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Anantha is a Bengaluru based photojournalist who has worked across many newspapers and publications on various themes including politics, sports and social issues. Read on our interview #13 below -

Keshav: How would you differentiate between a photo journalist and a regular journalist?

Anantha: Any common man or even a photographer can see a subject, but we as photojournalists are trained to see through the subject and see the story behind it. We just don’t see the subject, we see the foreground, background visually as well as whether it can become a big story or not.

Regular journalist, a reporter for example, she writes a story, and for a story you need a picture. You think of a fire accident, even without a picture, a reader can imagine this might have happened, and the report may also suggest that it may have been a short circuit and stuff like that, but for a photo journalist, it becomes even more important to show that one particular angle which no one would have seen. So that becomes even more challenging and to give that visual is what we try on a daily basis.

Keshav: Did you always want to become a photo journalist? How did you get into this line of work?

Anantha: This story is a bit long, I will try to keep it short. When I was in school, I always thought of becoming a journalist, or a film-maker. Then my father lost everything in his business, and I started working while still in school, in 6th standard. My studies nosedived and I thought my dreams also nosedived at that time. Somehow I managed to pass my SSLC. I had this penchant for reading fiction. Initially I started with Kannada novels then I shifted to English. Slowly I learned English also, and Sidney Sheldon, Frederick Forsyth they all became my teachers basically.

My father was a photographer and because he lost everything in this profession, he never wanted me to be a photographer. So he put me in so many different jobs which I was not at all satisfied with as my dream was always to become a journalist, but I took up photography and started doing commercial photography in 1990s. I stepped into ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ office in 1996, and that editor gave me an opportunity. He liked my pictures and the journey began. So instead of journalist, I became a photo-journalist. But I do write stories also, I have given lot of special stories, human interest stories etc.

Keshav: Fantastic! Is it surprising that you started with Rajasthan Patrika, a Hindi newspaper?

Anantha: Hindi was my third language. So it was there. I tried to enter newspapers even before Rajasthan Patrika, I would click pictures highlighting some civic issues, like if someone has encroached footpath or bad roads, and I would send them to Indian Express. They would always publish them and you know, some pictures even had an immediate impact – authorities would act. So that adrenaline started pumping at that time even before I was a journalist. So Rajasthan Patrika happened just by chance that I went and met that editor with a friend of mine, who was just freelancing and was a close friend of his. So I never saw if it was Hindi, even if it was some Arabic paper, I would have jumped at it. It didn’t matter whether it was Hindi, Kannada or whatever.

Keshav: Over the years, and you have worked for such a long time, do you find major differences across newspapers? Many of these newspapers are famous for aligning with one political view vs. the other. Have you experienced that as you have worked across so many brands?

Anantha: Lot of differences are there, of late. For that matter, even the quality of journalism, what prompted me to dream to become a journalist that essence has actually gone. I am not talking about a particular newspaper, but generally. The views, the decision makers, everything has changed actually drastically. From last 5-6 years, it is even more rampant I would say.

Keshav: Keeping aside the different brands of newspaper, you have so much variety in different type of issues that you have covered - I see you have covered stories from Finance, Politics, Sports and of course Civic and Social issues. Was that a conscious decision to keep jumping or you took on whatever was thrown at you?

Anantha: In India, photojournalists are not specialized in any particular theme. It’s very rare, at least in Indian photojournalism scene – that he is a sports photojournalist or political photojournalist. That happens among journalists or reporters, but photojournalists, we do everything and sometimes we fall in love with certain subjects but that doesn’t matter, our office needs us to do everything – from shooting a celebrity to roadside pourakarmika, we do everything. Some of us do it with passion and we try to show the actual story through pictures. Sometimes in one picture, we would like to tell the story so that reader gets drawn to the actual story, what is written after the photograph.

Keshav: Given a chance, would you have wanted to stick to one particular field?

