Welcome to Part 2 of our conversation with Tania Chatterjee of Drishti Photography! (Part 1 is here) As mentioned in my earlier post, Tania works as a HIV counselor in addition to running her photography business. Here she talks about integrating the two seemingly disparate parts of her work..
“….My academic life has been a very interesting journey so far, on a path that seemed long and winding – but it all ended up with where I am today, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve spent the last year working a certified HIV Counselor, and have been volunteering and working with several reproductive health organizations to further my training and knowledge. This path may seem odd to some people, especially in the desi community – but that just tells me that there is so much work to be done in this field, not just in the desi communities, but worldwide.”
“For quite some time, as I entered the field, there was a feeling of unease, as in our South Asian community we hardly ever talk openly about sexual and reproductive health (although things are slowly changing). I almost felt like I couldn’t talk about my work, because it’s considered such a taboo subject. In the last year, I finally found a resolution – working with some of my peers in the local South Asian community in Washington DC, we are working on creating a safe space for South Asian youth to talk about the issues that are important to them – like sexual/reproductive health, mental health, gender, identity, and LGBTQ issues – issues that they may not be able to talk openly about in their families or communities. Doing our first workshop on these topics this past summer in New York City was so incredibly exhilarating, rewarding, and freeing – and I felt amazing to find support and enthusiasm on these topics from my fellow South Asian youth peers. Doing the workshop has given me more courage to openly talk about these issues, and in a way this project has become been a bridge between my academic life and my desi life.”
“The academic life is not glamorous – we constantly face setbacks in our work. We constantly read despairing news. For all the progress in world, there are always terrible things happening that halt and destroy that progress. There is always the sense that no matter how much work we are doing, there is always, always so much more to be done. I think about my long-term goal of bringing comprehensive sex education to India, of creating programs that teach young men and women about consent and rape culture, and dismantle the patriarchal system that rules over our lives, and it’s sometimes despairing to think of where to start. And of how much work there is to do. Creativity – whether it’s photographing a beautiful wedding or improvising choreography in my kitchen while whipping up a new recipe – always gives me respite from the real world. It’s so freeing to escape for a bit into my own imagination, and create a safe little place just for myself.”
“Balancing these two lives – the creative and the academic is not easy. Having a business while working fulltime is not easy – but so far, I’ve managed to make it work. It leads often times to sleepless nights and long hours, as I’m the kind of person who is involved in at least five different things at once (both creative and academic). Sometimes, I feel like I’m constantly running, from project to project, from photoshoot to photoshoot with no breaks in between. But at this point, giving up either one is not an option, because both fuel different aspects of my mind, and both are equally important and stimulating for me.
“This year, I’ve tried to focus on myself more than ever – on self-care, and on my mental and physical health – which is not always easy for me as I don’t like to sit still! This year was incredibly challenging with a slew of health issues, burnout, and intense depression from it all. Instead of focusing on what was wrong, I took on as many projects as I could humanly juggle to make sure that there was no time for me to think about what was wrong – and it didn’t end well. I came to realize that it’s ok to take breaks, to say no, and to slow down, because burnout is very real and can happen really quickly when you’re going at breakneck speed. That meant that this year, I took on less photography assignments, but I booked clients that actually matched my style and vision and fueled my creativity. I focused more on the business side of things – building and maintaining a website, being active and interactive on social media, investing in equipment, and networking. At the same time, I focused on my academic career – making connections, growing my skillset, volunteering, and working on projects and with organizations that I was really passionate about. It’s been a hectic, but very fulfilling year. I’ve realized that life has a funny way of putting things in place as they should be, and that we always end up where we belong. As this year closes out, I hope that the upcoming year will be more balanced, and more fulfilling, and hopefully be filled with as many adventures both academic and creative as this year was!”- Tania Chatterjee
With the Storyteller series, I hope to bring to you stories of people that inspire, encourage and empower all of us. Thank you Tania for sharing your journey with all of us! If you’d like to share yours, please email me here. – Priya
All images are courtesy of Tania Chatterjee. Image credits: 1.,2., 3., are taken by Tania Chatterjee, Drishti Photography; 4. Shantanu Bagchi.
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