Learning Leading to Creative Liberation: How Toehold Mentors Train
Training constitutes a large part of what we do, and on the occasion of Teacher’s Day, we examined how we see education and what we do to bring that vision to fruition.
The process of transferring knowledge, devoid of prejudice and differences, from a guru to a student, has always been a revered form of human interaction. Great pearls of wisdom and treasures of knowledge have been passed on from generation to generation by so many media, but the legacy of teaching is a nonpareil way of such transference.
At Toehold, we constantly try to remain truthful to the ancient wisdom of teaching while exploring the more-evolved dimensions that it can acquire with each passing day in today’s world.
“We believe training is not only about transference of knowledge, but also about preparing them for excellence,” reveals Jayanth Sharma, co-founder and CEO, “In that spirit, mentoring photography enthusiasts by equipping them with the expertise and the tools they need at various stages of learning is our vision.”
Jayanth believes that to inspire people to achieve the high standards of photography he espouses, it is necessary to get them to push their limits and hunger for more proficiency and beauty in their art. And he does so with a riotous sense of humour that puts a learner at ease without ever being intimidated.
Jayanth says photography is at its most powerful when style flair and content originality come together, which is what he says the company helps its clients accomplish. He encourages clients to know their equipment inside-out, but not to the point that they obsess over upgrading it time and again.
COO Sachin Rai explains: “Photography is not so much about equipment as about making the most of it. Empowering our clients to do this has been our enduring mission ever since inception.”
A key trait of a teacher is mastery of the subject. And not only have Toehold mentors, called Skippers on Photography Tours, established themselves as the best in their respective fields of proficiency, but have also been the epitome of everything a teacher has to be.
Every mentor at Toehold embodies the idea that the ultimate fruit of tutorship is the pupils emulating the tutors, and they fulfil this principle by putting clients ahead of themselves in every situation. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Photo Tours, where their only aim is to get the clients to take the best possible images.
“Toehold Skippers always do their best in increasing the range of photo opportunities depending on the place, light and many other factors,” reveals Zhayynn James, a regular Toehold Tour participant.
The immense responsibility this places on the Skippers’ shoulders is partly why Toehold takes the need for tutor competence very seriously. For after all, any training is only as good as the person imparting it.
Says Sachin, “We ensure all Skippers keep themselves equipped with the latest photography knowhow and travel trends and are always a step ahead.”
He adds that they are not just mentors but also friends in the way they are available to support and advise even long after the Tour is over.
“When Toehold Skippers are around, there is passion in the air,” says Rahul Pratti, a Patron. It is contagious and awakens the natural exploring instincts of the Photo Tour participants through photography, which might need a gentle nudge.”
Clearly, passion is a great way to inspire. And inspiring is a great way to teach.
Patron Magal Sanjeev says: “There is no end to the process of learning, and certain clichés are too dear to ignore. I am the Ekalavya whose experiences as a photographer and wonder of the wild are enriched by the Dronacharyas of Toehold.”
When something as abstract and personal as creativity and composition have to be passed on from the teacher to the student as a part of aesthetics of art, eloquence and articulation become the catalyst for communication. And each Toehold sensei not only does this deftly but also with an unrelenting, monumental patience and empathy.
“I hope to influence people to make a quantum shift from taking pictures to making images,” says Rahul Sachdev, another Photography Mentor at Toehold. His ideas about the haunting rules of life in the wild always tend to offer newer perspective about wildlife to anyone who has a question for him about it.
Work ethics are another critical aspect. Without them any venture is rendered meaningless, and teaching is no exception.
“It’s quite amazing how my passion for wildlife is fuelled by the Toehold Skippers who share similar love for nature and the very act of being in the presence of natural beauty,” says Patron Neelu Pilania. “While there are a few people out there who would compromise on their ethics to get a better shot, these guys show us how to capture some of the best moments in the wild without meddling with nature, all too patiently, never getting worked up if the participants are late to comprehend something even on the spot.”
Toehold mentors’ love-affair with nature coupled with their flair for storytelling has always fascinated those who enjoy their acquaintance. And Phillip Ross, whose method of teaching involves using vivacity and humour, tells us why it is important to pursue what one’s heart desires without a shadow of doubt: “We believe there’s no age limit to learning. All you need is for your mind’s eye to be still open and heart to be young! So long as these conditions are there, how to get you to learn and master photography is what we specialise in,” he says.
Art needs no validation, but the photography experts at Toehold have etched their names in the annals of contemporary wildlife photography by winning several reputed awards and accolades, which have only augured work of unvaryingly flourishing quality and excellence.
Santosh Saligram, content and communications head in office and Skipper in the field, practises three principles in teaching: start with the absurdly simple and the most logically fundamental constructs to set a sound foundation; relate the technicalities of photography to everyday detail of human life; and remain endlessly patient in illustrating and reiterating concepts.
“Teachers and trainers need to realise that the onus is on them, and not the learners, to devise the best ways of bringing them up the curve,” he says.
Rajiv Shyamsundar, another mentor with a flair for eclectic photography-genres, says he strives to help learners achieve finesse and aesthetic beauty in their art by using the right tools and employing their individualistic vision and imagination.
“We don’t determine what they must do,” he explains, “rather; as all good teachers must, we only help them bridge the gap between what they want and what they get.”
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan said, “The end-product of education should be a free creative man, who can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature.” Ultimately, that’s what we strive to do.
“Clarity, freedom and power are the values we strive to equip our clients with,” explains Jayanth on a conclusive note. “We recognise creativity as an intense human condition, and everything we do is aimed at enabling people to unlock their potential.”
It is what good teachers do, and we’re glad that’s what we do too.