For Delhi-based photographer Ravi Dhingra — comfortably shooting in the commercial space since the last 11 years — finding an outlet for self-expression was proving to be tough. So the 45-year-old photographer decided to form a photo club in May this year. "The problem was finding opportunities to share work with peers and exchanging information," he says. So, Dhingra founded CameraUnlimited (CU) with two of his former students. The club grew from 3 to 716 members on Facebook in six months. "Half are my students, 150-200 serious photographers while the rest are hobbyists," he explains. The club that hosts photo walks and workshops for its members — aged 15-60, from different backgrounds — meets every week either at Dhingra’s Gulmohar Enclave residence or at a coffee-shop.In a photo club, a diverse group of people share experiences, critique each other's work, pick up tips from veterans, host photo-walks/workshops/competitions. With the digital format and Internet making the art/craft and logistics of photography widely accessible, many are increasingly pursuing their interest alongside their profession. According to experts, camera sales are going up by 10-12% every year, which includes pocket cameras, DSLRs and camcorders. "Recurring costs in photography have gone down. With Net and social networking, you can hold ‘instant' exhibitions," says photographer Dinesh Khanna, founder of Delhi Photographers (DP) and who launched Nazar Ka Adda (NKA) in March this year. Anil Kumar, founder of Delhi Photography Club (DPC), a non-photographer himself says three factors are fuelling this interest. "In photography, self expression is instant. The Facebook-microblogging generation feel the need to be in the news, the philosophy of ‘reading myself aloud'. Also, the burnt-out, 40+ people — CEOs, expats — successful in their careers taking to gardening, photography to rejuvenate themselves."
Membership in photo clubs is growing. PhotoSensitive by Shailan Parker and Joginder Singh, which began in 2005 has 600+ members today. Delhi Foto Club by Shashwat Nagpal launched in 2006 has 4,000 members. DP has 2,500+ members on Facebook while DPC has 9,500. While NKA encourages members to bring long-term projects for peer reviews, others like DPC hold after-school programmes, heritage photo-walks every month and assignments on Facebook. In the offing: a library where people can borrow lenses and tie ups with RWAs to take photography to senior citizens.
Sanjay Austa, 35, who is part of DP and Delhi Photography Enthusiasts Guild, says such forums are important for feedback. "When I began, there were no groups or walks. We could only read books and teach ourselves." Freelancer Prashanth Vishwanathan, 29, says the NKA sessions exposed him to new ways of seeing. It's not just photographers like them, Ahmed S Firoz, chief economist at the economic research unit of the steel ministry, a photo hobbyist and CU member, says the group critique helped him improve. "I'll hold my first exhibition in January. As a government officer, I wouldn't have been able to do this on my own," he says. Chinmoy Roy, a PhD student from Bhadohi village in UP, member of DPC's Facebook group, has gone a step further: winning the first prize for his 'balancing family and work' photo (see above) in a contest at the Indian Habitat Centre in September.