Bangalore based photographer Sagarneel Biswas whose ‘School for Nomads‘ photo essay was recently published on Aksgar talks about the project in more detail and also how he got into photography and what his inspirations are.
Aksgar: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sagarneel Biswas: I am a software engineer by profession and photographer by heart. I have taken to photography seriously since the last couple of years. I have started a collaborative photography venture called ‘Photographians’ with some of my fellow photographer friends. Through Photographians, we are trying to establish a financial platform where in we can fund projects which are of importance to the society. I strongly feel that the way art is progressing, the line between multiple art forms are getting thinner by the day and so things which have erstwhile been considered inappropriate are now being looked into with a fresh and positive perspective.
My journey in the field of photography took a turn after I attended the master class by Dr. Shahidul Alam in 2012 organised by Drik India in collaboration with British Council India. Post this, slowly I started looking at things with a fresh perspective. Later, I learnt a lot from Mr. Arindam Mukherjee too in his workshop and from the ensuing multiple involved discussions with him.
A: Most people who go to Ladakh shoot the landscapes or the ‘exotic’ locals. How did you choose this school? What made you want to make an essay on it?
SB: Before setting out for Ladakh, I had a clear objective laid out in front of me, I wanted to capture something unique, not in a way of improvement on areas which have had numerous coverage, but rather something which has never been looked into before. I had been constantly talking to multiple contacts in Manali and in Ladakh for a perfect story. Unfortunately, I did not get to know about the school from them, since it is indeed located in a remote location, not highly publicized and certainly not a visitor’s delight. I initially started making a series on life in Ladakh in a different way. During the journey, I accidentally came to know about this school. The moment I entered the school and started conversing with teachers I knew something was in it for me. I remember in my childhood the tantrums I threw for getting a new set of pencils almost every other day. I found that the lives of the children in the school was entirely different from what we used to have and despite of not having any luxury, they seem immensely happy out there. Their simplicity touched me a lot.
A: Did the school teachers and students help? How long did it take to complete the whole project?
SB: People seem to a bit different in that part of the world. I did not have to give elaborate introductions or define the objectives. A simple gesture of request was met with full support from the teachers and students. They were so cordial and enthusiastic to acquaint me with every possible detail about the school. Although I hardly got an hour or so to spend with the lovely nomadic children, it was an experience of a lifetime for me.
A: Are you personally satisfied with what you shot? If given another chance what, if any, would you do differently?
SB: Personally I do not consider it as a complete project. It is probably an introduction to the situation and life of the children out there. Given a chance, I would like to get a holistic view on education in that part of the world and sensitize the agencies towards improvement through my work.
There is a lot of potential in it and I need to tell it even more delicately. I have a plan for another visit to the place, probably in a different season.
A: There seems to be a larger intent behind these photographs. What are you planning on doing with this project? Any plans to help the school raise funds through these photos?
SB: Yes, I have some plans. I want to spread this story to every nook and corner of the world. We made a humble donation for the school but probably that will not be enough to chart out an enhanced education system for them. I would request like minded people to come forward to help them out. If not money, people can donate clothes, books, pens, pencils or may be a box of chocolates for the kids. Ideally, I would want my story to act as a social message to all and motivate the fortunate to yield a helping hand in whatever way they can. Children are the future of India and it is our responsibility to ensure they grow into educated citizens. I am trying to do my bit through my photographs. And I hope the society as a whole will come forward to do their bit.
A: Your pursue photography as a passion. Any plans to take it up full time?
SB: As of now I have not thought about it. I feel I have a lot to learn and am putting my best foot forward for it. Most of my vacations and weekends are dedicated to it. As and when I feel that I have reached the standards I aim for and am confident of making a living out of it, I will not hesitate to take this up full time. It is a burning vision and the possibilities are endless. At the moment, I would prefer taking one step at a time.
A: Where do you see yourself as a photographer in the next 10 years?
SB: Well, 10 years is a long time. I do not think that far. I want to work diligently and will try my best to tell untold stories. If my work can bring a little change in society I would consider that as my success.
A: Any contemporary Indian photographers you particularly admire? Why?
SB: I do follow a lot of photographers’ work in India and outside India. I really appreciate the body of work of Steve McCurry, James Nachthwey, Salgado, Paolo Pellegrin, Shahidul Alam. In India, I like works of Pablo Bartholomew, Arindam Mukherjee, Raghu Rai, Prabuddha Das Gupta. In fact I have learnt a lot from Mr. Arindam Mukherjee. I particularly like any work which is engaging and has multiple layers to it.
A: Are there other photographic projects you are working on?
SB: Currently, I am working on couple of other projects. One of them is on my mother, who is a cancer survivor. Apart from that, I am working on different aspects of contemporary urbanization.
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. Interview by Anil Cherukupalli.