Stories give meaning to a human being’s life.
Every human being introduces himself or herself as a bundle of stories. There are a set of values, beliefs and thoughts every individual ascribes to. And expressing this everyday is what a human being finds meaning in. Even at this instant, if one closes their eyes and thinks deeply about oneself, one would realize that his or her life has been a set of stories each mingling with the other, creating a grander story which becomes one’s living ethos.
Human beings are dominantly visual creatures. It’s how we process the world around us, and the formation of our eye was an important moment in evolutionary history. Written text, audio, images and videos are how we currently communicate. With the democratization of media due to the internet, multiple iterations and ways of communication mean that no longer are dependent on the print medium, preferring to consume information from images and videos, in small bytes rather than spend time and attention towards reading lengthy written accounts unless it’s necessary from a personal or professional point of view.
The earth is our home and the world, a single community, united in our diverse roots of thoughts, beliefs and opinions, which constitute modern culture. Culture is always in flux, and individuals have always sought to change it for the better. Today, at Bangalore Insider, we spoke to Saurabh, who spent a majority of his professional life as a banker. His brand, Fotokatha seeks to take viewers on a journey to earth’s hidden treasures and we couldn’t be more happier to learn from his vast experience.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I was born and brought up in the beautiful state of Assam. I attended school in Don Bosco, Guwahati and went on to pursue engineering from NIT Rourkela. By qualification I’m a chemical engineer; by profession, I’m a wealth manager. At heart, I’m a photographer, still trying to understand, as American journalist, photographer, and educator Ralph Hattersley put it, the meaning of life. I’ve had a fulfilling career in private banking over the last 18 years, but I found my real calling almost a decade ago. That calling was photography and it gave me a whole new view of the world. That’s when I founded Fotokatha — to document my journey to the wild and beyond and share my pictures and the story behind it.
How did photography happen to you? Why did you choose to pursue a career as a photographer?
In the age of candid images, my tryst with photography started with clicking pictures for my friends and capturing the big moments in their lives — their weddings, newborns, the first birthday of their babies. I found immense joy in seizing these precious moments and over time I made a foray into professional infant photography. Capturing a soon-to-be-mama’s first baby bump or that timeless moment when the tiny tot smiles in his sleep… the joy of making memories is unmatched. It’s unadulterated. And just like that in the pursuit of simple pleasures, my companion (my camera) and I, we found ourselves gravitating toward the wild. And here’s when my heady love story with the jungle and its inhabitants began. Wildlife photography became an addiction and my visit to the forest became more frequent. I often leave the hustle and bustle of the city and dive into the jungle. Amid the tigers of India and the tuskers of Africa, I have found myself.
What does photography mean to you? What makes the good picture stand out from the average?
I am a man of few words. Photography then for me is the way to express myself, it’s the best way to tell an untold tale. I travel to forests across the world, the countries that are not on the everyday traveller’s map, on roads less treaded to find these stories.
The difference between a good picture and an average picture is the difference between taking an image and making an image. Taking an image is where you pick the camera and press the shutter without much thought toward composition, the technical aspects, the aesthetics. You tend to overlook the storytelling. Whereas making an image is being able to talk to people through the photograph.
What inspires you? Whose work has influenced you most?
There is plenty of inspiration to be found in animals and birds — they are my real heroes. And as much as I love landscapes, I love human emotions — emotions that are pure. It is one reason why I enjoy clicking photographs of babies. Because you can’t teach an infant to pose, can you?
I like to shoot portraits in black and white and one Indian photographer who has really inspired me is the Late Prabuddha Dasgupta, who created magic with his monochromes. When it comes to wildlife, there is no one name but I keep observing the work of photographers from across the world and learning every day.
How do you educate yourself to take better photos? How would you describe your photography style?
I follow the principle of 3 Ps: Practice, Patience and Perseverance. There is no better classroom than nature, which is full of challenges when it comes to light, background, subject position, time, weather. The best way to learn is to go out there and shoot as much as you can.
In terms of style, I don’t believe in making record shots or just pressing the shutter because I have digital cards to spare. Even if I find a subject but the lighting or background is not appropriate, I won’t take a picture. I will wait for another opportunity.
For example, my favourite species of birds are owls and there is one particular owl — the Indian Eagle Owl — which I have been chasing for over six years now. I have sighted the bird on multiple occasions but each time there was something not quite right — a distracting branch, a stray shadow. One of my friends joked saying it’s me who’s the “Ullu” here. But I’m sure that I will make the perfect photograph someday without compromising on the quality.
What is the most difficult and the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?
The most difficult part is making time. I don’t think I have spent enough time, given enough attention to something so close to my heart because I also have a corporate career. But my life as a photographer has been a series of happy coincidences. One fine day, my photographs caught the attention of a school principal in Gwalior. All I needed was one phone call and the next weekend I found myself among the enthusiastic and bright children of Scindia School, Gwalior teaching them the basics of photography as they went around the city capturing landscapes and nature. It was a day full of little adventures – understanding the camera, discussing the world that we occupy, and freezing a few wondrous moments. It’s one thing making your photographs but that day I realised that joy is only multiplied when you pass on your passion. Photography is infectious and it’s one bug I don’t mind spreading. One of the most rewarding parts of photography has been my ability to spread the love for nature, wildlife and photography among the children I have interacted with.
What do you like least and the most about being a photographer?
The best part about being a photographer is your ability to stop time in a way — to preserve a moment and make a memory out of it.
What I don’t like about being a photographer is that as a form of art, it still has not got the credit and respect as some of the other forms. Plus every photographer has his own style, his own signature and own inclinations. So it’s unfair to think that someone who is a good wedding photographer would necessarily be great at product photography. For example, I can’t take a good selfie, but it has been said that self-portrait too is an art. Who am I to contend that?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Fotokatha is a brand which I’ve nurtured like my baby. It’s my way to reach out to people and spread love and awareness about wildlife and the world that we need to save. Over the next few years, I see myself bringing to you more interesting stories from parts of India and the world that are waiting to be discovered.
Any advice for upcoming photographers?
There are no shortcuts in photography; there are various mediums through which you can learn how to hold a camera and shoot a picture but photography is something that comes from your heart and from a deep sense of love for your subject.
I’d advise budding photographers to follow the principle of the three Ps and never be disheartened by mistakes as you learn from each one of them. Never get flattered and always strive to make an image better than your last one
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