What is your background?
I am a commerce graduate who trained as a banker but ended up earning a living as a writer because that fit well with my intense desire to travel to the mountains. The fact that I also trained as a mountaineer in my late teens has helped me as well. Looking back, I realize that all the aspects of travel and mountaineering came together to shape me as a photographer, documenting remote communities in the environments they call home.
What kind of photography do you most identify with?
I identify best with fine art and documentary photography
Explain your style in 100 words
For the photography that I do, landscapes and communities go hand-in-hand. I prefer a researched style of photography when it comes to landscapes, where I schedule my visits to places with specific images in mind. It chimes well with my befriend-wait-and-watch technique when shooting communities in their environments.
How did your style change over time?
When I started doing photography in my late teens, I shot more from the sense of awe that a scene would overcome me with. Over time, as my relationships with nomadic communities grew, and I learned more about them through books and the stories they would tell me, I began looking to introduce those elements or scenes into the images I made. Now it is more a game of patience than a time-bound affair. While a day might be bad for photography, there is never a day that is bad for listening to more stories or spending more time with your subjects.
When did you discover your passion for photography?
At the age of 14, when my brother loaned me his point and shoot camera on my very first trek.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
I have been lucky to have been born into the world where rapid changes had not yet started taking place. But being a traveler, I could see the sweeping changes that so-called “progress” brought with it. I have also been a witness to much that has been lost, and much more that was threatened.
The real-life situation is singular. It was a nomad named Urghyen in Ladakh, who was instrumental in teaching how much science lay in their ways. I was in my early twenties when he requested me to take photos of their lives and lifestyles before they changed. Even today, six years after his death, he continues to inspire me. I am only happy that my book “Ladakh Trance Himalaya” was published before he passed, and he loved the images he saw.
What’s your most embarrassing moment related to photography?
By far the most embarrassing moment related to photography was when I tumbled 60 feet into a frozen river. If it wasn’t for a couple of locals, I would be dead. This occurred when I was documenting the now famous crossing of the Zanskar River in Ladakh in 2005. I call it embarrassing because I got roundly scolded after being fished out of the river and, in temperatures many degrees below freezing, had to huddle stark naked next to a fire while the good samaritans froze my clothes so they could break away the ice from it.
What jobs have you done other than being a photographer?
I have worked as an editor and reporter for some of the leading national dailies in India — The Telegraph (Kolkata), and DNA (Mumbai). I continue to write for various publications and brands both international and national. I currently work as the managing editor of MWG, a content management company based in Noida.
What is your dream project?
To walk the length of the Himalayas, not as a trekker or climber, but as a photographer, documenting the tribes, landscapes and seasons along the way.
Name 5 photographers who have inspired you
Ansel Adams, Sebestio Salgado, Raghubir Singh and Martin Parr.
What would you do without photography?
Photography for me began as the perfect excuse for travel. Without photography, I may have spent more time in the city, but I doubt whether I would ever have stopped traveling and collecting stories.
How do you know when a body of work is finished?
That remains a dilemma, so I look at all projects in terms of stories/activities and seasons. Once I cover the broad classification, I make a couple of more trips to just to see if I get lucky with some new shots or perspectives. Or to fill any gaps that I feel might have remained in my documentation. Once those boxes are checked, I know it’s time to call the project a wrap.
Is there one photograph of yours that you are very proud of? Why?
Yes, It’s a shot of a man from Zanskar walking on the frozen River carrying rations for his home. Apart from the fact that the image has won several awards, I love the image because made from halfway up the gorge, it offers a unique perspective and looks as much like a painting as an abstract work of art.
What is your most important gadget? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I don’t work in a studio, so congeniality and my presence of mind come before any gadget I carry. For the gadget, it is a solar charger for my batteries
How did you start taking pictures? Why do you take pictures?
At age 14. It was what people do when traveling. Today I make images to document lifestyles that are disappearing. It is as much an education for me, as it will be a legacy for the people I shoot.
What was your first camera?
A Hotshot, point and shoot
What camera do you use now and why?
I use a Nikon D800 and Nikon D810. My first DSLR was a Nikon FM 10 in 1999. I’ve never had any reason to complain and am happy with the way they take as much as I do in the outdoors and yet give me the shots I want.
What role does the photographer have in society?
The photographer’s role is similar to a messenger’s role; the one who shows society that it is bigger and has more varieties than others might think. That there is more than what is shown in media.
You can contact Sankar here.