Sujata Setia

Sujata Setia

TIFA 2021 Interview with Sujata Setia
Photographer of the Year, “Changing The Conversation”

Q: Tell us a bit about your background? How did you discover your love for photography?

Photography came into my life at a very timely segue. I was battling clinical depression when photography became my anchor and a way for me to find my voice again… a way for me to communicate with the world and also to look within.

Q: What was your last work and how did the initial spark of inspiration come about?

My last work was a series around great grand parents and grandparents with their grandchildren. The inspiration for it came from the within my own personal narrative. I lost my grandmother several years ago but I carried that darkness within me for a very long time until I thought of creating this series. I started to gift sessions to grandparents wherever I met them on my work travels. Many of those grandparents happened to meet their grandkids for the very first time on the day of the shoot. Many of elderlies had dementia and were not sure why they had this baby in their arms. Yet the love was palpable. Inadvertently, this series became my healing. Without my knowledge the darkness started to lift from within me and I feel like I have finally let my grandmother go.

Q: You were awarded 2021 Photographer of the Year for your truly inspiring work, Changing the Conversation. How did the idea for this project come about? What is the most notable memory that you lived through during this project?

I started this personal series – “changing the conversation” during the pandemic. I lost my mother a little before covid struck. Up until then, photography was my way of recreating the magic of childhood through visual narratives. However, after losing my mother, it felt like I lost my voice and that I had nothing more to say. It took me an entire year of internal dialogue to find my visual language. With this project I am not only honouring the free spirit of my mother despite her growing up amidst a society deeply influenced by patriarchy and binary stereotypes but I am also taking the help of art here to reimagine humanity and move beyond the footprints of a world where “majority” is synonymous with “normal.” This series has truly transformed me as a person. It has made me unlearn and relearn the very basic tenets of life… boundaries; biases; perceptions. I have met the most incredible people as part of this project. People who are redefining this world with their courage and acceptance… not only of themselves (for being different) but also of others and how others perceive them. People like Catrin who is a 96% burn survivor and an empathetic yet courageous evangelist of normalising physical differences. Every shoot has been special though. Even if I tried I won’t be able to express all that I have learnt and experienced thanks to this project.

Q: What genre do you enjoy creating in the most and why?

Any genre that lends meaning to the narratives I create. Any genre that helps make the world just a little bit more cohesive and accepting. If through my work I can say something, make an impact (even if it is very small,) then that is the genre I love working on.

Q: What does winning this award mean to you?

This award has been such a huge honour. It is an affirmation that through this series me and the wonderful people who have lent chapters from their lives, have been able to say something powerful, have been able to make a small change. I am deeply grateful to TIFA for this recognition.

Q: What would be your dream project in photography if there would be no budget limits and you could travel anywhere, photograph anything/anyone?

That’s a tough question. Because it is not so much about money and freedom of external resources but the freedom within. I have for long imagined to one day be able to tell the story of my own childhood – that of child sexual abuse and domestic violence but even as I pen this I hold within me an ocean of darkness and I wonder if my heart and mind will lend me the freedom to share that journey in my visual narratives one day through lives of those who as well have been warriors of these battles.

Q: What would be the one advice you would give to novice photographers?

While you learn the technical skills, also remember that photography comes from somewhere within you. It is not all technique. It is more – heart. Make sure to take time out from your work projects to create something for yourself. Something that you are not creating to make money or win accolades or build your Portfolio but something that is just your own piece of heart and that will help you find your visual language more than anything else.

Q: Are you working on something new right now? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Right now I am working on a few projects. Some are work and some are my own personal projects. Currently I am working on creating a series around human trafficking but it’s in its nacescent stage so there isn’t much I can talk about it.