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15-year-old youth wins Hornsby photo contest

Aayush Chitnis captures the stagnation that many found themselves in during the coronavirus pandemic.

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15-year-old Aayush Chitnis’ photograph, ‘The Faces of Quarantine’, has won in the ‘Alone Together’ photography competition (Youth Category). The competition, held by the Hornsby Shire Council, aimed to bring local members of the community together to connect on their shared experiences during the COVID pandemic. Local photographers, including Aayush, submitted images answering the question, ‘What does the COVID pandemic mean to me?’

For Aayush, a Year 9 Normanhurst Boys student, the pandemic meant a sense of stagnation. “The world around me stopped moving,” Aayush told Indian Link. “I didn’t go anywhere, and I could not move forward. I was stuck in a loop of eating, exercising, entertainment, hobbies, and a little bit of schoolwork. I tried to embody that feeling of stagnation in my work.”

Constrained by the limits imposed by lockdown, Aayush chose to photograph himself with his Nikon camera and tripod. Using photoshop to create a ‘stacked’ image, the photograph depicts three versions of himself taking part in various mundane activities, including: eating, exercising, and practicing guitar. He chose these activities to illustrate how a singular experience of being alone, bored, and stagnant in a pandemic, could be felt by many: “I couldn’t capture an image that included a lot of people, so I tried to capture one image to illustrate the experience of many”.

Aayush revealed that he used photography as an escape during the pandemic. “I started to see photography as an actual hobby at the end of last year. I think I chose a bad time to get into photography. I was limited with what I could shoot so I started taking photographs in my neighbourhood. I found that taking photos was calming and allowed me to escape”. It was on one of his neighbourhood photography trips when one of Aayush’s family friends spotted him and suggested he enter the ‘Alone Together’ competition.

Shot by Aayush Chitnis. Image supplied

In addition, he also used the time to improve his photoshop skills by going back and editing old images from trips prior to the pandemic. He credits his growth in skillset to his friends, YouTube, experimentation, and experience with all the equipment and features on offer.

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Aayush was introduced to the world of photography when his dad brought home a Nikon D7100 in 2014. “When I was 9 or 10, I started a competition between me and my dad as to who was the better photographer,” Aayush recollected.

His friendly competition with his dad has now become a friendly competition with friends. “Competition motivates me. It’s a big part of why I started to take photography seriously”. With friends, he now travels to the city or wakes up early to take sunrise photos at various National Parks across New South Wales. He specifically enjoys the “feeling of adventure” that he gets from landscape photography.

Aayush looks to the Sydney hobby photography scene on Instagram as a source of inspiration. “The local artists’ and photographers’ who define the Australian photography scene are my biggest inspiration,” he revealed. “They are able to capture the vast city and landscapes in the diverse country we live in”. He specifically looks up to Sydney based travel photographer @Pat_Kay, and @northborders, based in Melbourne.

In the future, Aayush hopes to enter the world of travel photography. “I will continue photography as a hobby for the foreseeable future. The dream is to become a travel photographer. I would love to travel around Australia and the world to take photos.”

Aayush was extremely happy when he found out he had won in the Youth Category, stating that it was a “surreal experience to look at one of my photos hanging up in an exhibition”. He expressed his gratitude towards the Hornsby Shire: “I am pretty lucky to live here. What they [Hornsby Shire Council] do for artists is really nice. You have the chance to display your art to the wider public and that’s really helpful in getting your name out there”. In regard to the competitions the Shire holds: “there’s no downside to entering. It’s a really good way to grow”.

Aayush’s photograph, ‘The Faces of Quarantine’, along with 17 other winning photographs, are currently displayed near the Berkelouw Hornsby bookstore on the Link Bridge, connecting the two sides of Westfield Hornsby. The photographs will be displayed until 29 December 2021. All winners’ and finalists’ works can also be viewed on the Hornsby Shire Council’s website: https://www.hornsby.nsw.gov.au/lifestyle/arts-and-culture/alone-together

More of Aayush’s work can be found on his Instragram: @chitniscuz

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