Anantha: No no. I love what I am doing. I get to see so many aspects of journalism that has some positive impact on life. As I told, I am in a slum now (Yes! He gave the interview during a break from his work hours while he was covering a story at a slum on the outskirts of Bengaluru!). The slum was burnt by miscreants when migrants had gone back to villages during lockdown. After we did the story, some NGOs have come and they are building homes for them. There was a boy whose SSLC books were burnt and he has passed with close to 60% marks, which made me happy. Now suddenly, if I am asked

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Anantha is a Bengaluru based photojournalist who has worked across many newspapers and publications on various themes including politics, sports and social issues. Read on our interview #13 below -

Keshav: How would you differentiate between a photo journalist and a regular journalist?

Anantha: Any common man or even a photographer can see a subject, but we as photojournalists are trained to see through the subject and see the story behind it. We just don’t see the subject, we see the foreground, background visually as well as whether it can become a big story or not.

Regular journalist, a reporter for example, she writes a story, and for a story you need a picture. You think of a fire accident, even without a picture, a reader can imagine this might have happened, and the report may also suggest that it may have been a short circuit and stuff like that, but for a photo journalist, it becomes even more important to show that one particular angle which no one would have seen. So that becomes even more challenging and to give that visual is what we try on a daily basis.

Keshav: Did you always want to become a photo journalist? How did you get into this line of work?

Anantha: This story is a bit long, I will try to keep it short. When I was in school, I always thought of becoming a journalist, or a film-maker. Then my father lost everything in his business, and I started working while still in school, in 6th standard. My studies nosedived and I thought my dreams also nosedived at that time. Somehow I managed to pass my SSLC. I had this penchant for reading fiction. Initially I started with Kannada novels then I shifted to English. Slowly I learned English also, and Sidney Sheldon, Frederick Forsyth they all became my teachers basically.

My father was a photographer and because he lost everything in this profession, he never wanted me to be a photographer. So he put me in so many different jobs which I was not at all satisfied with as my dream was always to become a journalist, but I took up photography and started doing commercial photography in 1990s. I stepped into ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ office in 1996, and that editor gave me an opportunity. He liked my pictures and the journey began. So instead of journalist, I became a photo-journalist. But I do write stories also, I have given lot of special stories, human interest stories etc.

Keshav: Fantastic! Is it surprising that you started with Rajasthan Patrika, a Hindi newspaper?

Anantha: Hindi was my third language. So it was there. I tried to enter newspapers even before Rajasthan Patrika, I would click pictures highlighting some civic issues, like if someone has encroached footpath or bad roads, and I would send them to Indian Express. They would always publish them and you know, some pictures even had an immediate impact – authorities would act. So that adrenaline started pumping at that time even before I was a journalist. So Rajasthan Patrika happened just by chance that I went and met that editor with a friend of mine, who was just freelancing and was a close friend of his. So I never saw if it was Hindi, even if it was some Arabic paper, I would have jumped at it. It didn’t matter whether it was Hindi, Kannada or whatever.

Keshav: Over the years, and you have worked for such a long time, do you find major differences across newspapers? Many of these newspapers are famous for aligning with one political view vs. the other. Have you experienced that as you have worked across so many brands?

Anantha: Lot of differences are there, of late. For that matter, even the quality of journalism, what prompted me to dream to become a journalist that essence has actually gone. I am not talking about a particular newspaper, but generally. The views, the decision makers, everything has changed actually drastically. From last 5-6 years, it is even more rampant I would say.

Keshav: Keeping aside the different brands of newspaper, you have so much variety in different type of issues that you have covered - I see you have covered stories from Finance, Politics, Sports and of course Civic and Social issues. Was that a conscious decision to keep jumping or you took on whatever was thrown at you?

