Mr. Pillai

October 19, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

PillaiMr. PillaiMr Pillai. My first photography teacher

On Teachers

I am a Toast Master. Last week, I gave a small presentation on teachers. Like most people preparing a speech, I wrote several versions before I wrote the final draft speech.

Teachers play a critical role in our lives. Often, we forget them. More often, we don’t acknowledge them, or their contribution.

I started photography years ago, and I entered this field to change my lifestyle. It probably saved my life, so I owe photography that much at least!

I may have mentioned this in another blog post, but the reason I started photography was to do something creative, and to excel in my creative endeavours.

My drawing skills then, and now, are awful. If memory serves me well, I have been kicked out of more art classes than I can remember. The only ones where I stayed the course were the ones that school offered us. The teacher had no choice but to keep me on. They passed me, only to avoid having me back the following year.

Photography seemed the only option, and my father was good enough to pay for my first camera—an Olympus OM-2n.

I was off, and spent my Sunday mornings wandering the streets of Bombay, shooting probably the worst photographs the world has ever seen.

One day, I noticed a flyer for ‘Pillai’s School of Photography’. I enrolled and started class soon afterwards.

The class was a little small and seemed strange. I walked in with my little notebook, and the first thing he asked us to do was to write the words, “I see” in our notebooks.

Sitting at the back of the class—as usual- I wrote the words “I see”, with a huge “I” and a smaller see.

It looked something like this, below

I see




Your Vision.

There it was. I sat there feeling pretty chuffed until he walked up to see what I had written. This was the moment, I knew, he was going to throw me out of the class.

But no. The man jumped up and down with glee, shouting that this was it!

The importance of the “I”, he said, cannot be under-estimated. It is the foundation of everything we do. Not the ego of an obnoxious, egotistical person, but the ego of a creative, egotistical person.

We are all driven by our ego. It’s a part of our life. Anyway, what he meant was that if you don’t have a strong sense of what you want to communicate, there is no way you will create a strong visual narrative.

I am going to be honest here: this lesson sailed over my head. It must have whizzed around, and lodged itself into my subconscious brain, because I return to it repeatedly.

Mr. Pillai taught us the fundamentals of photography. Yes, he taught us a lot of beautiful shit about photography.

More than that, he brought energy and passion to the class.  He was constantly flapping his arms around and jumping up and down with excitement.

He passed something of that passion and energy to me through some weird osmotic process.

This has stayed with me. My passion for photography is alive and well, and I am sure that I owe an enormous debt to Mr. Pillai in this respect.

I also owe him a debt for stressing the importance of your personal vision. This is something that has helped me in my photography, writing, and business career. It’s helped me in life.

Is Mr. Pillai, or something of his spirit, living inside me? I am sure he is.

His lessons are alive and well. I am always developing my vision, exploring, and have refused to be typecast.

Mr Pillai. Wherever you are, I owe you a big one


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