Photojournalism - Interview with Zishaan Akbar Latif
Director: Nisha Vasudevan
Duration: 00:45:58; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 96.268; Saturation: 0.033; Lightness: 0.301; Volume: 0.236; Cuts per Minute: 2.197; Words per Minute: 144.557
Interviewer: Bhanuj Kappal
Zishaan Latif is not a photojournalist. He prefers to be known as a photographer. He has been published in NY Magazine, Private Magazine, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, BusinessWeek, The Australian, The Sun and Brand Equity - Economic Times. He's worked with and photographed a lot of NGOs and development work. This interview with him explores various topics such as the juxtaposition of text and photographs and the effects this can have on audience perception, the challenges faced by photojournalism as an institution today, Cartier-Bresson's Decisive Moment, and ethical dilemmas. We also discuss the ease with which digital media allows the formation of a stream (or flood, depending on the way you look at it) of images. Does this challenge photojournalism as an instrument to influence society by making it more difficult for any particular image to stick in public consciousness? Zishaan tells us about all this and more with reference to a lot of his own images and photo-essays: Bokator Bandits, Ability in Disability and Kashmir Living being among his series that stand out particularly.
Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment
Nisha: Okay, you can start now.
Bhanuj: So how did you think of becoming a photojournalist?
Zishaan: Okay, um, I'm not a photojournalist. I'm a photographer. And uh, sometimes, lot of people have typecast me or the sort of work I create as photojournalism or as a documentary photographer. I believe I'm a photographer and under the umbrella of being a photographer, I have done quite a bit just under being, under the umbrella of being a photographer. So, I might have done journalism - uh, journalistic sort of work, I would've done a lot of documentary work, a lot of development work which is NGO work.
Zishaan: My forte yes, because I shoot a lot of NGO assignments would be a lot of development work, lot of story-based imagery in terms of documenting for NGOs, education, democracy, a lot of that and um, so...Yes I have done that, so a lot of people would think I am a photojournalist or documentary - I am - or I believe I am doing all sorts of work within being (inaudible). I've probably done a - I've done a movie also, and so I've done stills in a movie. So to uyour pashion for documentary or journalism or that sort of work, you need to take up commercial work or all of that. So yeah.
Bhanuj: So what are the challenges you think are faced specifically by photojournalists and documentary photographers?
Zishaan: I think there're quite a few, because um, I mean, photojournalism per se requires...it's documenting reality at extremely fast speeds. And then to even think about composition when you've got a bomb coming towards you and you like try to manage uh, crowds...you know, the instinct that the photojournalist has, is not run away, but to run towards. So you can imagine the sort of psyche that a photojournalist has to have to uh, do what they have to do.
Zishaan: So challenges is, life, one, you might just die...you don't know, you might think you are coming back, but you might not be coming back. Um, two is, again, I think, very insecure job or sort of photography because unfortunately India still is not recognised as a mainstream uh...It's getting much better, I've been shooting for 6 years now, but this time I started and uh, now that I know a lot of photographers, photojournalists...in fact, I started under a photojournalist for Reuters.
Zishaan: So I was not interning at Reuters, but I started learning the nuances of photography under a photojournalist, so my uh...my...chain of thought runs like a journalist or a documentary photographer, so my forte and the way I compose is like that and uh, so I prefer like one-one day assignments because it's like (snaps fingers) let's shooting...I...I think I perform better when I am under pressure, so that's the key to a photojournalist as well. Challenges yeah, life, insecurity, we're not respected, we in terms of photojournalists are not respected in India, unfortunately. Um...four, I don't think we can marry, (laughs) because, because it's yeah, it's just living on the edge, it doesn't pay too much and it's I mean, we unfortunately, want to have a family but it's just like, maybe we just can't afford it so, lot of these things. So yeah.
