CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE, KALA GHODA, MUMBAI

It’s 8:30! An interview with the dynamic collective.

Aarushi Zarthoshtimanesh 21st May, 2021

‘…between the waning

isn’t this what

we’re left with

the music

of uncertainty

the aftertaste of rain.’ 

An Ode To Drowning, Tishani Doshi. 

At this tense time of a global and social pandemic, of isolated bodies and alienated souls:

8:30 finds a virtual space and time to embody what it can be to traverse these times of waning and waiting to simply be. 

The collective finds its way to visually feel through these drenched times of cyclones of uncertainty and a way of digesting this aftertaste of rain, calamity and loss.

 9 women.

9 photographers/ artists/ writers/ creatives.

Under the temporal umbrella of one moment in time- but capturing miscellaneous times, places, and ideas, 

These 18 hands aligning to form the collective 8:30 all came together for a virtual interview to answer questions about their practices and more! 

Firstly, with being able to call Zoom your meeting room, having a virtual common ground even when you’re individually placed in such varied locations and practices spanning across the country –How has coming together helped you reimagine your own work and find a way to bring that to form the roots of 8:30?

Zahra Amiruddin: For me what has truly helped is, more than the fact that we all come from different practices, it is always inspiring to find a way to think out of the box. Especially at this time, when one can feel quite stuck in their own environment and sometimes viewing our own images repetitively can become tiresome – at least for me.

So, to have this space to hand over those photographs to, injects it with new life as all of them add their perspectives and ways of seeing to the image as well.

And being a safe space, without any judgement, conditions or requirements, it becomes a healthy process to help us keep moving out of any creative ruts we may feel stuck in.

Riti Sengupta: Apart from being a space where we talk to each other’s work, it sometimes becomes one where we can dissect what is bothering us mentally and emotionally. Being able to express these thoughts helps me free my mind and then go back to work. This space is a reminder that the possibility of creating something together exists. It is important to me because it fills some kind of gap. 

Kirthana Devdas: Yes, agreed. I think what Zahra said really sums it up. Sometimes I can get attached to an image because of the experience attached to it but that doesn’t necessarily translate visually to someone else looking at the same image. So, it is always interesting to see how others are consuming your work, and to see it interpreted in new ways.

Divya Cowasji: And while I may have encountered their work and images on social media before – having spent so much time on each other’s works and now having this in-depth context and insight into the photographs, the engagement with it is so much more complex. I mean it’s sometimes moved me to tears. That further goes to show how intimacy and context can help the work evolve and grow in this space as well.

To understand more about each of you and in turn all of you – At what stage in your individual careers/ lives did you feel like you could place your work and yourselves under the tags of ‘artist’, ‘writer’, ‘photographer’, etc.?

Menty Jamir: Well, personally I am still struggling with that idea. I don’t think I can call myself a photographer or anything at all right now…

Kirthana Devdas: So, I did a yearlong course on photography after my undergrad degree, and I figured no one was going to give me assignments or projects if I didn’t call myself a photographer or act like one. Once you’re out of college, you assume the world’s just going to grab you and take you forward. Slowly as you step out on your own you realise how vast the artistic sphere is and each individual’s practice is one stream in this large space. So, this term, I used it a lot in the beginning of my journey and it’s not something I struggled with. That is not because I always knew what I was doing but photography is largely what I do for a living.

Divya Cowasji: Straight out of school I started my practice as a documentary filmmaker and that’s what I identified as, what I did for the greatest number of years. But slowly, I realised photography was more and more what I wanted to do. I always used to say, ‘I love to make photos’ but never, ‘I am a photographer’. Then, I built my first website, and it was all photographs, with an introduction reading ‘I am a documentary filmmaker’! Of course, someone pointed out the irony of it and in a moment of courage I added the term ‘photographer’ to my bio as well. Since then, it’s been easier to call myself that.

Zahra Amiruddin: I started off as a writer. So, I’ve always called myself that ever since I was 8-years-old. It was also the time I expressed myself through poetry and dreamt of being an editor of an illustrious magazine someday. 

The courage of making stories through photographs came upon me while I worked as a writer at ‘Time Out India.’ I would hang around the photography department a lot and eventually asked my photo-editor if I could attempt shooting images for my own stories. I believed it would allow me to see my story in a completely different perspective. But I never called myself a photographer because I didn’t think I was good enough to take-on the title. Was I really painting with light?

