Growing up, Esha Biswas was immersed in the world of art.
The daughter of art-appreciating immigrants from India — her mother a professional fiber artist and her father an engineer and art-lover — Biswas was encouraged from a young age to look at the world through a creative lens.
She recalls it was during her middle school years that she began to tinker with her father’s camera. First taking pictures of flowers and nature, then progressing to capturing how she viewed the world through that tiny camera window.
“Photography is like a visual diary for me. It’s my way to document my own life and how I am moving through the world,” Biswas said.
“It is a way for me to interact with the world and showcase the often overlooked parts of life that may go unnoticed. In both my aspiring career as an environmental educator and my life as an artist, I strive to help people see the magic in the mundane.”
Her longest ongoing photography project is “The Tea Kettle Adventure,” a photo series she started in high school as a way to capture the milestones in her life.
Biswas uses a reflective tea kettle as a mirror and a sort of “reverse fisheye lens” to photograph herself in life’s big and little moments — her birthday, her high school graduation, her childhood bedroom, her dorm room, a sunset rainbow.
The result is a memento of that space in time preserved through a unique perspective that she can cherish and reflect back on for years to come.
“That’s been a really fun way for me to play with photography and visually see the world in a different way because it literally reflects the world you are in, but it looks so fun and surreal in the reflection,” she said.
Her tea kettle has traveled the world, including on a visit to Paris, where she spent time studying photography with photojournalist David Turnley, associate professor of art and design, and in the Residential College.
The city of her childhood dreams, Paris stands out as Biswas’ most formative experience in developing her skills as a photographer — providing her the opportunity to not only work through the challenge of a language barrier but to learn her approach for photographing people.
“The focus of the course was to get at the humanity of the people of Paris. It completely changed that way I saw photography,” Biswas said. “Now when I travel to new places, I’m not looking at the pretty sites. I’m looking at the people and trying to capture them in all the weird, wonderful things they are doing in their everyday lives. I grew in my ability to see the world and present it in a way that I thought was meaningful.”
On campus, Biswas is the student affairs coordinator of the Residential College, which also is where she spent her time as an undergraduate at U-M, and honed her photography and French language skills — both which she credits with helping prepare her for her time in Paris.
She also is a graduate student studying conservation ecology at the School for Environment and Sustainability. Biswas says she eventually wants to work in environmental education.
“I’ve always been really passionate about the natural world and learning more about it. I want to work with youth and adults to get people passionate about the natural environment so that they are more motivated to do something about it and help preserve our ecosystems for future generations,” she said.
She laughingly confesses she’s really into plants. Having created her own “green” sanctuary with more than 60 house plants crammed into her studio apartment, Biswas describes it as “living in my own jungle.”
This summer, Biswas had her first photography exhibition in collaboration with her mother, Boisali Biswas, at the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center & Gallery in Detroit. The exhibit, “Fiber-ography: A Mother-Daughter Collaboration,” showcased Biswas’ photography from around the world — Paris, Mexico, Italy and India — paired with her mother’s fiber art.
But photography is not Esha’s only artistic ability. Dance and art journaling also serve as creative outlets for her.
Since the age of 7, Biswas has practiced Kathak, a form of classical dance from northern India. It is a form of storytelling characterized by facial expressions, percussive footwork, dazzling pirouettes and a close relationship with Hindustani classical music. She continued dancing at U-M through the student organization, Michigan Sahana.
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She’s now learning contemporary Indian dance and getting involved in more experimental projects that combine different forms of art and disciplines, such as dance inspired by visual artwork.
Currently, Biswas is preparing for an upcoming October performance with the dance group Srijan for the second round of judging for the Maggie Allesee Choreography Award presented by the Michigan Dance Festival.
Woven into the fabric of all her passions, one thing stands out for Biswas — her experience as an undergraduate in the Residential College provided her the opportunity to explore, nurture and cultivate her interests to flourish into who she is today.
“The RC is a hidden gem in a lot of ways. It’s why I haven’t been able to leave. This place just means so much to me. It’s such a magical place to be and there is so much growth that happens here for every student,” Biswas said.