University of Southern California

Student Life Blog

India’s Finest Photography Course


By Rini Sampath Thursday, July 18, 2013

Though I can work the manual setting on my DSLR without worry, I’m no Dorothea Lange. So when I packed my camera alongside the rest of my belongings in preparation for my trip abroad, I told myself not to expect photographs of National Geographic’s caliber — especially with my antiquated Canon and minimal experience. If anything, I thought, I would get a few images of peacocks and bazaars to share with my friends. Nothing special. But during my stay here, India has given me the finest photography lesson I could ask for.

It was almost time for my family to drink their evening chai and chat.

My grandfather emptied a plastic bag of pictures before us. I marveled at the tiny 3×3 images that he laid out. My grandmother, reclined against the bedpost, explained how my grandfather’s camera was a rarity then. Not everyone had this luxury, she said. I sifted through the black and white images, allowing the sturdy paper to rest in my hands.


My uncle posing with his classmates. My grandfather, with plentiful black hair and a strapping mustache. My mother, as an infant, anchored to my grandmother’s hip.

These moments that my grandfather had captured were priceless.

It was no wonder that later that week, when my family gathered around the computer screen as I started a slideshow of my pictures, they quickly clicked past the images of the Kovai waterfalls, the Ooty hills, the coconut estates. The landscapes I had so carefully shot were colorless in comparison to the other images: My aunt and her daughter embracing each other, both mid-laugh; the playful expressions of my mother; my dad’s gentle smile.

It all reflected a glaring truth: Places are fairly permanent — people are not. In the time that I have, I shouldn’t fret over the overexposed shot of a street corner or the fuzzy macro of summertime flowers. Because when I dig up these photographs for my own kids one day, my eyes won’t linger on the places. It’s the people in them that matter. The remarkable, unconditionally-loving, and selfless people in them. My camera lens just found a whole new direction.

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