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|| News Item: Posted 2009-03-23

Discovering the Depth of South India in Svara
Brooks Institute's documentary class to premiere multimedia show and gallery exhibit in Santa Barbara on April 2, 2009, and in Ventura on April 4, 2009.

By Sybill Jecker, Brooks Institute

Photo by Sybill Jecker

Photo by Sybill Jecker

A woman stands beside an idling train and speaks with passengers at Central Station in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008.
Five months ago, in October 2008, as I received my final immunization shots in preparation for my trip to South India, I pondered what would transpire in the seven weeks that would follow. Would I survive on the food and water, despite the horror stories I’d heard? Would I produce amazing images, photojournalistic stories that matter, and most importantly grow as a photographer and storyteller? Was I about to experience a life-changing journey? I knew in my heart that the answer was “yes” but I couldn’t help but question my optimism as the departure date grew near. Fortunately it would turn out that my hopes were grossly understated.

At that time I had spent nearly a year planning for the 2008 annual documentary trip offered at Brooks Institute as part of the Visual Journalism program. The current destination was South India, where 20 students from the Visual Journalism, Professional Photography, and Film & Video programs would accompany VJ faculty and member Paul Myers on an adventure of a lifetime. It would be the first visit to South India for all participants and the expectations were high.

Upon arrival in Chennai, the initial shock of transportation chaos and extreme heat overwhelmed and exhausted me. Obtaining cell phones and proper currency, as well as figuring out the food, caused temporary anxieties for some, but the visual stimulation provided infinite photographic opportunities in every direction. Within a few days of arriving in the big city, I braved a 16-hour train ride alone to the lush southwestern state of Kerala, where the generous people and rich culture truly changed my life.

My time in Kerala exposed me to the true depth and integrity of the South Indian community. I arrived with one contact who became an amazing friend and she introduced me to incredible people that became integral to the success of my initial goals. Every person I encountered on my search for the soul of South India welcomed my inquiries and went out of their way to help me obtain the answers I was searching for. I can’t remember how many times I was in awe of the kindness bestowed upon me day after day.

I went to Kerala hoping to explore the backwaters and cover daily life of a family living on the banks. Thanks to an extraordinary man named Babu Varghese, founder of Tourindia, I did that and so much more. An innovator of the houseboat tourism industry, he treated me as a true journalist, not just a visitor, and opened up opportunities to me that I didn’t know existed. He believed in my purpose and understood better than I did how to make it happen. Thanks to his support I was able to live with a family in a small village where the products harvested from coconut palm trees provide food, shelter and income for most residents. This family also changed my life. The simplicity of their daily routines and their harmony with nature left me reflecting with some disappointment on the way that physical possessions and financial complications affect my life in America. The pure joy on their faces when I returned to their home with printed images made every cold shower and mosquito bite worthwhile.

Photo by Sybill Jecker

Photo by Sybill Jecker

Ashish, 12, prepares to float away on a boat made of banana tree stalks near his home in the backwater village of Pathiyankara, Kerala, where he lives with his mother and grandmother.
Besides the backwaters, Kerala provided me with interesting characters and fascinating venues, including markets and theaters, to explore and document. I knew that with only seven weeks I could never fully capture the spirit and culture of this tropical region. Nevertheless, I shot my heart out and returned with more than 8,000 images that I am proud of and cherish.

In addition to the cross-cultural experiences and knowledge I gained from this journey, I also received an unexpected gift of a new extended family in the form of 20 other travelers who had similar experiences during their exploration of South India. Our collective love of this formerly foreign country and the subsequent productions of a book, AV show, DVD, website and multiple gallery exhibits that showcase our memories, created a bond that seemed unlikely based on our varied interests and goals. The evidence of this alignment can be observed in the products that will proudly be unveiled to the public in the coming weeks.

During the post-production, which began in January and is just wrapping up now, my responsibilities within the book group included editing photos and text, as well as layout design and production coordination. Working within a small group of six was both challenging and rewarding, and eventually culminated in an amazing product that will be offered for sale at upcoming events. My job as lead layout designer required countless hours of tweaking and re-editing while striving for a product that displays a balanced cross-section of the work produced by all of the talented photographers involved, as well as showing viewers the rich character and deep culture that exist in South India as we observed it. Each photographer tells his or her stories with a unique perspective and voice, through multiple mediums, and the result is SVARA, A Brooks Institute Documentary Project: South India.

Photo by Sybill Jecker

Photo by Sybill Jecker

The Brooks Institute documentary class poses for a portrait in the pouring rain in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India, on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008.
Brooks Institute's Overseas documentary class presents: "South India"

Santa Barbara Opening Night Events
Thursday, APRIL 2nd, 5-10pm
7pm, doors at 6:30pm: Svara film premiere
Lobero Theatre
33 East Canon Perdido St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Gallery Exhibition
Brooks Institute’s Gallery 27
27 East Cota St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Ventura Opening Night Events
Saturday, APRIL 4th, 6-10pm
6pm, doors at 5:30pm: Svara film screening
Iron Horse Stage 2
7-10pm: Interactive Multimedia Event
Ventura Campus
5301 North Ventura Avenue
Ventura, CA 93001

Gallery Exhibition
Thursday, APRIL 9th, 5-7:30pm
Ventura Beach Marriott
2055 East Harbor Boulevard
Ventura, CA 93001

All events are free and open to the public. DVDs and books will be available for purchase. For more information, contact: Brooks Institute 888-304-3456.

( Sybill Jecker is a visual journalism student attending Brooks Institute. You can see more pictures on her member page:

Related Links:
Brooks India Website
Sybill Jecker's member page
Paul Myers's member page
Brooks Institiute

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