For most millennials, the very thought of ‘photographs’ takes us back to studio setups and the beautiful but rare few images that might have been captured by our loved ones with a camera. Today, photos are an everyday form of communication. They aren’t carefully constructed captures taken with intention, and cameras aren’t a rarity - they are on our phones, computers and perhaps even on our smartwatches.
But talk to any expert photographer or connoisseur of the visual/photographic medium and they will wax eloquent about the bygone days of photography - where every snap had to be measured, lest they run out of film, and how every print was meticulously selected from negatives and only the best of the lot became positive final images. While brilliant photographers are creating disruptive work in our generation through the digital medium, there still are a few lovers of the analogue medium who have remained dedicated.
In a world with phone camera photos, filters and selfies galore, there are a group of artists in Delhi, who are working to keep the art and beauty of analogue photography alive. The Maze Collective is a unique space that provides house residency and an alternative analogue processing facility for dedicated photographers from around the world who are seeking to keep the format alive. They have been active for over four years; conducting workshops, mentoring artists, collaborating with practitioners of varying art formats, and paving the way towards a healthy ecosystem by eliminating barriers to the practice of analogue photography.
The Beginning of The Maze
Founded by Ashish Sahoo and Zahra Yazdani, the Maze Collective Studio is much more than just a darkroom. They both bring their unique backgrounds and experiences to the venture. But the story of the Collective began with a serendipitous encounter between Ashish and Zahra.
Ashish is a filmmaker’s son from Orissa, who was always surrounded by the world of photography and celluloid cans and chemicals growing up. His innate love for photography led him to experiment with varying formats of techniques, making him an analogue photography enthusiast for life. While he prefers exploring the film and alternate process of photography as a medium, his subjects of interest are contemporary urban narratives and politics.
Zahra Yazdani on the other hand, is a visual artist based out of Iran and India. After graduating in Painting from a university in Tehran, her work centres on narratives of crisis, struggle, and trauma. She uses early 19th-century photographic processes to create art that blends painting and photography, creating ethereal, bizarre visual narratives that toe the line between reality and illusion.
Ashish, who had started the studio with a couple of friends with the intent to build a community dark room, was looking for a studio mate to sustain the space. Zahra, who was an artist on a residency program in India, was seeking a creative space to work on her photographic endeavours. Together, they decided to make the studio their own, and the journey of The Maze Collective began.
Finding A Collective Vision
In 2020, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ashish and Zahra were already working on a collaborative project. During this time of reflection and change, they realised the need to open their space up to aspiring photographers, especially those who might not have access to traditional academic photography programs.
The heart of Maze lies in its mission to offer mentorship programs and workshops to emerging photographers, providing them with the tools, knowledge, and inspiration they need to flourish, even if they didn’t get the chance to go to reputed institutions. It was about nurturing creativity and breaking down barriers that stand in the way of young artists pursuing their passion. Maze is not just a physical studio; it's a vibrant and nurturing community of over 100 members who share their ideas and draw inspiration from some of the best photographers.
Behind every great endeavour, there's a strong support network. The Maze Collective is no different. It boasts an impressive board of trustees, with Basanta Sahoo, a seasoned filmmaker, and Ashwani Kumar, a prolific poet, author, and professor, among its prominent members. Their collective wisdom and expertise offer guidance and support to the Maze team. Lovelina Sahoo, a high court lawyer with a passion for classical singing, also plays a crucial role, both as a legal expert and a mentor, adding her unique talents to the eclectic mix.
The Maze Collective doesn't stand alone in its journey. It has garnered support from organisations like PhotoSouthAsia and Shared Ecologies, which recognize the importance of nurturing creativity and providing a platform for emerging photographers. In a world where the digital realm often overshadows the beauty of analogue art, the Maze Collective reminds us of the enduring charm and irreplaceable magic that traditional photography holds. It's a space where creativity can flourish, and history can meet innovation.
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