In the January of 2017 I received an e-mail from my mentor, Katrin Eismann, the department chair of MPS Digital Photography at SVA. The image below had been shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards under Student Focus category for the brief - 'Memories'.
It came as a jolt of surprise as there wasn't any anticipation to begin with. Also, I was in Iceland, stranded in Europe, waiting for my misplaced bags and visa documents to get to Berlin, when I received this e-mail. The timing was impeccable.
Ten students from around three hundred institutions across the world were shortlisted for the award. We were given a second brief - 'Emotion' and a week to shoot an essay of 7 - 10 images. A brief as broad and vague as 'Emotion' left me hanging for quite a bit. I tried solving the problem thrice. Below is a glimpse of what I had done:
In my first series (below) I approached people on the streets asking them to enact their favorite emoji. An attempt to revert the roles of technology and real life and to portray a person's identity through his/her most used emoji. It was an interesting social experiment, but I found the imagery flat and uninteresting.
The second series, using a sheen cloth to denote the veil we guard our emotions with, was a metaphorical take on our love-hate relationship with vulnerability. But staging an emotion did not pan out as envisioned.
The third series, my submission (below), was quite a simple and straightforward approach to provoke genuine emotions. 'The Element of Surprise' documented people's reactions to unforeseen sounds. It was an observation of how we, as humans, share identical senses/emotions but are unique in responses. How I emote surprise might be entirely different from how you do. (I have my friends complain that my surprise looks like 'whatever' to them, but that's another story)
I staged a basic portrait session for my peers to come in individually. After having them close their eyes reminiscing their happiest moments, I had a friend pop a balloon right next to them so as to capture the split second reaction. It was fascinating to notice how different people respond in unexpected circumstances. I had a few who were nonchalant, a few who screamed and a few who laughed. Below are the ones that made the cut.
The final set was presented in the format of a diptych which can be viewed here.
The series was on show at Somerset House, London as a part of Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition.