Delhi based photographer Chinky Shukla is interviewed by Bhumika Popli on her work and her project ‘Jadugoda – The Nuclear Graveyard’ which was showcased at the Delhi Photo Festival 2013.
The ‘In Conversation’ feature is an attempt to know more about the motivations and thought processes of photographers featured on Aksgar as well as other photographers undertaking narrative photography projects.
Bhumika Popli: Where are you from? What inspired you to capture Jadugoda?
Chinky Shukla: I grew up in Delhi, but my parents are originally from Uttar Pradesh.
I first read about Jadugoda in some newspaper articles and felt it would be important to document the impact of nuclear radiation in Jadugoda at a time when the government is planning to gradually switch over to nuclear energy as a future alternative to our energy needs over the more reliable and sustainable sources of energy.
After some initial research over the Internet & telephonic discussions with a few locals I felt the need to visit the place to know the ground reality. The hapless condition of the local tribal people & the environmental degradation, which I had witnessed during the initial days of my stay, compelled me to do this project.
BP: Did this project strain your emotional reserves? If yes, how has it changed you in any respect?
CS: It was very disturbing to witness the havoc nuclear radiation had caused in local villages of Jadugoda. I felt helpless many a times and all I could do was to listen to their problems and document their struggle.
When I first thought of going to Jadugoda it was for a story, but the experiences there invoked a sense of responsibility in me to take up the cause and highlight the issue through my photographs.
BP: You create beautiful moving images. Does this come to you naturally or did you specifically train for this?
CS: It’s a creative process to develop the vision, which happens with time and experience. I am trying to strike a balance in my work to come up with better visuals, which tell a story instead of just shooting some fine images.
BP: What is that which you want to convey through your images?
CS: I try to take pictures, which are aesthetically pleasing, and convey a message to the viewer at the same time. As most of my projects are on humanitarian issues, my focus is mainly to engage the viewer and sensitize them. Working with indigenous communities has given a purpose to my own life. So I want to give back to the community and help create awareness about issues that concerns us.
BP: Do you recollect the first image you shot? Could you describe that experience?
CS: In my childhood days, I used to take photos with my father’s point and shoot film camera during family outings. Occasionally he would hand over the camera to me to take pictures of the family. The whole idea of capturing a moment with a little black box was very fascinating.
BP: When did you start shooting? At what age?
CS: I remember stealing my father’s film camera & taking pictures with it when I was very young, around ten, maybe. But the actual learning & a conscious approach started when I bought my first camera when in college. It was a Nikon F75.
BP: Till date, who or what has been your best subject?
CS: It is really difficult to single out something as my best subject, but I like working on issues that affect our lives.
BP: Could you handpick the toughest part of your job?
CS: There are different kinds of difficulties, depending on the subject, purpose & environment you are working in. But the toughest and the most common part is to tell a story from a neutral standpoint without any bias, and to document the issue in its entirety.
BP: The most fascinating observation when clicking; can you elaborate?
CS: For me the most fascinating part would be the fact that you are always in the present moment while clicking. When you look through the viewfinder, it transports you to a meditative state of consciousness and you become the witness, the observer of everything happening around you. You forget everything else in the world except for what you are looking at through your viewfinder.
BP: According to you, what does it take to be a successful photographer?
CS: I am in the process of understanding the same & it is too early for me to comment. However, I think keeping yourself inspired to continue working on a regular basis plays a very important part.
BP: Finally, what’s next on the platter?
CS: I am working on some personal long-term projects.