Bhanuj: So you mostly do your work that you get on assignment, or do you just -
Zishaan: I know, I...I started off doing a lot of my own personal stuff and because there was no work...So you have to try and...initial years were exciting and new so you do go out and try and develop your skills, your eye, your techniques, uh...you don't care about money. It's like, you just have so much of zest and vigour to go and create imagery, because the magic of imagery is unbelievable in the inital years. More so, we all have the passion, that's why we're still doing what we do, but uh initial years is key to maintaining sort of the passion that you have. So the uh...coming back, sorry, what did you ask me?
Bhanuj: Do you work mostly on assignment or...
Zishaan: Yeah, it's...unfortunately or fortunately it's like now it's become uh...there was a time when I didn't want to get out because I'm not being paid for it, I'm being very frank, but uh because I have to survive. And I got saturate - I reached a stage where I got uh, I mean I found Bombay very uh...jaded or saturated in terms of uh, what's the word, it's just, I felt very uh...closed. I thought I'd already shot a lot, but that's not true, you don't ever finish documenting where you stay.
Zishaan: So that's when a mentor of mine, a very close friend, mentor, started saying it's never over, you can start documenting yourself in your environment. You, yourself. So that's when I started thinking of a lot of personal stories I could do...me, my environment, my family, my grandfather. Because It was you know, (inaudible) in the initial years, and I still believe I've been seeing so much of work in the last 5 years that I feel I'm still not Zishaan Akbar Latif who is shooting.
Zishaan: Because I've seen so much on the internet, I've learnt so much from so many fellows, I feel there's a great percentage of them in my work. And I don't want that. Now, by doing personal assign - personal things, Zishaan is coming out. So that's very important: Where's Zishaan in the scheme of things? Yeah, I've started shooting a lot of personal projects, started shooting my...started documenting uh, unfortunately, the last years of my grandfather on pure black and white film. And however romantic it sounds but I want to try and capture...I want to immortalise his last few years on black and white film and so yeah. A few personal things that I'm doing.
Bhanuj: Which was the most, like, emotional or heart-rending picture you've shot?
Zishaan: It was in fact...can I show it to you?
Zishaan: Okay so, can you see that?
Nisha: One sec.
Zishaan: Um, yeah, so this is Manoj. And uh, as you can see, he is in a trance, entangled in mutilated waterpipes. And this, the location is under the Bhendi Bazaar bridge in 2005. July 2005 is when I uh, was shooting my second ever film roll. And it was this journalist, photojournalist who asked me to start shooting Bombay and develop my eye and uh start with film and so this is my second roll and I was really annoyed with the day's proceedings because I had not really shot too much and I had not got any particular image that I thought was interesting.
Zishaan: So I just aimlessly, purposelessly started walking towards Crawford and went towards the bridge, Bhendi Bazaar bridge, and suddenly on left I see Manoj. And I'll tell you how I know his name, later, so that's Manoj, and I just saw him and my first reaction was, I want that image. But I was really scared, I was nervous, because I was never confronted, I had never been confronted by things like drugs and I'd seen a lot of imagery and stuff like that, but when it was happening to me, first hand? Little unnerving. Because I was never confronted with a druggie in front of me. However, he's a in a trance, he probably won't do anything to me, but I was still nervous. So I walked on, I was in two minds, I was like should I, should I not, will I create a lot of buzz if I start documenting him. Will he get up, will he get his needle out and try and attack me? I did think of all these things.
Zishaan: And uh, in retrospect we would think it's funny but it's actually dangerous when you're actually surrounded by such people. And thankfully it was only one. So I shot, I went ahead, I said no I mean...I somehow, there was an urge within me to, no I have to go back, this is a lost opportunity if I don't shoot it. See how we think? It's like lost opportunity because somebody else's tragedy is our gain? Unfortunately that's one of the ethics of, or ethical-unethical debates we can start of photojournalism and all of that and uh...anyway, so I went ahead, thought I had to take this so I came back uh...I took precisely two frames: one horizontal and one vertical.