Anantha: In India, photojournalists are not specialized in any particular theme. It’s very rare, at least in Indian photojournalism scene – that he is a sports photojournalist or political photojournalist. That happens among journalists or reporters, but photojournalists, we do everything and sometimes we fall in love with certain subjects but that doesn’t matter, our office needs us to do everything – from shooting a celebrity to roadside pourakarmika, we do everything. Some of us do it with passion and we try to show the actual story through pictures. Sometimes in one picture, we would like to tell the story so that reader gets drawn to the actual story, what is written after the photograph.

Keshav: Given a chance, would you have wanted to stick to one particular field?

Anantha: No no. I love what I am doing. I get to see so many aspects of journalism that has some positive impact on life. As I told, I am in a slum now (Yes! He gave the interview during a break from his work hours while he was covering a story at a slum on the outskirts of Bengaluru!). The slum was burnt by miscreants when migrants had gone back to villages during lockdown. After we did the story, some NGOs have come and they are building homes for them. There was a boy whose SSLC books were burnt and he has passed with close to 60% marks, which made me happy. Now suddenly, if I am asked to cover an IPL cricket match, immediately I will jump to that. So I love whatever I am doing. We have advantage of seeing so many aspects of life and I just love it. I don’t want to be limited to any one aspect of it.

Keshav: It’s almost like film making. So what exactly happened in this slum you are at? Can you describe?

Anantha: Yes, this is a slum in Kacharakanahalli near Banaswadi. This slum has these construction workers basically, from North Karnataka and some from Tamil Nadu also. So before lockdown, they had gone back to their places for some festival and then they got stuck there during lockdown. When they came back, they were shocked to see the slums burnt, burnt to ashes. Lot of people lost their homes and they had nowhere to go. So my colleague got to know about the story and he came to report it and I accompanied him for photography. I saw that the books also were burnt and one of the boys was SSLC aspirant and during that time there were talks whether to conduct exams or do them online, if online, do all of them have mobiles etc. So many questions arose. When Bangalore Mirror reported this, some NGOs swung into action and they started rebuilding their lives. As of now, they have temporarily rebuilt their present homes and now they are going to build tin sheet slums for them which can withstand the weather. So this is the story of this slum. I came now for the follow up story.

Keshav: Do you know who were behind this incident?

Anantha: They have filed police complaint but no one has been held responsible yet.

Keshav: Has anything changed in the work of a photojournalist in last 25 years you have been working?

Anantha: A lot of change. I will tell it through an example, is that okay?

Keshav: Yes, absolutely.

Anantha: So as we are talking, let’s say there’s some calamity or a mishap in Hebbal. Hebbal is the closest place from here, it just takes 10 minutes. So something has happened, but I am not aware as I am covering something else. Ten years ago, if my office calls and says that a bus has fallen over from Hebbal flyover, go there immediately and cover it, I would have rushed, I would have clicked photos, and next day, readers would have seen the pictures that I had given. But today, even before I or some TV journalist would have reached, someone would have uploaded a video from mobile. And even before a local guy like me reaches, BBC might be beaming it. Instead of clicking pictures, I am forced to look for that guy who using Rs.500 mobile would have shot that excellent picture or video. So that’s the situation and that is a drastic change. I can’t pack my bags and say I am a photojournalist, I have 25 years of experience. That is totally gone. Even an ordinary mobile holder is a challenge to me. How you are going to show your experience in your picture to the readers next day is what is more challenging for me now. Not last 25 years but this has changed drastically in last 5-6 years.

Keshav: So, how do you deal with it? It’s real time competition and you possibly cannot be the first person to reach every spot.

Anantha: I try to stay away from the crowd. While everyone is looking for a picture, I would like to stay away. Even in a routine assignment or a special assignment, I would always go early to see something special happening when no one else is there, or I would stay back so when everyone leaves, I can take a picture. So that is one. Secondly, even if everyone is there, I would like to see something which no one else is noticing but that may be of importance. So day in and day out, we are looking for that special angle. Especially in Bangalore Mirror, we do specialized stories, so I don’t have much competition. But in routine assignments, for example, this volunteer group had got some media with them, they came and they left. And now as I am talking to you, I am seeing this wonderful scene that I will be clicking now, which no one has got. So here I got something very special, which can be used in different context after three days also.

