Sunday, January 08, 2006

Need for a Better Visual Culture among Children

‘Seeing is believing’, the saying might be true a few decades ago. Today when images everywhere have become mere ‘visual commodities’, one can easily doubt the truthfulness of them. It’s true that we have
infront of us a whole range of images in various media especially the television, films and the internet. These images range from news to entertainment, from costumes to automobiles. But even as we are bombarded with images to our right and left, few of us reflect upon their quality. We are in the habit of taking whatever is offered to us.

Debates about the quality of any form of human expression certainly are never ending. But one cannot miss out the process of mutual reinforcement between society and media: society (read it ‘popular culture’) loves sensationalism, melodrama and those superficial treatments of all human emotions; be it news stories, literature or films. Whereas on the other hand, society is satisfied with them because these are the only tales usually told. I would be interested to say something about the need to develop a better visual culture among school children. However, the topic is also equally relevant for other sections of our society.

Considering the pathetic quality of films (be it Bollywood or Hollywood) and television programmes children usually see, anyone concerned about child development will be of the opinion that something better should be shown to them. However, contrary to what many of us think, research in mass communication has proved that mass media do not have direct effects on humans. But, as far as training of children is concerned, one has to have a pragmatic approach where the question is to base oneself at some point. Thus the ultimate task would be, as I have mentioned earlier, two-faced; first, to produce quality films and programmes which however is beyond the powers of children for the most part. And the second is to develop a good viewing culture among children themselves. As for achieving the latter, our academic curriculum, various student activities, the school atmosphere etc. can help a lot.

While students are familiar with many pioneer poets and writers of our country, they hardly know those film-makers like Satyajit Ray or Adoor Goplakrishnan who have helped Indian films to find a place in the world cinema map. Nor our children have a historical knowledge of cinema; the milestones in its path, the struggles it had successfully fought. At least a brief history of this form of human expression has to be included in the academic curriculum.

Introducing students with some classic world movies can be another step. A conscious effort is necessary in this regard. Language is a barrier. But, nowadays most foreign films carry subtitles in English. With necessary training we can help our children enjoy good foreign language movies other than English.

Finally, organizing photographic exhibitions in schools, training students to visualize different themes, helping them make short films even with the help of some low profile equipment; all these can be planned at school level. It will enable them to reflect upon various societal issues of their time with the help of this powerful tool called photography. Nevertheless, such endeavors also help them to defend themselves against the invasion of those images from the First World.

The article was written in September 2003, when I was working as an Activity Teacher for Photography in one of the public schools in New Delhi.

No comments: