10 Photographers Changing the Way We Look at the World

Photographers are taking to their cameras to voice protest, or even just capture the beauty of the world. In India, they are pushing limits and challenging existing notions about humanity. Here are ten photographers using their cameras to shake up the world and challenge our existing perceptions about the lives around us.

1.Harikrishna Katragadda – Malana

Harikrishna Katragadda’s photography series Malana is a documentation of the slowly diminishing culture of a Parvati valley village. The village is known for its cultivation of cannabis, with their livelihood depending on it. Due to marijuana criminalisation, the village’s main source of income has been gravely impacted, which Katragadda’s series explores. He says, “With new power projects and roads coming near this village, their ancient traditions and way of life is fast disappearing. My project documents people of this vanishing culture.” Katragadda’s series is an exploration into a lesser known, but highly debated form of livelihood.

Credit: Harikrishna Katragadda

2. Arati Kumar Rao

Arati Kumar Rao is using her photography to bring to light the intensity and impact of ecological degradation. Referring to it as a slow violence, Rao finds that environmental deterioration often passes by unnoticed and invisible but worsens over time. She uses both photographs and words to weave stories and document how these ecological changes impact communities and lives. Some of her series’ include ‘The Nowhere People’, which explores the lives displaced by the Farakka Barrage, and ‘Killing the Hero’, which exposes the effects of the Sundarban oil spill.

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They animate the shadows, these #women do. In three years of storytelling along #rivers, i've had to deliberately seek them out, for there are men, men, and more men always fronting every encounter. I strain to hear the female voice over the powerful dominant voice that has long drowned it in a thick patriarchal bog. Over time, bit by shared-silence-bit, the women start to speak. They seem hesitant at first. Unsure, maybe? Then comfortable. Then eager. #Stories bubble up. They seem far removed from my world yet, on some level, their stories are not too unlike yours or mine. Loss. Joy. Drudgery. Helplessness. Determination. Putting dreams on hold. Accidents. Crushing sadness. Fear. Hope. This simple act of sharing space, time, where they entrust me with their stories, lays upon me an unshakable heavy responsibility. For am i not now "muhaafiz?" Words of #ArundhatiRoy come to mind, "There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard." #musings #photographingthefemale #thefemalegaze #womensrights #slowviolence

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3. Mohit Ahuja

Mohit Ahuja quit his advertising job in 2015 to pursue his passion for photography. Ahuja grew up with a sister who has special needs and works with an NGO making candles and diyas. He felt that she was limited by this and from exploring the potential of her abilities. He then customized and created a photography course catered towards people with disabilities. This eventually led to him founding the organisation Know Disability. The organisation uses a variety of programmes to help create opportunities for differently abled people. Ahuja uses photography to create employment opportunities and allow his students to maximise their potential, despite any disabilities.

4. Anushka Kelkar

Through her account BrownGirlGazin, Kelkar looks at photography as a way to push and redefine ideas of beauty. Most of her shots feature women staring right at the camera, assuming a position of confidence. It’s a depiction of women at their most natural and comfortable. The series works to challenge existing ideas of how women should look and behave. Each picture is accompanied with a story by the featured woman. On the series, Kelkar says, “For me, it has become about accepting that your body is alive and constantly evolving, just like you, and the important thing is to have a relationship with it and decode its language.”

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ii) I moved from my day-school of 13 years in Bombay to a residential school in South India in the 11th grade. That's when things changed. My house-parent (meant to be somewhere between a guardian and a warden) had an issue with essentially all my clothes because they were "too tight" "too short" and similar such adjectives. I remember being puzzled at how the same clothes I had always worn were suddenly not okay but even then I didn't immediately realize that it was because I had gained weight or that it was an issue that she was pointing these things out. She had me ask my parents to send me new kurtas which were longer and bigger and forcefully had me get rid of my wardrobe. There were many times when she would stop me as I was leaving the house and get me to change what I was wearing because she found it unacceptable. Among many others, I remember a specific instance: My friends and I constantly exchanged kurta’s. I had borrowed one of my (thinner) friends’ kurta’s and my house parent stopped me telling me that I couldn’t wear it. I remember arguing with her about how the same kurta was acceptable when my batchmate wore it but not when I did. She implied that it didn’t look good on me but it did on her. It wouldn't be until I came to Ashoka that I had the vocabulary to even realize that I was fat shamed. –@sukanyajanardhanan

