Please tell us about yourself
Saumya Khandelwal uses her camera as a truth-telling instrument, taking us on a cross-country ride to the peripheries, and making us look at social anomalies we would rather hide under the carpet. Her ongoing series, Child Brides Of Shravasti, shot over a period of three years, is a peephole view into the lives of young girls from a small town in Uttar Pradesh who are prematurely pushed into adulthood. There is an incomparable beauty in her images—they are piercingly intimate and poignant. “My approach to making photos is always to reveal something more about the people I am photographing than just the information of what’s happening,” says Khandelwal. “Instead of objectifying them, I would like to make it subjective, where the viewer can put a context to the lives of these people.”
“I dreamt of a life where I will walk the mountains with my camera and bask in the smaller joys of life.”
These were the thoughts of Photojournalist Saumya Khandelwal when she first envisioned her journey with a camera. Time flew, and soon after completing photography course at Jamia Millia Islamia’s Mass Communication Research Centre, Saumya stepped into the world of professional photography.
Her first stint was with senior photographer Amit Mehra, followed by working with VII Agency photographers, and later at Hindustan Times in New Delhi. For the next three years, Saumya did what she loved the most, photographing and documenting feature stories!
Saumya herself was born and raised in India. Throughout her years at school, she was always doing something different. Sports and photography occupied her time in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow.
Kulture Hub caught up with Saumya over email and she had plenty to share about her upbringing, how she turned her passion into a career, and what the Getty Images Grant means to her.
Saumya told us about her start,
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
“WHEN I WAS IN 9TH GRADE I STARTED SHOOTING ON A COMPACT CAMERA THAT MY PARENTS HAD BROUGHT FOR TAKING PICTURES ON HOLIDAYS. I WOULD MOSTLY SHOOT MY FRIENDS, WE WOULD ALL MAKE COOL POSES FOR PHOTOGRAPHS. THEN OFF AND ON, WHENEVER SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING IN SCHOOL, THEY WOULD LET ME SHOOT IT. ALL THROUGHOUT THIS MY PARENTS WERE VERY ENCOURAGING.”
She grew up in a the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, before moving to the capital of New Dehli. She described her upbringing,
“IT IS A SMALL TOWN, WHERE THE PACE OF LIFE IS MUCH SLOWER, WHERE WE STILL BELIEVE THAT HAPPINESS IN NOT IN EARNING A LOT OF MONEY OR LIVING IN A MIDDLE OF A LUXURY BUT IN HAVING ENOUGH TIME FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY.”
As a child, Saumya was full of energy, taking on photography as a hobby.
How did you learn your skills in Photography?
After high school, Saumya enrolled in Business Administration for her bachelor’s degree. Alongside her friends, she would go on spontaneous photo shoots around their city, “for fun.” She continued,
“WHILE SOME OF THEM HAD DSLRS, ME AND SOME OTHER PEOPLE WOULD STILL BE SHOOTING ON OUR COMPACT CAMERAS. AND WE STEP OUT TO SHOOT WITH THE EXCITEMENT TO EXPLORE LUCKNOW.”
Since then, she began using her photographical skills as a lens to put a spotlight on other people’s lives. After college, she decided to take up a photography course and pursue her passion seriously.
“I THINK THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN QUINTESSENTIAL TO MY PHOTOGRAPHY – THE FACT THAT I WAS ALWAYS CURIOUS TO EXPLORE, I WANTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE PEOPLE I WAS PHOTOGRAPHING, I WANTED TO SEE WHAT THEIR LIVES WERE AND WOULD THINK WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO BE IN THEIR PLACE. PHOTOGRAPHY FOR ME WAS A MEDIUM TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE WORLD.”
“I ALSO LOOKED UP TO THE WORKS OF RAGHUBIR SINGH, RAGHU RAI AND MY MENTOR AMIT MEHRA. NOW, I AM ALSO OF FAN OF NADAV KANDER, GUEORGUI PINKHASSOV, YURI KOZYREV AND FRANCESCO ZIZOLA.”
She cites their “nuances” to be the most inspirational aspect of their photographs.
What do you do currently?
Currently working with Reuters, Delhi, and alongside on her personal project, ‘Child Brides of Shravasti’, when IWB asked her about the dream she once had, Saumya shared, “I am content, though I need to give myself a respite to find why I am a photographer!” And with a slight laugh, she added, I would still go to the mountains, but not with a camera!
Intrigued to know more about the lives of child brides in Shravasti and Saumya’s experience of documenting them? Let’s ask the photographer herself:
What led you to photograph ‘Child Brides of Shravasti’?
Around three years ago, I came across an NGO’s literature on child marriage and was stunned by the crazy statistics. It stirred me to know more, but I didn’t know how to authenticate! Then once while visiting my hometown, Lucknow, I just thought of taking de-route and checking myself. Shravasti is a small district in Uttar Pradesh. And, unfortunately, it turned out to be worth it. The condition really was as bad as the statistics suggested. And I knew I’d have to come back!
Saumya has been documenting her project “Child Brides of Shravasti” on Instagram. It won her the National Foundation of India Award 2017, and she is also one of the three recipients of the Getty Images Instagram Grant 2017, awarded for highlighting the stories of under-represented people.