Zishaan: And so when I shot it, there was a buzz, a lot of people started surrounding me and automatically it happens when you've got a camera, you automatically attract a lot of crowds. Especially when you're shooting something that is considered, "Oh, foreigner has come to your country and he's going to sell the image abroad" and all that. So, I shot two and then suddenly I had a lot of people around me and obviously I get nervous and all that, my first time, and uh, then he gets up! Manoj gets up!
Zishaan: And he looks at - so we have like this eye contact where I was like, shit, he's actually up and he's...then he wanted money, and I remember, I was told, "We never pay for our images." And this holds true till date. I have not paid anybody any money, however, again, we would probably get into the whole 'unethical' debate. I just don't wanna pay for an image. I don't know how any...a lot of people would probably debate that but maybe I was taught like that, or it was the way we thought: we don't wanna pay for an image, you just want to create it out of thin air. And if you pay that means you've staged it or sabotaged it in a way. So we don't want to do that. So he asked for money and I was scared.
Zishaan: And having said that I'm not paid for money, I had to pay for my life. So I did, and I don't need to lie to anybody, but I did pay Manoj and uh, and uh...so I paid, I think, Rs. 10, and obviously - I didn't want to, it was like, he's obviously going to buy more drugs, I shouldn't have done that, I in retrospect feel very guilty, but uh, Manoj did get money out of me, because I was scared. And uh, but then when I went back...so, the people next to me...I want to know more about him, now that I've got so deep into him I want to know more about him and um, so, his name is Manoj and somebody next to me said he's Manoj and he's been into drugs for 9 years or something, and he's a rag picker. So yeah, that's Manoj, and it was a very difficult moment and uh yeah...so, yeah.
Bhanuj: Since we are talking about Manoj, and you having to pay him, how important is it to get the subject's consent when you are taking photographs?
Zishaan: Very important. First few years for me, I thought...then I in retrospect, now I think that it was very unfair, because um, again...where do you draw the line between photojournalism, documenting what is real and you don't have time so you just take it and go back...that, and then if you've got time, if you're a documentary - if you've got alot of time...So, I believe now what I've been doing for the last three-four years is, I've been fortunate to have a lot of time around my subjects so I make it a point to know who they are, and if they do have an issue, I will not take their picture, that's as simple as that.
Zishaan: So again, this is Manoj, coming to Manoj, it is very journalistic, documentary, I had time yet...because I had time because he was in a trance, so, but then it's always going to hit me that I did pay him Rs. 10 for that image. It's in front of me, it's always going to be haunting me, I did pay for that image, and uh, but...uh, thankfully I got his name. I know his name. And uh, a lot of us forget....okay, subjects make our images, it is not we who make our images. I think we owe it to them that we know who they are, where they come from, and if they are comfortable around us. If they are, if they don't mind, then it's a sure-shot image, and if they have an issue, I back off, try and look for something else. It's like that, so yeah.
Bhanuj: But there's also a lot of situations where you don't have the opportunity, especially as a journalist, you don't have the opportunity to talk to the person -
Zishaan: Exactly, exactly, so that's when you don't know where to draw the line between journalism and documentary and, when you have time and don't have time. When we have the time we do try and ask them their names and know the background, because that's a part of our story also, documenting not only them but writing as well. So, uh, yes, so, true: a lot of my work also, when I've shot like, protests, and uh like effigies being burnt and all...nobody really gives a damn then. Because they're so engrossed in the whole thing, they don't mind. So if they don't have an issue, we don't have an issue, we're just going with the flow, we shoot them, they actually - a lot of people want to be photographed, because they're doing it for a purpose, they want to be seen on papers all over the world. So all that, not...not saying that it's okay to just unethically shoot them, but it's just the spur of the moment when things happen or don't happen. And again, uh, if somebody's been wounded in front of me, I still cannot say that I'd be shooting, or I will be trying to save his life.