Keshav: So instead of reporting facts quickly, you are focusing on…

Anantha: ...(cuts) No, that has to be done. What everyone has clicked that I also will click, but apart from that, I will look for something special which everyone will see and go ‘Oh, why did I miss this?’ They should feel that, that urge I still have. Next day when people see my picture, someone will call and tell me ‘Where did you get this angle from?’

Keshav: Today, all the newspapers also maintain a real time news service on their websites or mobile apps, other than their usual next day print edition. Do you think your job is almost the same now as someone in TV journalism?

Anantha: Our job is even more. We have to send pictures and videos immediately for website and apps and the reporter has to give one or one and a half minute read of the incident before focusing on next day’s special stories. So, newspaper reporters and photojournalists have something more to do than TV journalists basically. Yes, they have a face when they are reporting and they have cameramen covering that. But we are equally responsible and we have to stay ahead of competition.

Keshav: You mentioned a lot of assignments that are very special to you. Do you want to describe some of them?

Anantha: During negative era

Keshav: Sorry, which era?

Anantha: Negative era, not digital, when we were using analogue camera, and we had very limited resources. When you are in the city, you could process pictures immediately, scan the pictures and give to newspapers. But if you went out of city, it used to be very difficult. When Rajkumar was kidnapped (A South Indian superstar kidnapped by a forest dwelling bandit - read here), me and a colleague of mine were in the forest, and we had a police officer who was in-charge of STF operation, Special Task Force, to investigate what might have gone wrong, where Rajkumar might be. So we were part of that team, but we had our limitations, we had only a periphery to enter and not go beyond because we might be a hindrance to the police. That time I was also freelancing for some newswires and other newspapers like Matrbhumi etc, apart from Rajasthan Patrika. So I had to give them pictures. They know I am in the forest but what is the way to get the pictures to them? So what I always used to do when I had worked for Adlabs colorlab for five years, we had a parcel service, where films from other towns and cities used to come to Bangalore in buses, I would collect them and process then give it back to the bus driver. So this bus driver parcel system I learnt when I was working as a lab technician in Adlabs. That experience came handy for me. I used to come to Rampura from the forest. I used to give the films to the driver. My father would collect the film, process it and give it to a friend who in turn would scan and send it to all the email ids. So when no one else had those pictures, I had edge over others in covering. So that is one of the most memorable thing I personally feel ‘Wow’ about, which I thought I would never had done.

Keshav: Was it dangerous? You were dealing with a high profile kidnapping.

Anantha: We were allowed only upto a certain point. After that we were sent back or asked to wait. Even police had their responsibility cut out. One wrong move might have had a bad repercussion because Rajkumar was such a figure for all of us, for the whole state. Most of the time when I give lecture to students, I always tell them not to premeditate things. They ask me how I prepare for an assignment and I say I don’t have any preparation.

One other memorable event was in Colombo. I went to cover the India – South Africa – Sri Lanka cricket tri-series. August 14th was the inauguration but it was raining. Throughout the series it rained and not a single match was played actually. But anyway, on the first day, August 14th, I was going to Premadasa stadium from my hotel room. I had just crossed a place called Kollupitiya and within a minute or so I heard a BOOM and I asked the auto driver what it was?

“Sir, I think it is a bomb blast”

“Oh Shit. Let’s rush to this place”

“No No, sir. I am a Tamilian, they will catch me”

I had a 400mm lens which was huge, because I was going to a cricket stadium to cover sports, then a laptop, a monopod and 15kg camera cable. With all this and raining heavily, I ran to the blast site and I was the first one to reach there. I was not prepared for it as I had gone to cover sports event. I am expected to cover cricket, but next day 15th August, our Independence Day, Deccan Herald and Prajavani had LTTE bomb blast as their page 1 photo. In fact I survived the bomb blast was secondary but I clicked the picture was more important (laughing).

