Photography taught Tejal Pandey to observe more, to listen, and to blend into her environment, “I lose my self-consciousness before stepping out into the street; I forget that I have this huge instrument in my hands. I have learnt to become invisible,” says the award-winning photojournalist and independent photographer based in Mumbai.
A student of English literature from St Xavier’s College, she studied social communications media at Sophia Polytechnic, where she won her first accolades in the art form.
A nine-year stint working across genres at Times of India, Time Out Mumbai and Verve magazine gave her a wide berth to experiment, understand the dynamics of light and frame, and explore her own reactions to situations.
In 2009, she received two Press Club of Mumbai awards for her images shot in the aftermath of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. “It was staggering to see what a tragedy of this scale leaves in its wake. And yet it was reassuring to see that life does go on, things do get back to routine sooner or later,” she says.
Tejal also won the Time Out International Award for her photo essay Bathed in Blue. Taking a sabbatical between jobs, she studied art history, black and white film photography, and digital darkroom at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts in Pistoia, Italy, and Paros, Greece.
A daydreamer by nature, Tejal is drawn to “ideas and concepts that might be universal in nature but are often rooted in specific socio-economic contexts and worlds of their own”.
Her work puts her in contact with people from varied fields, and she spends a lot of time understanding their background and personalities so that she can incorporate it in the language of her shots.
“Women’s stories are often the most layered of them all,” she observes. Having spent a lot of time with women from underprivileged sections of society covering news stories, she finds that men in their lives are largely superfluous, except for adding one more mouth to feed. “How strong these women are! But they don’t realise it,” says Tejal.
The challenge in modern photography, she says, is that it is driven by social media – or “outward appreciation” – for the sake of more ‘likes’ and views.
Tejal, who turns 34 this month, is rather more attracted to the quieter ones: “The ones that get the least likes are most often my favourites.”
While photography has become more accessible than ever, Tejal is interested not so much in the method but in the meaning.
“It’s easy to shoot. But you really need to ask yourself a lot of questions: why are you doing this? Slow down your pace, really look at the subject.” The answer may surprise you.
First published in the March 2018 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here.