in collaboration with Aksgar. I do hope that works out!

In between, I met with Ashwath and photographed him as he clowned around in the center of Berlin. It was a fantastic experience to see him in action in full clown costume especially as I’ll never be able to do in a thousand years what he did in a single evening! The kind of interactions he had with the people on the street and their reactions to him were amazing to observe and photograph. Later that week, last Sunday to be exact, over lunch, we had a great discussion and the beginnings of a collaborative project are shaping up, which I’m really looking forward to! Here is a sneak preview of a photo from the clowning. A proper photo essay will follow.

A Clown in Berlin

And finally, through Imke of the Goethe Institut, I got invited to the reception of the cultural management program they run for the Middle East. So got a chance to meet more ‘cultural managers’, this time from places such as Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen and Jordan. Was a nice evening even though most of the fellows were not from the photography side but instead were from the theatre and music side of the arts. One particular conversation with the Egyptian fellow was very memorable as he recounted his participation in the recent Egyptian revolution!

I also got to meet my co-ATSA fellow Reza from Bangladesh there and later at his place over some nice Bangla tea he offered some good inputs on the offline event for Aksgar I mentioned above.

All in all, it has been an interesting month. As always one wishes so much more could have been done like squeezing in the last week in another institution perhaps. But then wishes always want to be horses! The fact that this secondment has given me an opportunity to meet a diverse array of people doing some very interesting and good work is the biggest plus I should be taking with me. The challenge ahead would be to apply all this learning to the development of Aksgar, my work with WWF and also give concrete shape to the potential collaborations on offer.

Now, it is time to pack, do some last minute shopping and look forward to checking out Helsinki a bit if possible during the long layover there. Thank you for reading these rambling posts, regular programming should resume on the blog with some big changes being planned! More on that later.

As always here are some photographic moments from the past couple of weeks.

At Prague’s beautiful old town square

From the Charles Bridge, looking at the Vlatava River, Prague

A detail on Prague’s beautiful Charles Bridge

A detail of Prague’s dom (cathedral) located in the castle

A detail of Prague’s famous astronomical clock

Frank Gehry’s amazing dancing house

Berlin’s magnificent Dom (cathedral)

Robert Rauschenberg’s Riding Bikes installation, a symbol of the union of West and East Berlin

At the Wannsee, a lake on the outskirts of Berlin

The woods of Pfauninsel (Peacock Island), an island in Berlin’s Wannsee.


How quickly time flies especially when you are not looking! The last two weeks have been quite interesting. While life on the secondment front has been a little quiet, with most of the work being the initial background research work for a new documentary film, it has been an instructive process nonetheless into how a documentary film takes shape.

First, I had a long discussion with Antonia, the founder of Loupe where I’m doing my secondment, on how documentary film production works in Germany, the commissioning system, the TV channels that buy or fund the documentaries and the budgets involved. Based on this and other discussions there are possibilities of collaboration with Loupe shaping up with two potential film projects on the anvil!

In between I got to go with Anne Schönharting, a German photographer, on two of her portrait assignments. While I didn’t have to do much it was interesting to see another photographer in action, especially on assignment shooting strangers and the methods she used to get a good portrait. This is something I’m not so good at so it was a good way to pick up some tricks and tips. No wonder then that Anne has shot some great portraits!

On a photo shoot with Anne

One evening I went for what I thought would be a very good discussion on ‘Art & Social Media: a long distance relationship?’ which was being organized as part of the Social Media Week and featured at least on paper some very interesting people from the art world in Berlin. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite tepid and boring as there was nothing new in the discussion. Yes, we all know the art world needs to engage more with and make better use of social media. But at least I got a free t-shirt for my trouble!

At a Berlin Social Media Week event

Through Antonia, I managed to reach Joern, Head-Press Relations, WWF-Germany and through him got an offer to travel up to the Baltic sea to see seals, the largest carnivores in Germany! Needless to say, I jumped at the offer. So early morning on Wednesday I found myself on a train with Thomas, the cameraman for the shoot, to Stralsund, the coastal city that lies on the Baltic Sea. At Stralsund, we met up with Britta, Press Officer of WWF-Germany based in Hamburg and Catherine, the WWF-Germany researcher based in Stralsund who is in charge of a conservation project for the seals.