Keshav: What was the story behind the blast though?

Anantha: They targeted Pakistan high commissioner, who was going back after celebrating Pakistan’s Independence Day. So he escaped but seven soldiers died on the spot (read here). More than my survival, the coverage made the editors feel good. There was a meeting in the office which went like ‘see we sent Anantha to cover cricket and he covered bomb blasts. Such is the commitment’ So I had good positive points from that incident. Moreover, cricket never happened, then South Asian games started and I was asked to stay on in Colombo and a 13 day trip became one a half month long. I had a daughter who was just three months old and I missed her so much.

Keshav: So the players didn’t play any cricket but you still did your work!

Anantha: Haha yes.

Then of course there was incident on New Year’s Eve. There was Church Street blast, and after that for two years there were a lot of security issues. In 2017, there was huge crowd and very less police because at 6 o’ clock that day, all the top police officials were transferred, so there were no higher police officials who were supervising the New Year’s Eve but only a handful of police officials who were trained at best to control the crowd. I did a story to cover the lots of cries of help. I saw women being bitten on thighs and stuff like that and I am not the one to photograph all those things, but there were a lot of complaints of molestation, and other things. I told the police officer also that this should be in the news next day. I have pictures of people begging police to help and police going and rescuing a girl from a mob, everything I had but despite all that, people alleged that Bangalore Mirror ran a fake story and I became a target, and for three months I received several police notices saying that I was lying. Instead of looking for miscreants, the department looked at CCTV footage to see where I went, whether I was drunk etc. So for three months, I almost had a mental breakdown.

Keshav: But why did this happen?

Anantha: Because the story became so big and it gave negative points to the government and the city basically. Suddenly everyone started saying he is a Tamilian and is bringing bad name to Karnataka and Kannadigas. It went to that level. The issue escalated when a TV journalist asked the then Home Minister why did it happen, and he blindly blamed western culture and people showing up in skin fitting clothes, so after that statement, it became a big story at national and international level.

Keshav: Doesn’t it happen often though because most of the social and civic stories you would do, a good proportion of them would paint government and police in bad name because there are so many lapses to begin with. So is it a constant threat?

Anantha: It is a constant threat. At least few years ago if you print any shortcomings of government or any wrongdoing, they would feel ashamed and they would at least try to correct it but now it is like that saying in Kannada rain on buffallo’s skin so it has no effect at all. So as a result of what happened in 2017, you saw how much vigilance was there for next year? Throughout the year, there were special safety measures for women, and even during New Year’s Eve, there was a fear among people with wrong intentions that police might catch them. So at least that fear was instilled because of that news and that I am personally proud of.

Keshav: The news organisations you have worked for, are they usually supportive of fearless journalism?

Anantha: Yes, very much. The editors I have worked with have all been very supportive. In fact after that 2017 incident, my editor wrote a page 1 piece, saying how he believed in me more than others. He had a page one piece which was like a character certificate, what else you need? Most of the editors do support us. Most of the times when I might have been beaten up and cameras broken, they would always say “you take up your health first, don’t worry about the camera”. So these are the types of editors I have been lucky to have worked with.

Keshav: How has been your connection with Bangalore? It is probably a cliché to ask how it has changed because I know it has changed drastically but tell me things that you absolutely love about Bangalore and are there things that bother you?

Anantha: Whatever the problems that a city faces, we are those problems, city is not a problem because a city is basically the people. Otherwise, I think people of Bangalore are most lovable and most hospitable people I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Whatever small disagreements we have in terms of languages etc are very very minimal percentage. Not only Bangaloreans but people across the world love Bangalore for what Bangalore is, even today after all these years.

Keshav: Great! So last six or seven months, ever since this crisis began, I remember that not a single day has passed when I did not receive my newspaper, despite everything else being closed down. It’s not Bangalore Mirror that I get at home but I am sure all the newspapers have been working through this period. So did anything change at all for your work, during the pandemic?