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5. Soham Gupta

Soham Gupta’s series explores the dark corners of the margins of Calcutta society. Gupta started out with photographing portraits of drug addicts and those living under Calcutta’s Howrah Bridge. The series eventually transformed into a book that features portraits shot in the dark, accompanied by a short narrative. As Gupta says, “I want Angst to stand as testimony to the requiem of countless dreams in a metropolis, even as it is a record of my own angst-ridden youth.” The series is dark and grisly, with each portrait made to look like a person emerging from the shadows.

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The deeper you go into the night, the sleazier this terminus becomes – bike stops by lonesome young woman, along with the two men on the bike, she disappears; heroin addicts appear out of nowhere, crouching with their foils sheltered by darkness, a cop with his boots kicks a bootlegger selling chullu in plastic pouches underneath the overpass, keeps kicking him in the chest until the old man begs for mercy clinging to the very boots that bloodied him a few seconds back; naked mad man talks to the stars and Mary, beautiful Mary, under an abandoned ticket booth, homeless, injured, homesick, longs for her family far away in Bombay and every minute, every second, she curses herself for running away here from her employer’s mansion in Andhra Pradesh – at least she’d have gotten meals there, at least she’d have had a roof above her, at least they’d have paid her at the end of the month – yes, they’d beat her up if she didn’t listen to them, she would be confined in that mansion all the while and yes, the brothers, they’d have fucked her again and again, sometimes taking turns fucking her, bloody bastards, fucking their wives on soft beds at night behind closed doors and the maid on the kitchen floor when no one’s around, but at least things would have been better, what a mistake it was running away to West Bengal in search of work, if only she’d have taken the train back to Bombay, life would have been somewhat different, it’d have been difficult, but it would at least have been livable. And now, with her gangrened leg, in her stinking salwar and her locks chopped off by the  roadside barber, she wonders what she will do here in this city, will she ever make it to her home again – it’s been ages, yes, it’s been ages she’s been away from home, will her papa recognize her the way she is now, will he be able to hold back his tears like he did when her in-laws kicked her out of their home, will he be able to recognize her? – How long, she wonders, she’s not seen herself in a mirror: five months or six, or more than that?

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6. Dikshit Kashyap

Dikshit Kashyap’s series ‘Man Enough’ takes a look into the harmful impact of toxic masculinity. When describing his project, Kashyap says “The norms set by masculinity also act as a barrier which hinders males from acknowledging mental health problems and seeking help for it which in turn leads to substance abuse and hence in most cases suicide.” He deals with issues such as fat shaming, vulnerability, and facial hair, as each picture is accompanied with a description of the various ways men are held up against impossible standards. His series works to highlight the toxic imposition of masculinity, and he ends each piece by saying “you are man enough”.

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Man Enough// The series I've done is aiming to make us aware that the things which we feel are normal and have been overlooking from quite a long time are quite oppressing. Being a man and living up to the expectations of society's definition of masculinity takes its toll on one's mental health. According to National Crime Reports Bureau's data, in 2015, 133,623 suicides in India were reported in India, of which 91,528 (68%) were by men, 42,088 were by women. The norms set by masculinity also act as a barrier which hinders males from acknowledging mental health problems and seeking help for it which in turn leads to substance abuse and hence in most cases suicide. My brothers, you are not alone and it is fine to redefine masculinity and to accept ourselves for what we are. We need to learn to accept ourselves first and then expect others to do the same. I know you need to play versatile roles as a brother, a father, a friend, a partner and it's not easy keeping everything up but don't lose heart for you are still man enough. . . . . . #manenough #dailystruggles #wearemanenough #men #genderstereotypes #bodyshaming #portraitpage #collabstream #featuremeofh #featuremeseas #of2humans #toxicmasculinity #doublestandards #equality #herefallsthenight #portraits_mf #quietthechaos #h_collective #thedarkpr0ject #portraitpower #featurecollective #qualitydesign #redefinemasculinity #insidenatgeo #natgeo #beardstereotype #afadingworld #thecreativeaffair #thisismymuse #bodypositivity

