Dilemmas and delights of Delhi’s photojournalists

- May 19, 2022
| By : Patriot Bureau |

After the Pulitzer win for Danish Siddiqui, Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo and Amit Dave, photojournalists in the capital talk about what this international recognition for Indian journalists means for them, while also sharing their thoughts about the work culture in the capital and the overall state of photojournalism

At dawn, the Nigambodh Ghat witnesses a flock of seagulls, as visitors on the boat feed them food grains. This photo captures the silhouette of serene vibes against the backdrop of nature, despite it being largely polluted and swamped with garbage (Credit: Prabhat Tiwari)

“The Pulitzer is as much about making a statement in the face of global challenges and fake news as much as about the kind of work that is produced in moments of crisis, such as the death toll caused by Covid”, Md Meharban, a Delhi-based independent photojournalist who was mentored by the two-time Pulitzer winner, late Danish Siddiqui tells Patriot

Danish Siddiqui was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer in the feature photography category for his exceptional coverage of India’s Covid crisis. 

One of the several images that won Danish Siddiqui a Pulitzer
Photo: A ‘Naga Sadhu,’ or Hindu holy man, places a mask across his face before entering the Ganges river during the traditional Shahi Snan, or royal dip, at the Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar

According to Anindya Chattopadhyay, an assistant photo editor with The Times of India, working in Delhi offers better access to several important public figures, government bodies and events to photojournalists. On the other hand, he also feels that there are a lot more disadvantages, not just in Delhi but across the world. 

He thinks there is a considerable gap in the level of exposure that photojournalists in national media receive, in comparison to those working for the international agencies. The gap is only getting larger, as he mentions that photojournalists now hardly get sufficient space for their photos in print. 

35-year-old Raju Chakraborty (inside drain) with PWD worker Rakesh is busy cleaning a drain under the flyover near ISBT, Kashmere Gate. Raju does all kinds of work in the marriage hall, including drain cleaning. He says, ” My daily wage is Rs.400 but the PWD contractor gives me 350 today.” (Credit: Anindya Chattopadhyay)

Pulitzer, he says, only considers the photos clicked by international reporters, and in India’s case, that hardly happens since their images do not reach the global agencies. That needs to change and media outlets must realize the importance of the work that national and regional photojournalists are doing. 

Meharban’s works have been featured in international media outlets such as The New York times, Associated Press, The Atlantic magazine besides national dailies like The Indian Express and Hindustan Times, and magazines like Caravan and Forbes and more. He feels that the one advantage of being a photographer in Delhi is, “Whatever you cover in Delhi is far more likely to receive publication offers from international media, since news from Delhi, by virtue of being the capital, often receives larger global attention.”

Family of victims who succumbed to Covid gather for a mass funeral at Ghazipur cremation ground during the second wave of Covid (Credit: Md Meherban)

Ashish Kataria, a freelance photojournalist who has worked for national and international news organisations, says, “Anything happening in the capital becomes relevant, as most of the mainstream media is focused on covering the events in North India, especially in the Delhi-NCR region. There is always a lot more to cover. But this also means that there is a high competition because there are more photojournalists in Delhi.”

He adds, “If you see who is getting these awards, they are all associated with international agencies. Those working with newspapers in India that are widely read don’t have as many chances to receive the same level of recognition.”

Sehar Qazi, an independent photojournalist based between Delhi and Kashmir began her photojournalism career in Delhi and worked with several outlets such as Catch news and Hindustan Times.

Talking about her observations while working in different geographical locations, she says, “In Delhi, people are more receptive and comfortable around a camera.” However, she adds, her Hijab sometimes makes people look at her differently. Despite these issues, she continues to pursue her passion for the profession.

Qazi further says, “I was working with the photo desk at Catch news. But then, I would voluntarily show interest in going out on the field. I told my editors that I have done this earlier in Kashmir, and I know how to take pictures. And they would agree to send me with a reporter. Gradually, they started liking the photographs and then began to send me on more important assignments.” 

A farmer rests during a protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. More than 100 Tamil Nadu’s farmers were protesting in the capital in March 2017, demanding waiving of loans, revised drought packages, a Cauvery Management Committee, and fair prices for their products, among other things (Credit: Sehar Qazi)

She also told us that she often has been asked questions about the nature of her work and why she is still working as a photojournalist. To these questions, she says, “You have to have a certain diligence for your work. People will not usually understand the challenges in our profession. My professor always said that you must be passionate about your work, no matter what.”

Another independent photojournalist, Prabhat Tiwari, who became known for his coverage of the 2019 Jamia protests, thinks that the biggest advantage, which also becomes a big disadvantage, is the presence of several media outlets and far more photojournalists in this city. Tiwari comes from the city of Ayodhya and is currently based out of Delhi. 

He adds that people often neglect the kind of efforts and circumstances in which a photojournalist works. Anyone who wants to make it in this field has to get exposure to international agencies such as AP, Reuters etc in order to gain access to a wider audience. 

He feels that while the presence of the outlets helps one get published, it also means that many more photojournalists, compared to those working in a tier-I or tier-II city, are vying for the same space. 

An artistic graffiti on the dilapidated walls of a lane in Delhi (Credit: Prabhat Tiwari)

Noted photojournalist Prashant Panjiar also expressed his discontent with the shrinking space given to photographs and work done by photojournalists, and believes that the state of photojournalism in India is detrimental. Panjiar has worked extensively in Bihar and was freelancing in Delhi for a major part of his career. He was also involved with Patriot for a year and a half where he was sent to cover events like the aftermath of a war in Cambodia. This earned him international recognition in the early years of his career. 

According to Anindya, “Some of the pictures clicked during covid in India by many Indian photojournalists, were as great as those clicked by the photojournalists who were conferred with the Pulitzers.” 

He continues, “Despite this, one of the reasons why national photojournalists do not get conferred with such awards has a lot to do with the fact that many media outlets do not have international collaborations. Unless someone’s work is not featured in America, one cannot be recognised by Pulitzers. Some media outlets in India which have collaboration with Getty and other agencies might always have more scope for such level of recognition. ”

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