Anantha: I don’t know whether you put it in or remove it – Covid has had its effect on most of us. For one thing, reporters had the luxury of working from home but for a photographer, you had to go into the field, you have to go to various places to shoot what’s happening, of course with the safety measure, but we were the ones on the field.

This is very personal, but I lost my job. Due to covid, two senior photojournalists have been asked to resign and I was one of them. But they have given me the camera and they have given me some amount, which is less than half of what I was earning every month. Though I used to get good salary, a lot of that would go towards EMIs and other loans because I am the only person earning in the family and lot of issues were there. I have that big commitment every month just to pay off loans but I am not getting even half of it now as salary. But, I am working in the same fashion because I have to run the family that’s secondary but whatever they are expecting out of me, I have to give. I am looking for better opportunities, which are invisible, because no one will give job to a 50 year old photographer. So that is the truth, Covid has had a very bad impact on me personally.

Keshav: So you are working as a freelancer?

Anantha: They have given me a three months contract and this month is the last. Whether they will renew or not is left to the office.

Keshav: Bangalore Mirror?

Anantha: Yes. They were grateful enough to lend me the equipment, otherwise, I didn’t have money to invest in equipment also. I have no savings at all. Just I can boast of my career of 25 years but personally I have nothing, except for the home I have built which belongs to the bank.

Keshav: Why did this happen? Did people stop advertising in newspaper?

Anantha: Advertising took a huge hit and revenues dried up. There are so many reasons office tells you but personally, I think I did not deserve this treatment. But all these years, whatever I had, I have to be thankful to them. I have built my home while working for them and I got a loan very easily because of it, so I am grateful. I am not heartbroken or anything and I am not blaming companies or anything like that. If the situation was good, they wouldn’t have done it. I don’t want to say I was working so well so why did it happen to me. It’s good for talking, but it doesn’t matter anymore.

Keshav: How do you see yourself progressing ahead professionally now? Do you wish to take an alternative career?

Anantha: I do, yes. I am looking for freelance assignments also. And then as I told that I had dream to become a journalist or a filmmaker, so now I have four completed scripts – very good stories, very different stories – thrillers, and I want to make them only in Kannada language. All these years, I never had time for myself so now I am seriously looking for that option. I have very good ideas on film making, I have done my film course in Pune and I have done course on screen writing. I am trying to reach out to people whether it is possible to take up alternative job also.

Keshav: I know it is harsh to say, but maybe, just maybe it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise and point you in a direction that you always wanted to go – like film making.

Anantha: Maybe. I have told my wife also, if we have to sell our home, be ready. Anyway, we never had any luxuries but at least for four years we were lucky to have a shelter of our own. But it’s okay if we have to sell it and look for other alternatives. So they are ready and they are very adjustable.

Keshav: It is not possible without a very supportive family. As my last question, is there any message or anything at all you might want to say to anyone reading this interview?

Anantha: One thing I would like to say is that what happens in the next half an hour, we don’t know. Whatever we have lived until now, we have so many positives to think of. From my sixth standard, I have never seen happiness. My father did a brilliant job in raising me. He took me around in flights and everything but when he lost his business, I had to adapt to my new life, so from then onwards, happiness has been somewhere below my feet but it has not gone up to my head. So everyone has to think about people who are below their grade and see that we are much better off. I am sitting now in the middle of a slum and I see these people and think, I am 100 times better off than them, but I would still love to spend time with them also. This is how life is. So don’t look too much into the future, whatever is in present, you enjoy. I see my life as an assignment, I don’t premeditate things and I take things as they come.

Keshav: That’s pretty good way to think, especially now because if you start thinking of anything that may happen tomorrow then it can be very dark and gloomy.

 

Anantha can be contacted on –

Twitter : @Ananthaforu

Email : asubramanyamk@gmail.com

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