Zishaan: It's that moment when I will decide, it's that split second when I will decide, I'm going to put the camera down and try to save his life - or I will make the image, and make my life. You know, unfortunately we think like that, so it's that moment that we're going to decide. And it's a very personal decision. I mean, Zishaan might want to take the image, Zishaan too might not want to take the image and might want to save the - it's about that moment. Like here, I mean I...I...it was that moment, I was scared but I was like no, I was just going to overcome it and just take it. Because, I don't know what's going to happen, I'll regret not taking it, at least let me do it, then I'll see what happens. So yeah, the repurcussions are serious if there's a subject that has issues with suddenly seeing his or her image in the paper the next day, then the offices are called and all that. So it does get into that issue of unethical stuff and yeah.
Bhanuj: How do you define the role of photojournalism, especially with the internet and it's constant stream of information which makes it harder for an image to stick and actually have much of an impact.
Zishaan: I need to understand that question better, can you just like, repeat it?
Bhanuj: Two parts: How do you define the role of photojournalism in society? And how do see digital media changing that, because it makes it much harder when you're seeing (inaudible) pictures a day, just surfing, for one particular picture to catch your attention, rather than seeing one in the newspaper.
Zishaan: Yeah, so editors, editors, editors, editors! They're known as the Kill Kings, because they kill it, kill it, kill it, Zishaan, not working, not working, not working. So it's the editor who makes unfortunately...we love each image that we create. It's like an artist, you know, you take time, you put a lot of effort into creating every image so it's art and it's all very romantic and every image you crate is "Wow, our art" and all that so we get pissed when a lot of editors kill a lot of images.
Zishaan: But the editors, giving them due respect, they know what the...what people will want to see and what they don't want to see, that's why they're editors and that's why we are shooting and obviously it's a combination of both - a lot of sensibilities and sensitivity goes into the connection between the editor and the photographer, so the editor would explain what is required or what the world wants to see, and uh...there the issues when the photographer thinks it's done very well and aesthetically and we go into the nuances of composition and story all together.
Zishaan: Sometimes the editor would say no, aesthetic is fine but what is it really saying? Is the world going to look at your colours and your composition or what it means to them? So there, you need the editor and that's why the whole...digital boom? I think it's very scary. Also more so for the editor because he has to go through a lot of images to select the one that will change the world. Okay, there was, initially I used to think, yes, like every photojournalist or documentary - we can change the world. I've come to the consensus that maybe, after six years...Okay, I'm not going to change the world.
Zishaan: I'm not going to change the world, but I'm going to be happy, by telling stories, by creating images, because it really makes me happy. I like to create images. I don't necessarily have to save the world by creating images. So that is what has been my growth I think from 2005-2010. I don't think I am going to change the world, but if it happens, it's a great bonus for everybody, including me, because if one image I create out of thin air can help someone, so be it, I mean, you always feel touched and uh, emotional about those moments. And uh, so it's a great bonus. But I don't think I can change the world. That, and the whole digital boom is scary, I think...I mean, yeah....how...it's um...no, really, it's the editors who have to really worry about the editing and what really counts for everybody to see.
Bhanuj: How much of an impact do you see photographs making on society?
Zishaan: Like I just mentioned, from personal experience, I spent a month in Kashmir in March 2008 and I uh, I did series called "The City of Bunkers" - Srinagar - and how it's daily life depends on the Indian Army bunkers. They have different sorts of bunkers - camouflage, colourful, brick, dormant, active, all sorts of bunkers.
Zishaan: Once I read up an article by a fellow Kashmiri and, by fellow I mean, I'm not Kashmiri, but a fellow Indian, a journalist from Kashmir, so I was quite moved to the point where I mailed him back saying, "Do you think I can document your essay or your writeup, called City of Bunkers", which I felt was very powerful to document as photographs. So I did sort of homework, I usually don't do homework, which is bad, but uh, I thought it was dangerous to land up in Kashmir not knowing where you're going to land up and uh, so the groundwork was done three months in advance. I got to know a lot of local photographers and journalists. So they helped me with getting across Srinagar and Lolab and Oori and all these places, Kupwara, and uh, so I...I um...