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7. Rishabh Malik

Rishabh Malik’s photo series ‘Tainted: Exhibit A’ is a compilation of vibrant and powerful images, that work as a reflection on life. The project is a documentation of human emotions, and is translated into bright colours, juxtaposed against simple backgrounds. The bright colours reflect the emotions of the subjects, as well as Malik’s. The series is a presentation of vivid colours that immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Malik’s translation of feelings to colours is a unique perspective on human emotions.

8. Bipasha Shom

Through her campaign #GivePhotos, Bipasha Shom is using photography to allow people to visually document their lives. She started out by taking pictures of people and then giving them the print to keep. The project started when she realised that there were large groups of people all over who had no visual records of themselves, only pictures for voter identification cards. When talking about the impact photography has on people, Shom said “I think a photo is something that feeds the soul… It’s hard to know how these images will impact people’s lives but I think we’ve brought some small amount of happiness.”

9. Karanjit Singh

His work documents Sikh and Tibetan trauma, and the animosity these communities face. His series ‘It’s Not a Turban; It’s a Crown’ is a commentary on the violent racism faced by the Sikh diaspora. Another project of his, ‘Exile is a Memory of a Beloved’ explores the Tibetan community forced into exile. His photography takes a look into the feeling of displacement and the search for a sense of belonging.

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"Shortly after 9/11 happened, I was walking home with my 4th grade classmates when an adult male yelled "Hey look Osama! Go back to your country!!" When repeated comments such as that kept being passed at me, I really felt like I didn't belong in this country. When people who you see everyday start putting you down, it's hard to call that place your home." Paramjeet Singh is a fellow sikh brother studying Business in New York City. Stories of discrimination such as this are common to find among the Sikh Diaspora community living abroad; which has come under various racial attacks since 9/11. *Excerpt from an on-going collaborative photo story with @sikhcoalition documenting personal anecdotes of alienation in the United States post 9/11. #sikh #turban #khalsa #hasselblad #film #9/11

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10. Roshini Kumar – @rosh93

Roshini Kumar is a fashion photographer known for breaking boundaries and challenging her own creativity. Her series ‘The Secret Lives of Good Girls’ was inspired by the Western sexual revolution of the 60s. It’s a project that explores sexual liberation and expression. ‘ibleed’ is another conceptual series which deals with menstruation, and works to normalize conversations and depictions about it. Through her creative photography, Roshini Kumar forces conversations about issues like body shaming and her journey as a cancer survivor. Her work celebrates the human body, and depicts them at their most natural.

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BAD COMPANY – the secret lives of good girls. Inspired by the sexual revolution in the 60’s. full video on IGTV 🔥 Styling: @mankamalik & I Accessories: @ajsclothesaccessoriespiercings Song and logo from A$AP Rocky. 🔥 I understand being open about sex and sexual freedom is not something our society is comfortable doing – yet I find it necessary to help fight this taboo but I also respect your opinion and views and would appreciate the same in return. If you don’t understand something – ask me. If you don’t like it – move on, not everything I do needs to be liked. But do not report it. We have worked hard for this. Also please don’t be creepy. Thank you. ✨ Also, big thank you to all my muses who helped me execute this long overdue concept ❤️ Special thanks to Aj for the props and @aditisivaraman for helping me with the video 🔥 #conceptart #photography #conceptualphotography #retro #vintage #60svibes #feministphotography #feministphotographer #bodypositive #fashion #fashionphotographer #womenssexuality #sexualfreedom #bdsm

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Photography has allowed for the start of conversations, the normalization of biological processes, and the protest against discrimination. Photography provides a lens that changes the way we look at the world.

Written by Raika Aban Sengupta

Featured image credit: Rishabh Malik


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