Ashima Narain: Passion for Photography and Documentary Film-making


As someone who is passionately interested in Photography, I recently came across a piece of writing on Ashima Narain, the photo editor of the National Geographic Traveller India magazine. In the interview given to The Hindu, she talked about her journey in photography and documentary filmmaking so far.

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In the Sewri bay of Mumbai hundreds of flamingos assemble every day for nine months in a year. The birds congregate at this location because of the pollution existing in the water body as it is surrounded by petrochemical industries, a fertilizer factory and power plant. As the pollution leads to algae growth in the waters, the flamingos flock towards it and feed on the same. “Had this happened in any other country, the place would have turned a huge tourist attraction,” says Ashima Narain, photo editor of National Geographic Traveller India. Owing to the trend Narain believes that for such a place boulevard with spotting scopes must have been developed to attract nature-lovers to see the birds but sadly not many people are even aware of such a phenomenon in Mumbai.

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In 2007, Ashima made a 24-minute documentary film titled In the Pink on the story of splendid pink birds. The film was screened on Discovery channel marking Ashima’s entry into documentary filmmaking. The movie paved the way for carrying out the first study on flamingos of Mumbai.

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Ashima’s exposure with photography happened for the first time in 1996 when she was in England to study. After her came back to India, she assisted photographer Farrokh Chothia and later joined Man’s World, proving to be a “fantastic learning ground” for her. Ashima thinks that with the advent of digital photography it has resulted in a “fantastic democratization” for anyone who wants to gain experience of the several facets of photography such as wildlife, fashion, portrait, advertising, wedding and documentary. Now photographers need not be “weighed down by monetary limitations” anymore as was the case of film photography.

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(In Pic: Ashima Narain)

When asked, Does she ever miss the good-old days of film photography? She replied saying “I do not want to romanticise films. Technology affords you a certain luxury. How you engage with it is up to you,” she says during a telephone interview from Mumbai. She explained her point further while citing the example of the latest ISO sensors making it possible to take good pictures without using a flash in low-light conditions. She also told that it doesn’t matter on what you shoot films or digital, it’s the photographer who has to work at “making that shot happen”.

Ashima has travelled the country far and wide with her camera to capture the stories of people in it as they are. From Maha Kumbh Mela to the weavers of Benaras to celebrity pictures, she has captured them all through her lens bringing out the awe in them but her first love remains for documentary photography and portraitures. Her photos have also featured in the coffee-table book “Dining with the Maharajas” and a guide book by the name of Time Out — 25 Perfect Places in India,.

According to Ashima the reason behind a photographer’s success lies in his/her ability to develop a “connect with people whose stories you tell”. She feels that she has been fortunate to get access into the lives of a variety of walks people, be it the last weaver in a family or celebrities who “allow you into their lives for 10 minutes.”

Ashima also had the opportunity to work with some NGOs to “create awareness about the amazing work they are doing”. She has also shot a documentary film titled The Last Dance that spoke of how the Indian sloth bear, that is extended the same protection level as that of a tiger in India, is mercilessly trained to dance for the pleasure of human beings. The film was used to help gather support and awareness on the conservation tool required and expose the state of the bears to governments and police.

Ashima says that she easily bonds with her subjects. “In story-telling, being a woman is a huge advantage.” She makes it a point to explain her intentions to her subjects before they are photographed. After her stint with the weavers, she gave them printed photographs as souvenirs so that “everyone felt rewarded”.

Source: The Hindu

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