Bhanuj: The impact it makes...
Zishaan: The impact, I mean...
Nisha: Do you have the pictures? Can we see them?
Zishaan: Yeah, yeah yeah. So...
Zishaan: Okay, so uh...that's, that was the first image I took uh, it was on my way from Jummu to uh...I love the way they say Jummu. So from "Jummu" to Srinagar, just about the outskirts of Srinagar, I saw this very mystical sort of bunker in front of me and I asked the person I was travelling with to stop the car and I had to get an image. So that was my first image, of the City of Bunkers, that was my introduction. And uh, it's very dormant, it's a like a useless bunker, but it adds to the story. So I started documenting Srinagar, the City of Bunkers, with a lot of bunkers but ended up with hoardes and hoardes of images because of the one month I spent there. So I came out with a lot more stories - personal stories, a lot of tragic stories, difficult to accept sort of stories.
Zishaan: So City of Bunkers is one, how the locals have to uh, live with sort of, the danger of anything, any moment happening to them, they don't know if they're going to come back home. So City of Bunkers and how their lives are entangles with all of them. Then uh, I mean, City of Bunkers was one, and there was, I mean, I ended up using City of Bunkers in my overall story called "Kashmir Living" and uh, so, I landed up in Oori and, well I, it was devastated by the earthquake in 2005. And uh, 2008, sorry, no....2000...Pakistan, Muzaffarabad, Oori, the earthquake in 2005.
Zishaan: And uh, yes, 2005. So I ended up in Oori and I go to like, an orphanage, for of course orphans and...it was like a Madrassa Orphanage? So like, where these uh, tiny little Muslim boys are taught Taleem and their religion and uh basics of that and, given shelter. So this is one of them. So basically coming back to City of Bunkers Srinagar and uh, why I'm talking about all this is because it moved me alot, my one whole month over there, because you need to see it with your own eyes to know what's really happening because media has the tendency of blowing things out of proportion.
Zishaan: Even if I'm part of it, I know I don't want to hide from the fact that we do that and it's sad because it just misleads the common man into believing that the situation is really grave, or not that grave. Media has a role, right, so I think we should take it seriously if we're a part of it, that's why I'm...I mostly, if I do get an opportunity to work for the papers, okay, I do.
Zishaan: But...any money is good money, but uh, I'm not that interested in per se magazines sort of...yeah, it's great to be published, it's a great feeling for an artist or photographer to be published, and but, magazine-newspapers is not, I don't kow, I just don't find it appealing or I don't know what to believe, I mean, yeah I know it's a great platform for me to publish my work but maybe I've been fortunate to do just do sort of a lot of development-NGO work, which I'm erally happy doing because it is what it is. If children are happy with an NGO I document that, because I love doing documentaries for a lot of NGOs and all that. I just feel it's more real, and I love children so it's great fun.
Zishaan: Not that I'm always shooting children, but it's good fun. Coming back to if photojournalism has an impact, like I was showcasing this particular story called Kashmir Living at the Kala Ghoda Festival in 2010, February. And uh, it so happened on maybe the last day or the second last day of the exhibitio - a man sees the images, and I was just standing next to my board, and he sees the images and he gets emotional. And uh, I was taken aback, it was a great feeling, because if your images can do that to someone you in turn get really emotional yourself.
