From being born in Sarni, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, I have travelled a lot for education & work. Starting from Indore, Bhopal, Mumbai and eventually London. I have seen & experienced a lot of diversity. Living in different cities helped me visualise my goal, and thanks to these experiences, I can easily connect with anyone and understand their problems, whether they are my team, my clients or students who are attending my workshops.
After completing my 12th, someone suggested a college in Bhopal for filmmaking & photography. As I wasn't very aware of a career in that field and didn't want to do engineering, I took admission in Polytechnic college Bhopal and enrolled for a diploma in filmmaking & photography. Within six months, I realised that filmmaking was not for me, but I fell in love with photography and started taking it seriously. After some time, I started getting awards, and got featured in Dainik Bhaskar and Asian photography. Getting recognised & appreciated for my work motivated me to pursue photography more.
After completing my diploma, fashion photography started to fascinate me, and I moved to Mumbai to learn it more closely. In Mumbai, I worked with Ronny Sequeria & then I assisted Jatin Kampani. I assisted Jatin sir for more than a year, where I learned many different aspects of photography. After working for some time as a fashion photographer, I realised fashion didn't match my values and to me, weddings seem more fun and where I can connect with people very well.
In 2013, I started a partnered firm, Knotting Bells,, which became a great turning point in my life. As a person, I approach photography as a profession to pursue while I’m young and planning to retire by my late 50s as photography requires a lot of physical strength.
In 2016, we suddenly got a call from an agency that said, “would you do a celebrity wedding?” and of course, we took that opportunity. As a result of that one wedding, our Instagram followers count went from 1k to 15k in a short span of time. After that, our clientele expanded widely, and we started getting 2-3 celebrity weddings every year and worked with some amazing people in the industry. In 2017, we shot one pre-wedding in Kashmir, and the results were phenomenal. After that shoot, my desire to do master's from abroad & to enjoy a good campus life was reignited. So I decided to take a break for a year and discussed this with my partners. They also agreed to it and said they will take care of Knotting Bells for a year.
In 2018, I went to London, and while I was there for more than a year, I observed that people don't struggle to get their bread & butter for their whole life because the cost of living and their earnings are similar. If you are earning decently, you can take early retirement, whereas in India, the basic problem is to take care of finances first and focus on your creativity becomes secondary. Maybe I'm wrong. But I guess it is there in every artist’s mind.
I studied anthropology in London. My paper was on ‘How to create an elite space in wedding photography. When I used to work, sometimes they put food arrangements for photographers & vendors at a different location, not with the rest of the guests, which I found very disturbing. Because it traces back to old traditions of casteism & discrimination.
I have a plan that whenever I take a workshop, I won't talk about the technique. I want to build confidence in a photographer because now, when clients see you, there is a gap between a photographer and a client, like boss and employee, which should not exist. The relationship should be what is between the partners of a firm as you are working with them.
When I was in London, one of my pictures got an award in the photo show London. It was a gallery award; the series is called “spiritual journey”, and I'm still working on that series. That series is something that I call more of an experiment, and I have been working on it for the last ten years and got only 12 photos for that series. All 12 of them were unplanned, and I got those pictures while walking through the ghats, which is my favourite place to shoot.
I always had the desire to come up with a coffee table book, but it took me ten years to create it, and this year I'm finally ready to publish it. It is based on my work at “Kumbh mela”. I have always been fascinated by Kumbh Mela since 2003 when I saw Steve Mcurry’s work on Ujjain Kumbh. It has always been on my bucket list, and when I was taking my baby steps towards spirituality, I happened to meet Gayatri Pariwar when I went to Haridwar. They enlightened me more about the Indian spiritual culture and the glorious history of Kumbh. I wanted to spread this knowledge and for me, photography was the only way which motivated me to create this book.
I never really considered myself a writer as it requires a lot of conceptualising and strategy, but when I moved to the UK, my Anthropology course exposed me to different dimensions of sharing perspectives, and that’s when the writer inside me started polishing which led to the creation of my book. More than religion, it is cultural importance that inspired me to shoot.
I think I have to work as a photographer for my whole life because it is the only thing I love working towards, and all these years of my life have revolved around it. Whether I take retirement from commercial photography, my camera will always be my companion wherever I go.
- Rajesh Satankar
Follow Rajesh's work on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rajeshsatankar/
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Written by: Harshita Sharma & Vinay Matre
Interview by : Aman Uttam