Capturing life through a creative lens: Meet Sudeep Bhattacharya, wedding photographer, filmmaker and TEDX speaker

In an exclusive interview, photographer and filmmaker Sudeep Bhattacharya talks about how he chanced upon photography, what it means to make a career that stems from your passions, and a recent wedding he shot during the lockdown.

Sudeep Bhattacharya is a multi-talented lensman with a flair for telling stories through his photographs, advertising campaigns and short films.

As a wedding and street photographer and filmmaker, Bengaluru-based Sudeep captures his subjects in an authentic and true form, making them feel at ease and comfortable in their own skin.

His creativity and ability to capture emotions that are often overlooked, stem from his curiosity about the everyday nuances of life, a deep desire to explore beyond the surface, and a need to experiment.

Sudeep Bhattacharya

With a Master’s degree in film and media Production from Queensland College of Art, Griffith Film School Australia, he has ventured into many mediums from screenwriting, directing, sound design and lighting.

His passions range from art to music as well, and you can find him sketching charcoal portraits and playing the guitar and dotara in his free time.

Sudeep received the Pacific Film and Television Award for Best New Filmmaker for the film ‘She Remembers.The recent films he has worked on include The Secret Life of Anna Pereira’ and’ ‘Where in Space Were You in Time’, a dance film.

Shooting both internationally and in India, he has captured memorable moments for numerous couples on their big day, with over a decade’s worth of experience, and has been featured in a number of leading publications such as Conde Nast Traveller, Vogue, and Asian Photography to name a few.

"I have always been fascinated by the multitude and complexities of human emotions that we experience every day, and that remains one of my favourite themes to explore in photography today," says Sudeep.

He has even taken the stage on the prestigious TEDX forum at IIM Indore, discussing what it means to follow your passion and strive to be better every day in a talk called ‘Creativity of Self - Making a life worth more than living.’

In an exclusive interview with YS Weekender, photographer and filmmaker Sudeep Bhattacharya talks about his early inspirations, how he chanced upon photography, what it means to make a career that stems from your passions, and the details of a recent wedding he shot amidst the lockdown.

YSW: When did your passion for photography begin? An early memory you look upon fondly through the lens?

SB: I was fascinated by the visual arts very early in life and fell in love with watercolour and charcoal more than a decade before I turned to photography.

I remember attending the Pushkar Mela in my early 20s with my camera. Even back then, there were so many photographers lugging gear around the festival grounds, and so much to capture –people, faces, animals, landscape, rural environments, all amidst the colorful backdrop of Rajasthan.

I think that trip did a lot to seal my love for photography.

YSW: Tell us a little bit about your course in Australia, where did you get trained and some key learnings?

SB: I did a Master’s degree in Media Production at the Griffith Film School, Queensland College of Art. As part of the course I studied a wide range of subjects from screenwriting, direction, lighting, to sound design and music technology.

Since I did not have any formal education in the arts until that point, I immersed myself into learning as much as I could and many of those learnings still remain.

As for his key learnings, he believes it is important to keep a single-minded focus on the final creative output and to remember that innovative ideas can come from anyone who is a part of the crew. It is also important to have fun along the way and enjoy the unfolding of the creative process.

Sudeep loves to explore street photography and wedding photography.

YSW: Apart from photography you have also worked as a writer/director of short films. How has this shaped you?

SB: My background in writing and film direction have shaped the storytelling and narrative themes in my photography.

I have always been fascinated by the multitude and complexities of human emotions that we experience everyday. This remains one of my favorite themes to explore in photography today.

YSW: You have been a recipient of a few short film awards. Tell us about the film that won the award and the inspiration behind it?

SB: Winning the Pacific Film and Television Award for Best New Filmmaker for the film ‘She Remembers’ holds a special place in my heart. It was one of my early accolades that gave me a lot of motivation to keep going. It was an experimental abstract short film that explored the life of a woman/girl through a nonlinear narrative.

I also did sound design for this film which brought my love for music and sound to the fore, and the fact that the film crew were dear friends just made it all the more special and personal.

He shoots couples on their special day, capturing real and raw emotions.

YSW: You currently shoot a lot of wedding photography and street photography. What made you venture into these two domains?

SB: Wedding photography happened to me completely by accident – I had no idea how much fun Indian weddings could be to shoot until I offered to shoot a dear friend’s wedding as a gesture of friendship.

The range of emotions one can witness through the course of a wedding, especially in India where a lot goes on behind closed doors is a delight to a photographer with a humanist approach.

Wedding photography is also one of the toughest genres to shoot technically as one has no control of the shooting situations, lighting etc, and yet everyone expects us to consistently deliver great images as a professional, no matter what.

I’m similarly fascinated by the chaos and immediacy that Street Photography offers.