It was only after studying at The Aegean Centre for the Fine Arts in Paros, Greece that I truly found my voice within photography and image-making. I learnt that photography is more about feeling, than anything else. Now after a lot of trial and error, I’m at a stage where I identify as much as a photographer as a writer. 

Mithila Jariwala: Personally, I’ve always worked as a photographer. And that was at a time when I used to mainly just do commission work. So, in the past few years, as I’ve delved into so much of my personal work and life through the images I also realised – I struggle a lot with words. And that struggle I can, in a more fluent way, communicate and dissect through my images. So, in the last few years, I have struggled with calling myself a photographer and labelling myself as such. I prefer to say I make images and when I use the term ‘photographer’ there is a little uneasy discomfort there. Since the past two years I have also been a mental health worker and now, my first response is to say that.

Vinita Barretto: I think I really resonate with what Menty said. I too am still struggling to call myself a photographer or an artist. If someone else feels inclined to call me that based on their relationship or understanding of my images, I accept that. But I just can’t seem to come to terms with defining these roles and ideologies of an ‘artist’ or ‘photographer’.

I do believe that this space, in that sense, has been comforting to allow me to adjust and feel free in my form as well. And a space like this has that brilliant scope of giving us an acceptance to keep going with whatever we want to do and eventually realise and come to terms with what we really are.

Riti Sengupta: I think when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I liked to make these illustrations and write stories to create funny graphic novels. One of these stories was called, ‘Doggy days and Starry Nights’! At this point in my life, I was convinced I had already become an artist. There was no question of becoming one later. Then as that understanding passed, I grew up to study Microbiology. I can’t really say I enjoyed it. Soon after I started studying photography in a design school. At times I’m not quite sure what I want to call myself, but I also enjoy this fluid multiplicity, where I feel like I can move between the roles of a designer or a photographer, depending on what might help me sustain.  I also feel like the identity of a photographer is so vast now – a photographer may choose to work with installations, music, performance, so many many things. It is difficult for me to arrive at a singular answer for this.

Adira Thekkuveettil: When I was a child I thought of myself as already a writer, already an artist. And I imagined I just had to grow up and fall into that role automatically, but of course that didn’t happen. So, I had a sort of crisis. Seeing me lost, hoping I would have a base to find a way to make money for myself, my parents thought that design school could balance things. It was nice, but personally I could not find a way to identify with this ‘design world’. It was at a time when I was forming my politics and I realised that my politics didn’t fit within that world either. So, generally I call myself an artist and I am obsessed with photography. The way I think revolves around image making and that is also how I think through things. But I am unsure what the word ‘photographer’ truly means!

Is it a person who ‘makes photographs’? In that sense, now we all are. So, because of the changing times and this new fluid world, it has shed its relevance within that context. So, in the broadest way – I am an artist interested in images.

As artists, photographers, and poets of these visual narratives- How have other zines and photo-books given you a direction you can personally bring to 8:30? And could you give us a few examples of these zines/photo-books? 

Kirthana: I think the idea of us getting together to make something of our own superseded everything, even the influence of other works.

Adira: I agree, I believe more than looking at other work, we have been closely looking at each other’s works and that has not only been inspirational, but a way to talk through ideas, methods and more. So, we haven’t consciously looked at other zine inspirations or books at this time, still figuring out our own narratives within this space.

Divya: Actually, the only books we look at regularly are children’s books that Mithila reads us on each call!

*A chorus of joyous yes-es ensues*

We hope our zine is that simple and effective!

Zahra: And it’s very random! Not just restricted to our group calls regarding the zine. Even at times if any of us are feeling a bit low, Mithila will be ready to jump on a call and lift our spirits with an appropriate children’s book! The last one we read together was – ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy. 

Ah, how we wish we could have this simple ray of hope and happiness impregnate our stark and dull days too – But, maybe we can! 

The collective regularly posts their images on their social media account – @8:30 and each have their own websites as well. Recently, they launched a fundraising initiative ‘Prints For Hope’, which came to a successful end on 17th May. They donated and supported three brilliant organisations/ campaigns in the country, through the sale of their art and works. That exemplifies how their languages of visual vocabularies and heartfelt creations have collectively found ways to contribute to real life and tangible change too. 

Speaking of change, it’s time to switch up the conversation!

Stay tuned, because we have another half of this interview with the artists delving deeper into the psyche of their images and its poetics. 

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