A dear friend and immensely talented photographer and film-maker, Avi Kabir has been one of the first few who believed in the concept and philosophy of LifeBeyondNumbers. A very compassionate human being, the story and work of Avi Kabir is worth sharing. With the launch of AviKabir.com, Avi is making his awesome work available online. A profound storyteller, who through the lens, finds the best of stories in the unlikeliest of places, Avi Kabir says, “The films and photographs I try to create are stories, painted by humanity, landscapes described by their caliber and color decided by emotions.”
An exciting and engaging talk with Avi Kabir exclusively for LifeBeyondNumbers, reveals Avi Kabir – the artist, the person, the humane approach towards his work and much more…
I am a perpetual student by habit and photographer/film-maker by training. I graduated in psychology and after having completed a Post-Graduate degree in Development Communications, pursued a Masters in Mass Communications at AJK MCRC in Jamia Millia, New Delhi.
The history of my professional career merges with my personal growth. From the time I was a child, I have been fascinated by telling and listening to stories. Drawing, painting, scribbling and doodling were some of the ways I expressed myself. I got my first camera at the age of 15, and it has been my best friend ever since. Stories continue to pull me, they provide a unique and unparalleled opportunity to learn and know. I am privileged that I could channel my passion through education and transform a love for the creative arts into a profession.
A good photograph seems to come only with a good adventure. I enjoy taking photographs of people and their environment. Emotions and expressions are colors for me. I derive the biggest adventure from the process of being one with the people I work with, it is about connecting with and learning from them. What makes it exciting and dynamic is that since every individual is unique, I have to evolve, learn and unlearn quickly.
In a relatively familiar place, I seek out unfamiliar stories, when left with a choice, I opt for the ‘untrodden trail’. The motto is to travel light, both physically and in a mental sense, leaving behind preconceived notions, to open my heart and mind to new possibilities and discoveries. By meeting people from all walks of life, from different backgrounds and varying situations, I am introduced to the world at large and, ultimately, to myself, to my own sense of purpose and what I hope to contribute.
AviKabir Films/Photography is an agency that addresses the needs of both the development and corporate sectors. Through sensitive and ethical visualizations, we aim to chronicle, among other things, stories of social mobilization, leadership, sustainable growth, gender equality, youth empowerment and children’s rights. As the agency grows, we will expand to other creative endeavors. I have personally made documentaries for NGOs in India for national as well as international viewing. We use advance digital crafting technology and are able to comfortably incorporate graphic designing and animation in our work. In addition to making films and photography, we also design e-books. The idea is to be a ‘one-stop’ enterprise. By offering diverse services, our clients are able to receive customized solutions that address their multi-media needs across a range of responsive platforms.
I have worked on a freelance basis with developmental organizations such as Save The Children, Young Lives, Oxfam and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Although all these organizations work at the grassroots level and in the field, the differences between them provided me with most valuable experience in designing a variety of media products. For example, with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation I had to explore how to make an educational film for the benefit of rural women in Uttar Pradesh which would instruct and engage them, in addition to mobilizing them to form Self-help Groups and carry logistical functions like accounting and documenting. At Young Lives, given the research aspects of the NGO which focuses on longitudinally studying groups of children living in Andhra Pradesh, I was required to design a digital book portraying their data in an informative yet aesthetically appealing way.
In 2012, a chance encounter with a young adult from a Delhi slum taught me that sometimes the best stories are the ones that find the storyteller, not the other way around. Shiv was one of the many dwellers of a slum under a metro track, a self-appointed ambassador of sorts, his chatty banter and snappy dance moves eager to find an audience in any passerby, even for a few short minutes. The documentary made on him was an attempt to spotlight the issues facing marginalized youth in India. His flashy orange shirt and red shoes were in sharp contrast to the grey of his surroundings. He belted out, at times offensive, Honey Singh lyrics to girls, but was trying to save every rupee he earned for his sister’s wedding. The bike he rode was not cheap, but at times there was no money to petrol in it. He acted like he was far too “cool for school” and then spoke nostalgically about the years he spent there before being abused by his teacher. – Shiv, like India, was riddled with apparent contradictions, but brimming with limitless potential.
While photography and films always remain at the core for me, I believe that in a plural country like ours – where there are huge asymmetries as well as deep pools of creative expression – it is difficult to be confined to one medium. I have come to understand that if I am to effectively deliver information, engage people and motivate, I need to make the process of production a participatory one. It is only through such a participatory outlook that we can hope to break the walls of artistic expression, to let such expression grow and be touched by the stakeholders.
The challenges are what make this journey worth taking. Since Avi Kabir Films/Photography and avikabir.com are very personal creations and endeavors, the biggest challenge naturally lies at a very personal level, in how we connect and how much we can connect, empathize and create. From a logistical perspective, we hope to take-off and increase the size of the team in a way that would allow us to experiment even more and take even bigger risks. Like every entrepreneur knows, carving out a niche space and becoming a recognizable brand is a big part of the initial process. Does it feel daunting? Yes, at times… Is it exciting? Definitely! We are in it for the journey, not just the result. And that’s because we love what we do, individually and collectively.
The Way Ahead
It started with a need to know and express. It became a passion. It transformed into an idea. Now it’s an enterprise.
A few years down the line, we want to be doing what we are doing now, but on an expanded scale, possibly by engaging at a deeper level with rural and urban folk artists. We would like to create synergies with different indigenous communication media and incorporate these in our films and visuals.
Photography and film-making or any art form is about a story. If this story is personal enough, close enough and human enough, it will be universal and will cut across class, geographical and even temporal divisions.
More than being a professional, I strive to be a passionate photographer/film-maker. Passion can only be sustained with a continuous in-flow of knowledge and out-flow of patient and empathetic observation. If we can listen and learn, we can understand. If we can understand, we can create better pictures and films and, ultimately, hopefully, a better world.