From Stralsund we drove to the island of Rugen. From there we went on a boat out into the sea. It is a beautiful coast, quite well known for the beaches on the nearby sea resort town of Binz as well as for the mysterious white chalk cliffs on the other side of the island. The boat ride was a little rough as the sea was choppy with a keen wind trying its best to throw us off course. But we made it to the spot where the seals had been sighted previously. Unfortunately, as expected because of the rough sea, the rocks on which they are usually seen were under water. But the seals did not disappoint us too much.

Berlin Notes II

So yesterday and today were quite hectic. Yesterday afternoon, I met an old friend for lunch. She was my senior in University and we were meeting after many years so it was good to catch up. We had some very nice Italian food and as it was a lovely and warm day went walking via the Museuminsel, an island in the Spree river that houses world famous museums like Pergamon and Bode, to Hackescher Markt and Alexanderplatz areas of Berlin which are these really nice open squares. Alexanderplatz, formerly part of East Berlin, also has the really huge fernsehturm or TV tower that is iconic for Berlin.

Bode Museum

In the evening I then went to meet my co ATSA fellow Rashmi Dhanwani, who is doing her secondment at the 11th International Literature Festival that is currently taking place in Berlin. We attended a few sessions, one on the limits of freedom of speech which had Fleming Rose, the person responsible for publication of the Danish Cartoons that created such a furore sometime back, another session on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the best session of all, an interesting discussion with Pankaj Mishra on how Indian society is dealing with increasing modernity. Later, we went and had a couple of drinks in the writer’s tent and engaged in some nice conversation with some very interesting Indian, Bangladeshi, Hungarian and New Zealander writers and poets including Altaf Tyrewala and Peter Zilahy who were so nice to talk to! So all in all a productive day.

The famous TV Tower of Berlin

Today my secondment started. As part of the secondment, which I’m doing with Loupe, I’ll be looking in on the post production of a film they have made from tomorrow onwards. I’ll also accompany them on a film shoot if possible. And whenever I find time I’ll be doing some background research for one of their upcoming films.

Through Antonia, who started and manages Loupe, I met today Anne Schönharting, one of the photographers who is managed by a well known photo agency called Ostkreuz, which was started by a group of 7 former East German photographers. I’ll also accompany Anne on a portrait shoot one of these days.

Berlin Diary I

Late last year, I received an ARThink South Asia Fellowship from the Goethe Institut for the year 2011-12. One of the components of the fellowship is that I get to go to Germany and work with a cultural institution of my choice to gain some first hand experience on how art institutions are run. So this is where I’m at now. For the next 4-5 weeks I’ll be based in Berlin. I’ll be on a secondment with a documentary film production company called Loupe for 3 weeks and for the remaining week and in between will be trying to meet people in the photography field.

During the time I’m in Berlin I’m supposed to record observations of my time and learning here so for the next one month this is what I’ll be doing, hopefully on a regular basis. And now, after this explanatory prologue, the first installment follows:

So after all the last minute hassles I made it to Berlin after two tiring flights with a stopover in Helsinki (see photo). Dog tired due to the lack of sleep and the bad seats I got on the flights so feeling slightly numb now even though coming back to Germany should have been a little emotional.

As an aside, some of Finnair’s ground staff at the T3 New Delhi seriously need lessons in courtesy! The lady who gave me my boarding pass was rude, uncommunicative, did not give me a seat of my choice on both the flights (I was seated in the middle next to a really fat guy on the flight to Helsinki even though I asked for aisle seating on the window side) and to top it did not even inform me that I had not got my seating of choice! I only found out after I got on to the plane.

Waiting at the Helsinki Airport for a connecting flight

Moving on, for the time I’ll be in Berlin I’m sharing the flat of a German lady. It is a very nice and big place, one of those old Berlin flats with rather high ceilings having ornate work on them. The floors are wooden and make a nice creaking sound as you walk on them. The silence in the house takes a little getting used to though. I’m so used to the soothing hum of a fan while sleeping that when I was living in Germany before I bought a table fan just so I could run it for the background noise and sleep easily! I guess that won’t be possible this time so goodbye easy sleep.

The shimmering red curtains of my room!