Zishaan: So he came and hugged me and said, "Sorry." He thought I was Kashmiri, and that we as Indians as a whole have just discarded, or not even given a choice to the Kashmiris and I'm not being biased over here, I'm not taking anybody's side, I have to be neutral because I'm a photographer, what I see is what I'm documenting. I think he somehow felt I was Kashmiri and I was trying to show the plight of the Kashmiris. My intention was not pro- or anti- anybody. So he just comes and hugs me and says, "Sorry" which was very moving, I think, and it was hard to understand and I think explain to anybody after that what I felt, but uh, I think it was like a testimony, or it was like a redemption sort of feeling that we're...you do that, and then suddenly from nowhere now...man comes up and hugs you for what you've done and made.
Zishaan: And it's a story, and I told a story and they felt something so, I don't if...this is like a very personal sort of experience, and I don't know if how much all my images mean to anybody or anything, but I primarily - there's no point shooting for yourself always, yes, the world needs to see what you document and see, yes you always have the groups or the types who'll say, "What the hell are you shooting, what the hell is this?" and uh, "Why have you shot that?"
Zishaan: I also get that, and I also get yes, a very encouraging sort of group, "Great work, thank you so much," and so with that sort of balanced criticism and encouragement, you carry on doing what you love doing. And I don't know if my images are impacting anybody, if they are, it's a bonus, as I mentioned before, it's a bonus, yes, but I love creating imagery, and if it can help someone, it's a great thing. So, yeah.
Bhanuj: What are your ideas on censorship. For example, if you shoot a picture that is exceptionally graphic, or if it is something that can be offensive to a certain section of people, would you censor it or would you insist on printing it as it is? Because it is reality as it is -
Zishaan: Again, depending on the stand of the photographer, and the editor, and the publishing house and the newspaper or the magazine take. It is uh...if they've decided into go into deep waters where they will have to fave criticism or the government uh...or vandals coming and vandalising your magazine, I mean, all of that, so be it. Because journalism, you know, there are some journalists who take it very personally and want to go out and tell the truth and some who are chicken, and who really get scared, "Oh, yeh aayega, aur yeh tod dega."
("Oh, this person will come, and this perso will vandalise things." and all of that.
Zishaan: And uh, but if they take a stand, if they think that this needs to be told, and I think nowadays - the past few years, maybe a decade, I think we've had gutsy, ballsy sort of journalists and photographers sort of doing a lot of great truth-telling. So I think it's uh...censorship, yes I mean, it's all the duty on the other hand of the media is to understand sensibilities, sensitivities of a certain sect. Kaum, or you know, it's like, these sections in our country. There's so many, that it's hard to keep a track and it's so many that get affected by it, again, come back to the effect the image might have on not only but a lot of people from all sorts of communities and uh...So it's a stand that the publishing house and the editor takes, and the photographer.
Zishaan: Because it is the photographer who actually has to maybe be, like - I know some photographers from Sri Lanka, they're shooting the LTTE, and uh, who have to run away and uh, hide in Bombay. So uh, a lot of this happens actually, and I was in fact in Ratnagiri shooting, no, at least trying to shoot a story for Greenpeace and I...by undercover cops I was asked to come to the station to give a statement. And uh, somewhere it's a personal decision, where you want to take a stand or you want to...because that statement they would have used against me if they'd caught me, so you need to be smart. You know you're going to get into deep trouble, you either move away, maybe you take a stand that's not worth it, nobody's going to judge you.
Zishaan: You either leave, and your editors and all understand. If they do, great, if they don't, so be it, you don't want to die, you move out. Or there are some photographers who will say "F.O." and "I want to be there" and um, so uh, "I will do anything for this image or this story." There are things that...it's a very personal sort of decision, and moral ground that you need to stick for, stand for, and all that. So, yeah.
Bhanuj: In photography, there' s this concept of the decisive moment.
Bhanuj: So do you think in a photographer, that's just instinctive, or is it something that you can teach yourself to anticipate or to -
Zishaan: Uh photojournalists uh, it's both, instinctive, natural and you've taught yourself this particular decisive moments that you hears a sound...hears...did I just say hears?
