Photography Lessons for Kids to Fight Cancer
Rajen Nair, a freelance photojournalist and writer, teaches skills of photography to children with cancer to bring hope, optimism and laughter in their lives.
How long have you been a photographer?
I became a photographer by default in the year 2004, after I lost my hearing in the right ear and later developed tinnitus due to botched ear surgery. I had no option but to wind up my business. To earn a living, I studied journalism, as writing was my passion, and learnt photography later to complement my writing. That is how I began my tryst with photography.
You have been teaching photography to children with cancer for the last several years. How did it start?
It started when I began getting recognition for my photography from social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. It made me wonder why I was so passionately drawn to photography. Was it because I am partially deaf and rely more on my eyes to communicate? Meanwhile, I began contributing stories and photo-essays to Guardian Weekly (UK), OhmyNews, a South Korean online news website and other local newspapers. In 2009, I decided to share my photography skills with the deaf. I began teaching photography by taking weekend classes in a school for the deaf in Mumbai. It was purely voluntarily. Some Australian friends, impressed with my work, donated few cameras to me which helped in my workshop.
In 2012-13, I got involved with Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) and an NGO Impact India Foundation to conduct photography workshop for cancer children in the pediatric department as part of their annual HOPE program. Since then, I have been conducting these workshops regularly at TMH. I have also formed a group of cancer children wherein we go for outdoor photography as part of training. We have a Whatsapp group called Warrior Photography to share photos of students fighting cancer. And a Facebook page called ‘Spreading Light Through Photography’. We have 2450 members consisting of deaf, disabled and cancer children from all around the world, sharing their creative work.
What prompted you to undertake this mission?
The loss of my hearing followed by tinnitus impacted me deeply. It triggered the idea of reaching out and providing meaningful diversion to the marginalized community in society like hearing impaired, people with autism, under privileged children from Dharavi slums andchildren with cancer. Photography gives them a platform to bring out their inner creativity, communicate visually with the world.
How does photography help children with cancer? Is it making a difference to their lives?
Cancer affected children find it difficult to express their trauma and pain they undergo from their long treatment of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. They miss out on education because of extended hospitalization and therapy. I think medicines only take care of the physical aspect of a cancer patient, not mental, emotional and psychological. Photography brings not only joy and fun into their lives but give them new meaning and hope to live and fight cancer too. Many of the children who learn photography during their treatment return home and continue their new found passion. Photography helps them get closer to nature, exposes them to a new adventure and widens their circle of friends. Lack of education is also a worrying aspect, so in the long run I try to train these kids to become professional photographers. It makes them financially independent, secure and happy.
What kind of cameras do you provide these children for the photography lessons?
As I said before I am grateful to my Australian friends who donated cameras. I have my own DSLR Nikon cameras and semi pro Panasonic cameras, besides few donated compact cameras. At a time there are no less than 10 kids in workshop so there is always a tussle among them to grab cameras during shooting practice. Unfortunately, I am always short of cameras to satisfy each one of them.
How do you conduct your workshop? Are the children taken outdoors for it?
I have group of children with cancer who I take for outdoor photography. Last week, I took the kids out to Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and they all had a gala time together. We remembered two of our kids from our group who succumbed to cancer after putting a brave fight. Since mine is a self-driven, voluntary, charitable mission, we cannot go out as often I would like to due to financial constraints.
What kind of pictures do most children take? Does their work provide us a peek into their consciousness or state of mind?
There is craze for taking selfie pictures among all generations, so the kids like to click self-portraits, flowers and street scenes. At pediatric ward the kids take photos of fellow cancer patients trying to capture the pain and suffering writ large on their faces. They click photos of their doctors, hospital stuff and nurses, thus helping them bond well. Some of the pics do offer insight in their own lives of suffering too.
What do you do with photographs taken by the children?
All photos clicked by children are shared on our Whatsapp and Facebook group, so world can view their pics and a word of appreciation does make lot of difference to them. Some NGOs hold exhibition of these photos to raise funds.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment while teaching lessons in photography to children with cancer?
Each moment I spent with kids is memorable. Probably, the outdoor shoot at Nariman Point by the sea was most memorable. Unfortunately, two of our kids have succumbed to cancer. Last year, I received cash award and citation from Bharat Petroleum Corporation. That was encouraging for me and the kids. When my work get published along with the work of kids, it brings the children immense joy.
If you have a camera to donate please contact Rajen Nair at firstname.lastname@example.org. His mobile is +919820025296