Meet the SHEROES - Arati Rao
Arati Kumar-Rao is a freelance photographer and journalist working in and around India. Her work focuses on the environment and people, interconnected as they are. She is currently working on a commissioned year-long series to document changes in the lives of riverine communities and ecology along the Brahmaputra, in River Diaries (riverdiaries.tumblr.com).
Passionate about elephants, she is also working on a personal long-term project documenting wild elephants in Sri Lanka. Her writing and photography have been published in Mint Lounge, National Geographic Traveler, Outlook Traveler, IndiaTogether.Org, Current Conservation, JetWings, and Yahoo! Media, among other outlets. We talk to Arati about her new project and more-
Tell us more about yourself.
I like to observe things: people, behavior, landscapes, animals, interactions, light and shade, changes. I am a wanderer. I love stories. I love to hear them and tell them. So I use words, images, and anything that catches my fancy, to tell stories. Many stories. I give myself time with places and people. This works for me. When I slow down, it allows people and places to reveal things. About themselves, about me. And that is when interestingness bubbles up. So I wait. My assignments -- self assigned and commissioned, are usually long-term. I am passionate about the environment and about people living off land or water, who rarely have a voice or a say in how their lives are managed. Most of my work focuses on these themes.
What made you take up photography?
I've reinvented myself twice. First, I chucked a fledgling career in Physics to tell stories. Then I moved countries and went back to a fun career in market research only to chuck that too -- again, to tell stories. I realized that my life will always revolve around my two loves: Photography and Writing. I always use both in my work and I can never separate myself from either. Photography, particularly, requires me to be in the moment. If you are thinking of anything else when you are in field, the shot, the moment, will be gone. That's no use. Photography has taught me to be alive at all times, with all my senses, in order to make a frame that may speak eloquently of the subject. The best part is that I am still learning -- I learn with every assignment. You never encounter the same moment twice -- that has an edginess to it that I thrive on.
What is River Diaries all about?
I found a piece of paper on which I had listed about 51 things I want to do in my life. I had made this list when I was out of graduate school. The first entry (or among the first few entries) was this: Travel down the major river systems of the world, documenting riverine life. A lifelong dream translated into an assignment when I pitched it to Yahoo! India, as a year-long study of life along the Brahmaputra. Why this river, why now? Because there are changes coming -- dams planned upstream, that will affect riverine people and ecology. To document what is, and how it is changing, is River Diaries. While the project is commissioned for one year, I suspect I will work on this far beyond that time frame.
A message to all SHEROES out there.
I have found richness in slowing down. In doing things at the human pace of life. In not rushing from one thing to another. I would urge us all to find a way to slow down, to be alive to all our senses in every moment. That is all we really have.