Smita Sharma is a photojournalist and documentary photographer currently based in New York. She is overseeing the social media and research work on the global campaign on child marriage Too Young to Wed.org. Her work has been published in prestigious international publications and exhibited in galleries from South Korea to the US.
She graduated in photojournalism and documentary photography from the International Center of Photography (ICP), New York in 2013.
She received The Washington Post Award at the Eddie Admas Workshop XXVI, George and Joyce Moss Scholarship 2013 for documentary photography and the ‘New York City News train’ diversity scholarship organized by APME (Associated Press Media Editors), AP, New York. Her work has been published in CNN, UNWRA, Washington Post, The Telegraph (Calcutta), Vision Project, Proof: Media for Social Justice, First Post, CNN-IBN among others
In a freewheeling interview, Smita speaks about her passion for photography, her unwavering commitment to social responsibility and the amazing power of images.
Q: You began your career in journalism and worked in The Telegraph (Kolkata) desk…What prompted you to shift your career? How has photography become your Holy Grail?
A: I joined The Telegraph’s (Calcutta) desk in 2007. I also did some reporting assignments. I didn’t like my TT stint. Well, I made a 20-minute documentary on “Kumartuli artisans” in 2009. It was funded by the ABP Group. I left TT in 2012 and went to the US to do a course in photography. I joined International Center of Photography (ICP), NY in late 2012.
I have always been a visual person. I love things visual; ICP had been a window to the world. At the ICP, I had the opportunity to network with so many people. I also love audio. Multimedia fascinates me.
Q: Whose photography has stirred and inspired you so much?
A: I am grateful to Michael Kamber. He helped me immensely in my endeavor to learn photography. What struck me about Michael was his humility and intellectual curiosity.
Alison Murley was the chair of ICP. She loved me dearly; “I can ask her even my personal questions.” She has a profound influence on my work. I took lots of workshop during my ICP tenure.
Gary Wingrand’s works have hugely inspired me. He’s no more. He captured the streets of NY, its vibrancy and cosmopolitanism. His work on ‘Women’ was amazing.
Stephanie Sinclair is a photographer of National Geographic. She has documented child marriage issue. She was looking for a photographer for her project. I went for the interview in 2013 and was selected. What struck me about Stephanie was her incredible courage and indomitable spirit. She’s had a profound influence on me. She’s my mentor.
In India, I like Pablo Bartholomiew’s work. I am moved by his work on tribals.
Q: What is so striking about working in NY as an Indian?
A: I like the vibrancy of New York. You don’t feel like being an outsider; there’re so many ethnicities. You come across so many people.
What strikes me about them is that they are professional. People motivate you; people inspire you. There’re so many photo galleries. There’s huge opportunity. People appreciate your work.
Yes, it’s a tough place too. You’ve to prove your mettle through hard work, commitment and sheer devotion.
Q: How do you distinguish between photo journalism and journalism?
A: In writing a story, if you miss anything, you can always come back and do research and complete your work. In photojournalism, a moment gone is gone forever. You’ve to be extremely focused.
Photojournalism is not just about capturing moments; it is a vehicle to inform, raise awareness and preserve history for future generations. Now images from around the world arrive on our devices with the touch of a button via live feeds of various newspaper websites and social media like Twitter and Instagram. The power of the shared image gives us a chance to advocate and raise our voices about issues that we feel strongly about.
Q: Any comments on black and white photography…
A: I love things visual; I see the world in color. My current project is being shot in color. Well, I like black & white photography too. I think themes like drug abuse in US or widows in Brindaban can be ideal subjects for B&W photography.
Q: Will you please share your most memorable project…
A: Doggie Divas is my most memorable project. It was displayed in France. It will be shown in Yangon Photo Festival also. It gave me huge recognition.
I went to Cambodia to attend Angkor Photo Festival and workshops (Nov 29-Dec 6, 2014). It is the longest-running photography event this side of the region. This year the festival played host to the annual Asia Pacific PhotoForum – And international collective made up of professional photography festivals across and around the Pacific Rim.
Q: A photojournalist has a social responsibility too. How do you perceive Donna Ferrato’s photography whose work on domestic violence opened up the hidden world that people didn’t want to confront?
A: Every individual, I feel, has a social responsibility. Disseminating information through images, through visuals, a photojournalist can make things change.
Well, you’ve to show everything with empathy. One cannot be emotional. Also, you’ve to be intimate with your subject (eg. a project on old homes). Only then you can bring out the best.
I am currently working on sexual violence on women and documenting survivors’ families’ story in India. I’d like to give voice to the voiceless, tell stories of women who are fighting to get justice.
US-based Proof Media for Social Justice and National Foundation of India jointly organized a photo exhibition titled ‘Legacy of Rape’ at India Habitat Centre in March where my work was shown.