“Do it only because you love it because any other reason won’t take you very far.”
Karen Dias (born 1987) is a photojournalist and documentary photographer currently based in Mumbai, India.
She’s self-taught when it comes to photography.
Karen Dias is a Mumbai-based photojournalist with a special interest in issues concerning indigenous communities, women and the environment.
She spent over four years working as a News Photographer for national daily Gulf News based in the UAE following which she switched to being a freelancer in her hometown Mumbai.
Her work has been published in Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, The Sunday Guardian, Harpers Bazaar Arabia, etc.
Interview with Karen Dias
Karen, why did you become a photographer? And why documentary photography?
In my teenage years, I wanted to be a writer but then I discovered photography and for me, it felt like a better and more beautiful way of telling a story.
I studied Mass Media and Journalism, so I was inclined more towards the reality of life than the fiction of it.
I found myself very affected by various social injustices living in India, a lot of which I have faced personally so it was a natural tendency for me to move towards documentary photography.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography has been very therapeutic for me.
I’m generally quiet and reserved by nature and used to be extremely introverted around a group of people.
Especially during my school and teenage years, I was quite depressed and angry for various reasons. Photography changed all of that for me.
The camera in my hand felt like having an all-access pass to the backstage of the world.
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process? How do you plan and execute a project? Both technically and conceptually?
I think it’s hard for me to describe my own photographic language because I feel that is something the viewer/audience feels and understands.
I’m still very young as a photographer and I have a long way to go before I develop a strong visual sense that I can truly call my own.
I pay very close attention to my instincts; if it doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it. And, I apply that thought process to my work and life as well.
“I make sure that my safety comes first.”
Before starting work on a project/assignment, I do as much research as I can on the topic and keep all the information I need, like maps, addresses, phone numbers, etc. on hand, written in a notebook and saved on my phone.
I make sure I get in touch with the right people who can help me out and also watch my back. As a female photojournalist in India, you need to take extra precautions while doing your job so I make sure that my safety comes first.
As for the conceptual idea of the project, I try not to think about it too much and plan ahead because then you lose sight of things that may come your way because you’re too focused on something else.
Sometimes, looking at good photographers’ works or a film or a book helps me keep me in mind that style and cohesiveness are important while shooting a story.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Tough one. I can’t really pick one but there have been bodies of work that have really taught me a lot like Alex Webb’s work from Istanbul and “A Suffering of Light” taught me so much about color and how to make magic with it.
Cristina Garcia Rodero’s work from Haiti. Alessandra Sanguinetti’s “The Adventures of Guille” and Belinda and “The Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams” for creating such incredible feelings of love and freedom.
Elliot Erwitt and Josef Koudelka for their sense of humor.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
I’m not sure who said it and why it’s always in the back in my mind, but ‘Keep the fire burning’ is what I keep reminding myself.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I started learning photography by looking at the Magnum photographers works and that is what got me interested in documentary photography too.
I love Lens by NYT, too.
What book about photography would you recommend?
“The Americans” by Robert Frank.
To learn the beauty of travel and how it translates into great photography and to learn how something so simple can make such strong political and social statements.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to get started with photography?
Don’t expect a steady income or rewards from photography for many, many years and even then you will go through long periods without work or money.
Do it only because you love it because any other reason won’t take you very far.
The most important question to ask is ‘Who am I?’ and find answers to that question even if it takes your whole life.
Look at art, read good books, watch new cinema and travel, travel, travel.