As a human being with a camera on the street you’re visible, vulnerable and exposed, and often can be mistrusted. It takes a special mix of technical skill, meditative eye, agility, patience and a certain degree of foolhardiness to make a great street photo, and I continuously strive for that every single time.

YSW: A destination wedding you thoroughly loved, and enjoyed capturing?

SB: I’ve been often asked this, but to be honest, it’s not the destination or the scale of the venue that makes a wedding special. It’s always the people who come together to celebrate the beginning of a journey that makes a wedding meaningful. That’s truly what makes capturing a wedding enjoyable and memorable, and also makes every wedding I’ve shot and the friendships that follow unique.

He recently shot a close friend's wedding amidst the lockdown, taking necessary safety precautions.

YSW: Amidst the lockdown you have even shot wedding photographs for couples on their special day. How did you feel about this and what necessary precautions did you take?

SB: I recently shot a close friend’s wedding in an apartment through the lockdown, and while all guests all took the necessary safety precautions, the warmth with which everyone volunteered various responsibilities to make the wedding happen made it all the more special.

We also laughed, sang, and danced away the corona blues, if only for a while. As a photographer who has shot weddings with upwards of 4000 guests at times, this was a secret dream come true – to shoot an intimate wedding ceremony with less than 15 people in a closed personal space.

These remain some of the most memorable pictures I’ve made to date.

YSW: You have collaborated with many an International brand such as Facebook, Bajaj, Wrangler, Taxi for Sure, and Fastrack amongst other notable ones, what has the experience been like, and who would you most like to collaborate with in the future?

SB: Every shoot, whether personal or commercial, comes with its unique set of creative challenges. What makes commercial shoots fun is when you get to collaborate with an ace creative crew from the client / agency who are willing to experiment, and to collectively push the envelope with what we set out to create together.

I love interaction, technical experimentation and innovation during the creative process, from concept to shoot to delivery. You’ll find me always excited to work with new creative partners to learn from and exchange ideas with.

'Creativity of self, making a life worth more than living' was a TEDX talk he participated in IIM Indore.

YSW: You did a TEDX Talk on ‘Creativity of self - making a life worth more than living’ What was the experience like being on this prestigious forum, and what made you choose this topic to discuss.

SB: Speaking at TEDx at IIM Indore was a very special experience. I had given talks at other institutions before, but to share that coveted stage with a host of extremely talented and passionate speakers across different areas of expertise was unforgettable.

As someone who is an avid TED follower, I never dreamt that I would ever have an opportunity to share my journey too. I firmly believe in the immense creative potential and the power of the human spirit that we all carry within us.

It is often our own fears that are roadblocks to our growth. I have always tried to move past fear into curiosity in everything that I have pursued in my career – from writing, to music, to design, to film, and now photography.

I wanted to share some of the learnings that I’ve had from the challenges I’ve faced and reveal my own fears as a creator and a human being. I believe that no matter how old or young, inexperienced or tenured we may be, we aren’t all that different from one another.

And hopefully by sharing our vulnerability with each other, and approaching life with a sense of wonder, we can all grow and blossom far beyond what we think we can achieve today.

YSW: Who were some of your early inspirations in the photography and filmmaking world, both - in India and internationally, and who are they now?

SB: This is too long a list to chart out, but a few names have stuck for years and so will share those. Some of my favourite film directors include Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, David Fincher, Gaspar Noe, Lards Von Trier, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Some of my favourite artists are Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Chagall, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein.

Some of my favourite photographers are Sebastiao Salgado, Daido Moriyama, Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier Bresson, Nick Knight, David LaChapelle and Bruce Gilden.

The list of musicians I admire, and follow would fill up an entire page!

Sudeep enjoys travelling, playing the guitar and dotara and going on weekend trips with his dog Stella in his free time.

YSW: What is your message or piece of advice for those young aspiring individuals, who want to make photography and films a career full-time?

SB: Develop a passion and curiosity for life and the experiences it brings. This will colour your imagination and will always give you a valuable resource to draw ideas and inspiration from.

Anything meaningful takes time to grow, so be patient and be prepared to work harder than you ever thought possible.

If you do what you love, you may not mind the long hours of doing it, so try to find what it is that excites you enough to want to jump out of bed every morning.

Stay humble, there are lessons to be learnt from every single person you meet, no matter what their age or background. Above all, be kind. We’re here for a finite time, and the relationships you foster are your only true worth, both personally and professionally.

YSW: What do you enjoy doing most on the weekend during your free time, when not shooting content?

SB: I am an avid traveller and love exploring new cultures every chance I get. I also love listening to music and playing my guitar and dotara. I also enjoy reading, writing, drawing, and watching movies. I love animals, and often do weekend trips with my dog Stella. I’m also venturing into shooting dogs/pets now which is turning out to be a lot of fun!

Edited by Asha Chowdary