An interview with Sudharak Olwe – Documentry Film maker and photo editor
Padma Shree, The NFI fellowship, Nat Geo – All Roads photography award, 5 book releases, countless other awards; honors later, the exact moment that I always cherish would be the one when my eye is behind the eye piece of the camera – Exclusive interview with Photo Editor & documentary film maker Sudharak Olwe.
Gaurav : You have been awarded with ‘Padma Shree’ award, the fourth highest civilian honor in India. What is your take on that ? does it feel like a well deserved award for you 25 years of hard work you put in your passion ?
Sudharak : It is of course a great honour to be given the Padma Shri and it was quite a surprise when the first call came in. I did not really expect any kind of recognition or return when I first started my work, it was only to show a more critical face of the human condition and garner a strong response from the authorities and create change however small. And now being recognized for the same makes me humbled and grateful. Over the past 25 years, it hasn’t only been about hard work but consistency, once you do what you love, it is about striving to constantly excel at it, shooting every day, travelling, learning, listening were just as important as hard work. Perseverance I think is the right word.
Gaurav : You are presently the Photo Editor of the country’s largest read Marathi Newspaper, Lokmat. What are the different challenges you face as a photo editor ?
Sudharak : Lokmat has one of the widest network of reporters/journalists and photographers in the state, news photos pour in from every corner. The biggest challenge was to centralize all of the pictures and have them come into one place. Many a times, reporters themselves are photographers so the quality isn’t too great. It’s this editing process that takes up our time, to choose the best ones. The photographers are shooting great pictures; our state page has great photos that no one else has access to. Some of them though have not kept pace with new technological advances and have difficulty in post processing, sending images asap, we are currently having center based workshops and the quality keeps improving every day!
Gaurav : Apart from being a journalist and photographer you have also worked on films. Tell us about your film projects.
Sudharak : While photographing the work of the NGO Ekjut, in Jharkhand I was asked by the NGO itself to shoot a documentary film for them because of the way I spoke and interacted with the tribals there. That was the first film I did about infant mortality and we made another one too about malnutrition. I love watching films and documentaries and never missed film screenings when I was in college and much of my images have been inspired by frames or thoughts in great films, by documentaries by S. Sukhdev etc. It was just an experiment to quench my curiosity about the moving image and was entirely a team effort, it’s not something I’m likely to take up soon. Though I have produced 2 more documentaries, one about farmer suicides in rural Maharashtra and another about the inclusion of women in financial sectors in Mumbai.
Gaurav : We would like to know what do you carry in your camera bag when you travel to distant places to document life ? Tell us about your camera gear, lenses you like to use ?
Sudharak : My camera bag is really light when travelling. A full frame camera body with a 24-70/2.8 lens, extra batteries, lots of CF cards, one hard drive. On major assignments, I keep one back-up body, though I hardly use it.
Gaurav : It is very difficult to capture the exact emotion in the picture. Tell us how do you do it ? some things you really care for before clicking on that shutter button.
Sudharak : Yes it is a very difficult task to capture a person’s emotion, emotions are not tangible or something that can be represented easily. But building a relationship is one of the most important factors for me and whom I’m shooting. Respect and dignity to the people are my main goals before I start shooting or clicking, I’m never an outsider but always among them or a part of them. It makes both them and me comfortable and the images are much more personal, candid, and much more authentic.
Gaurav : How do you approach strangers ? What do you say to them ? Or, do you simply watch, capture and move on ?
Sudharak : My process is simple, I look straight into the eyes of the people I meet and greet them without uttering a single word. Language is just a societal barrier, as humans our body language is enough to have a comfortable conversation and I make sure that I am not a threat to them and do not over power and let them speak or emote.
Gaurav : The human face is perhaps the most interesting thing to photograph. What got you started on this mission to photograph people around the world ? What drives you personally to observe and then to photograph these human interactions ?
Sudharak : Every face that one comes across is an interesting one, every emotion and feeling is expressed differently by different people. Photography was never a mission, firstly 2 decades back it was a means to earn my daily bread and butter. To lift myself from poverty and discrimination was the mission and photography has been an important tool in that. After many years, I set out to travel and to explore and to create and seek stories and have learned from every photo story I have done. Every set of people, communities I have met has taught me much more about life. Photography has now become a passion. I think it’s my Empathy towards people in general that led me to focus my work on the troubles and plight of the oppressed. What drives me is the hope for change in the lives of the people I shoot, so that some day when I go back I shoot a different picture and not the same one.
Gaurav : What is it like being a photojournalist these days? are there a lot of demands from the society to drive certain issues ?
Sudharak : Issues are many and photojournalists are creating fascinating pictures. But now that everyone everywhere has a camera and is a photographer has led to an excess amount of visual data being generated, the viewer isn’t stopping and actually looking at a picture, just browsing. There is no sensitivity towards the subject at hand; this has been a problem in the country since a long time. This has led to a severe disconnect in the work that photojournalists are doing these days; it has become more a visual medium than one about news or change. Photos have the power to inspire and enforce change, we are slowly moving towards a time when that isn’t possible anymore. The onus is now on the photojournalists to create meaningful work.
Gaurav : You have many ACHIEVEMENTS, BOOK RELEASES, FELLOWSHIPS in your kitty ? Seems like you have really lived your passion to the fullest. What’s that exact moment that you will cherish forever ?
Sudharak : Padma Shree, The NFI fellowship, Nat Geo All Roads photography award, 5 book releases, countless other awards and honors later, the exact moment that I always cherish would be the one when my eye is behind the eye piece of the camera and I click. That is the moment I cherish the most, to be able to constantly keep shooting, visit exotic places, meet interesting people, hear stories and be a part of their lives and in some way be able to foster a hope for change.
Gaurav : Your photos have been displayed in many EXHIBITIONS around the globe ? What do you think about world art and artists ? do you have any inspirations for your work maybe in India or outside ?
Sudharak : I’ve had exhibitions in the US, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Bangladesh to name a few.
More than inspiring my work, what’s been important for me is them inspiring my thought and there have been so many! Poets, writers, film-makers and photographers. If I had to name a few, photographers like Ansel Adams, Gilles Peress, Raghu Rai, Pablo Bartholomew, poets like Namdeo Dhasal, Artists like Surendra Rao and many more day to day keep inspiring me.
Gaurav : Tell us about your favorite photography book ?
Sudharak : Engaged Observers, a book about documentary photography and ‘Roma Journeys’ a book about the gypsy culture and many more! It’s a difficult question and the list is endless. I remember the time when I first visited Sweden, I spent over two weeks in libraries and galleries there just pouring over photography books from all over the world. For anyone starting out, a good photography book with just photos, a good story is all they need.
That was Mr. Sudharak Olwe on life, emotions and photographs, we are absolutely pleased to hear his thoughts. If you wish to know more about him, visit his website. Stay tuned for more intriguing encounters and subscribe with us for the best in the photography world.