Zishaan: Sorry, you hear a sound and uh...you hear a sound are you ar either taught or told by somebody to run towards it, not away from it. So uh...(inaudible)...these moments that you - it comes with experience and just this passion or Jasbaah
to go and uh be in the line of fire more than run away from the line of fire. And um it comes with experience and I think some of them just have it in them to get out and I think it's a high for quite a few out there and it's a thrill. They just have to be in the middle of madness, mayhem, chaos. So like, unfortunately the 26/11 where I also had to be uh there. I mean I in fact, fortunately or unfortunately, stay in the middle of Nariman House and Taj.
Zishaan: So uh, again, timing, right place-right time, you have fortunate to you. Again, see how i'm using "fortunate" for a photojournalist or a documentary film because here there is somebody else, there there are people going through uh, a turbulent time just maybe two blocks away from you and there you are like, man, image, image, image! It's...it's uh...it's tragic that we think like that but it is also something that comes out of - obviously there is some sort of responsibility, sensitivity inside within that drives us to - a lot of passion that drives us to try and tell these stories.
Zishaan: A lot do it out of compulsion, "Yaar, yeh job hai, karna hai, yeh editor hamaari mar dega,
so we have to take these images today." ("This is a job, we have to do it, this editor will kill us, so we have to take these images today.") So uh, there are some sections within our community of photographers that are compelled to run into them even if they don't want to, and some who really want to get into this because it's a high, they just want to get some mad images. Uh so, question kya tha?
Bhanuj: So do you think it's intinctive or you can train -
Zishaan: Some, some are trained. I think they are trained over a period of time. I think some have it in them. So yeah.
Bhanuj: So okay, last question, coming back to digital media, how do you think like, do you think if a job is threatened by all the amateur photographers, especially when it comes to newspaper journalists -
Zishaan: (Howls) Oh my god.
Bhanuj: For example, 26/11. Twitter had pictures up, taken by people at -
Zishaan: At the sites, yeah -
Bhanuj: - Within about twenty or twenty five minutes of the thing happening. Long before the photojournalists actually got there. So there is a certain threat there, what do you think about that?
Zishaan: Oh yes, there's major threat, mobile phones, boss! I mean, it is a major uh, I don't want to discourage mobile photographers or amateurs or even photographers world over. But uh, frankly it is scary, because I think in one small city you might have close to 3000-4000 photographers today, and imagine in one city, one metro you have 3000-4000 photographers. So imagine uh, taking a lot of countries together, the world has close to a 100,000 photographers today. So it becomes even more difficult for us so called professionals to get work or any sort of work.
Zishaan: And I maintain, I think good photographers will always get work, good-bad, nobody to judge or whatever, you would survive. Today, nothing except the way they're looking, it's common sense, the way you've logically - it's composition today, and it's nothing else, technicalities everybody knows. I mean, I think I know less than anybody outside there, shooting with a mobile or is so conveniently produced Canon and Nikon DSLRs today.
Zishaan:And so...actually there's two ways to look at this: economy boom, globalisation, uh, liquid cash, anybody goes and buys a DSLR, so everybody shoots, so that's really a lot of things that a photographer has to think about. So uh, yeah it's not easy. So...a lot of white hair. So, yeah. But, I'm not here to judge or discourage anybody. I mean it's...I don't know why, but I too have a few people who mail and ask, "Can we become photographers?", I mean I myself am learning - so that one problem - and it's not been close to a decade also that I've shot, it's been five years, so I really don't know what to tell them, I want to be very frank, because I know that maybe I've been lucky, to at, a particular juncture, every year something something happens and I somehow survive.
Zishaan: It's really about survival, just living on the edge. And, but it's a thrill. It's also that thrill, it's a high, uh, and I don't know what to tell them because it's...I want to be frank, you know what, you actually going to be digging into my pocket, but I want to also be able to encourage and tell them you know, please...so I don't have real backing in terms of education. Like, I've not even learnt photography. So I just started going along and learning the nuances of photography under a photojournalist and subsequently learnt under a man who teaches photography for the past 30 years.
