I once had a conversation with a Post Police officer; he told me he had been to many places, but Kashmir was different for him. The systems we followed and everything was much different from the rest of the country. This conversation with him sparked something inside me. For me, photography is creating the story of a place where I belong. My pictures are evidence of events that happen around us.
I used to stalk photographers from all around the world and see what they are doing. What are they doing differently? How did they click what they clicked? So when I decided to document through my photography, I attended a workshop that taught me a lot. My mentor & guide, Showkat Nanda, told me you aren’t a photographer until & unless you are close to the picture, to the person in the picture, and know their story. That is why I use a 20mm lens for most of my photos. I like to be a part of the story of the picture I capture. I once saw journalists in Kashmir capturing a protest I was a part of and realized maybe I could be that person who clicks the pictures from the protester’s point of view and be the storyteller of countless people.
Earlier, I used to see dead bodies in my dreams and get scared. I called my mom and told her that I could not sleep, she told me to seek professional help, and my doctor told me to distract myself with what I like. And as I like to listen to music, it became my therapy and a thread to hold onto. Now it doesn’t happen anymore but recovering from those nightmares and adapting to see the unrest in the world through the lens while maintaining calm & composure wasn’t an easy task.
I shot 27 funerals during the 2016 uprising in Kashmir. I was documenting a place where thousands and lakhs of people were gathered and mourning over the dead. People were scolding me, shouting at me, what are you doing? Why are you clicking these pictures? These pictures are not going to help anyone. I even got slapped. But I continued because that was my way of protesting.
I went to Delhi during the protest against NRC & CAA. I got a chance to work and learn with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Adnan Abidi. We were present at the scene when the guy fired a bullet in public. Suddenly everyone was running, and someone asked me what happened & I said ‘Goli Chali hai.’ It wasn’t new for me because, as journalists, we have to be prepared, but people were scared. It was the first time when I was in Delhi. The second time I went to Delhi was to cover the events during Covid, and it was heartbreaking how things were.
Photography evolved me. It made me from a person who cares about his world to a person who feels responsible and thinks about how his pictures can do justice to the people who are suffering and lost. It turned me into what I am today.
- Umar Para
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Written by: Vinay Matre & Harshita Sharma
Interview by : Harshita Sharma