Victim of abuse and bullying, Shovona shows what it takes to turn the tables around


Bullied, hit on her face, pushed and teased for her looks in school, Shovona Karmakar grew up to be an introvert in life. That is, till she followed her heart and pursued her dream – to become a photographer.

Born in Uttar Pradesh to an African mother and a Bengali father, Shovona was brought up in various cities of UP and MP during her school days, largely due to her father’s transferable job. She pursued Biology and Mathematics till she was in Std 12 and then left it all to chase her dream, a dream which truly eluded her.

Having faced so much discrimination as a child, I was not sure of myself, didn’t know what I would end up doing in life but one thing I was very clear about – that it has to be something creative centred around me,

says Shovona, now a popular photographer in Mumbai.

Growing up, her father had wanted her to become a doctor while her mother wanted her daughter to become an engineer. All this, never interested her though. As a child, she used to colour up all the walls in her house and thought animation was what she wanted to pursue but she soon got to know otherwise.

“I did give National Institute of Design a try. But it did not work out, so I joined a design college – MIT in Pune. Very soon I realized that I was missing something and this is certainly not what I want to do in life. I left the course midway, soon after the foundation course was over,” says Shovona.

It was then that she started looking for a college of Fine Arts and joined Kala Bhavana under the Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan. By her first year of college, she realized that she wanted a camera in hand and pleaded with her father to get her one. “My father was amazed, he asked me repeatedly what I would do with a camera. He did get me one though he wasn’t convinced,” says 25-year-old Shovona with a smile.

Shovona’s prized possession

Her first prized possession therefore became a Canon 1000 D, which thanks to ever changing technology is now obsolete. With that very basic camera, she started clicking ShantiNiketan, parts of which were absolutely barren while some were filled with myriad colours.

This internet savvy youngster was a regular at online portals and used to check for interesting profiles. One fine day, she clicked on to Anna Gay’s profile, a lady who was then engaged in a very curious project – she was into her second year of 365 self-portraits. “I was curious to find out why a normal person would click herself every single day. Her style however, left me mesmerized, I decided to follow her footsteps,” says Shovona.

So this youngster followed her style for three months and started clicking her own images and posting them on social media.

A catharsis of sorts

Much to her surprise, Shovona started liking the concept of clicking her own photos and posting them too!

She says, clearly speaking of scars that are yet to heal after many years of being in the limelight,

As a child I was subjected to comments like ‘You are a Negro’ which is pure slang, ‘why don’t you return to where you belong’ etc and people simply simply refused to accept me for my looks. The rebel in me grew stronger inside despite me going into a shell. That is why I was perhaps thrilled to see my self-portraits. No one ever took my photos otherwise and I was always made to feel a misfit in the Indian beauty scenario.

It was this consciousness of the self which made Shovona run, hit the gym and lose weight. From a heavy 85 kilos at one point to losing 20 kilos in six months, Shovona regained her confidence. She did her self-portraits between 2010-11.

It was during this period that her boyfriend of three months ditched her stating parental acceptance. “He backtracked saying his parents would not approve of our relationship given my looks,” says Shovona. Reality hit her hard even after so many years and she grew certain of one thing – ‘Photography was a bigger boyfriend for her than any individual’.

Mumbai calling

Shovona’s college was not a big supporter of her photography as they believed in art for art’s sake. “No one would tell us about earning a living from the photography course we were pursuing. It used to be more on getting the technique right, the commercial aspect was not considered at all,” says Shovona.

One of her mentors Ritam Banerjee, a famous photographer in Mumbai, happened to see her work and gave her a call. Though he resides in India, he mostly works for clients outside the country. Shovona was in her second year of college when he called her up to visit Mumbai. She did a one month internship with him and went back to college to finish her degree.

It was in 2013 that she shifted base to Mumbai and started learning to edit photos on her own. “Mumbai is a very intimidating city. On one hand, there is fantasy and on the other, there is harsh reality. I thought it was the right combination for me to explore,” says Shovona.

Even in Mumbai, she had it tough in the initial years when she was trying to establish herself as a businesswoman while being an artist. Shovona laments that in India, the client gives the photographer a budget and isn’t really bothered to find out if it is sufficient. Slowly, she started getting a foothold in the industry and started working on commercial photography. As part of that, she covered food, corporate, clothing, jewellery, 3D photography and even motion photography. “I first start off by learning various softwares online, then follow the style of certain people for sometime and eventually start bending the rules,” says this self-taught artist. She has recently started dabbling in film editing and video making too since she wants to learn new things.

“Creating an image gets me to a high and that is a feeling I would not trade for anything else in the world,” she says. Her 365 series indeed got her to that creative high and there has been no looking back since.

Desire to be numero uno in the industry

Shovona has a burning desire – to be counted among the top female photographers in India, if not become the numero uno photographer. She values her father’s support a lot as he believed in her and also her mentor Ritam Banerjee, who despite practicing a different genre of photography, encouraged her to pursue her own style.

A model too, Shovona got only one assignment in a year, while her colleagues got one in a month.

Shovona is determined to make it big one day and sponsor a child. “First I need to have a strong footing in the industry, be stable enough and then I wish to change at least one child’s life,” says this young photographer. A learner at heart, Shovona wants to travel the world and make her presence felt.