Zishaan: So I don't go to a photography school. More so I feel that I myself am learning and then I...what am I supposed to tell these people about the difficulties of photography and uh how to cope with the dangers of living on the edge. So I'm just tryign to be very open, and but...everybody should be able to...actually I was just telling everybody, everybody should have a camera, because any and everything is a moment and you should just not go and uh, yeah I mean I think everybody should shoot, but let us please earn. (laughs)
Nisha: A few more questions, the last time I met you, you showed me those pictures with -
Zishaan: Aarushi, the NGO -
Nisha: The Aarushi thing, but I'm talking about also that but the, actually you know, that was it, no? With the text and all. So how do you think the presence of text can change how...you know, someone who's looking at it would percieve the picture?
Zishaan: Okay one more angle, are you on camera, are you rolling?
Nisha: Yeah, but you can say...it's cool.
Zishaan: But uh, again I mean, this piece was published in the Sunday Guardian, uh, 31st of August I think, 2010. Yeah 31st of Aug...sorry, 15th of August. Um, I was very thrilled that this piece was finally being published, it's a great high for a lot of people as Sunday Guardian has a lot of readership in Delhi and England. So I was kicked and any opportunity to be seen. So, Bokator, my story on uh, Khmer Martial Arts in Cambodia when I went for a workshop in 2009 November. So this is my story I was doing in a week, I has to produce a story in a week and uh, it was amazing to get to know these people and to know how they want to bring back Khmer Martial Arts to Cambodia after what happened few decades ago with the Khmer Rouge and the problems that Cambodia had to go through.
Bhanuj: Pol Pot.
Zishaan: Yes, so uh...so, I mean, after that, and this was a major way of redemption, way of giving back to people of Cambodia and to stand together, unity, and come back as a nation. So these young men are bringing that tradition, culture back into Cambodia and uh, So I give my images to Sunday Guardian and I was extremely annoyed to say the least when I see that they have used - to exoticise, to make it very fancy - they used a word called "Bandits" along with "Bokator", maybe even to rhyme it with Bokator. And I just felt I had let my subjects down. Because the editors on the photodesk and all, they don't know who these people are, I know who these people are and how much they've given me time.
Zishaan: I was...you know, when they talk about invading privacy and all, I was allowed to be there with them, seven days...six days-seven days with them, anytime, document what they do in a (inaudible) in Cambodia. And they're lovely people, and for suddenly some guy over here to use words like "Bandits" which I would feel is extremely unethical and derogatory to my subjects, so I had this constant argument with the editors at Sunday Guardian saying I don't think it's correct for you to, without my consent, to use these words to make it fancy, this photo essay.
Zishaan: Uh...yeah, I mean, I just felt this is one bad experience. Yeah. On the other hand, Sunday Guardian, because I stood my ground at so they wanted to publish some more of my work which again I was thrilled again about. And this story had to come out because it was very personal for me and I'm closely associated with uh, an NGO in Bhopal called Aarushi. And so I frequent Aarushi very often in Bhopal and I spend like two-three days documenting these children, people, who are disabled - Aarushi works with disabled people - and how they give them an equal platform in society and uh, yeah give them opportunities like all of us and, so...this is a story which I was very happy with, because it is the truth. They are happy people.
Zishaan: They have the same, or more ability than us people who can actually see. And uh, so when you spend time with them you realise that they are fun people, they're normal people in their own right, and they're great people and they their own talents. And they're great people to be around. And why I chose...and thankfully they used my title and my text: Ability in Disability, which is uh...just as apt as it can be. And uh, these disabled people, and less abled people, who are equally or more abled like us, or more. And so I think it was a great presentation, this. So it's a good example of sticking to your guns. So yeah. So...
Nisha: Cool, so I think that pretty much covers everything...thank you.