Ground Report | New Delhi: Veteran Photojournalist Jayanta Shaw; A daredevil photojournalist by profession, Jayanta Shaw is a veteran photographer, previously attached to the Reuters International news agency in India as a staff photographer for 11 years. Now he is the principal photographer for the Bengali newspaper Ei Samay which is a part of the Times of India group in Kolkata, India. He has covered all parts of the Indian subcontinent for many years as war, political, and sports photojournalist.
His collection of awards and recognition are numerous, among them are Nikon International Photo Contest 2003 and Humanity Photo Award (HPA) in 2006 by documentary section China to name a few. His work includes major news events in India and South-East Asia, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh like the Babri Masjid issue, Operation Rhino (Assam), Gorkhaland movement, Bhuj earthquake, Khumbh Mela, Kargil War, Afghanistan, Tsunami in the Indian subcontinent, Flood in Bangladesh, Maoist Movement in Nepal, Mumbai terror attack 26/11/2008 and more than 40 one day international & test cricket matches in different venues of India & Bangladesh.
His works have been widely published in LIFE, TIME, International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe, National Geographic Online, and many other international newspapers and magazines.
Groundreport.in Conversation with a Veteran Photojournalist – Jayanta Shaw
Having passed the secondary examination in 1982 I wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a photojournalist straightway. Buying a film camera was very costly those days and there was no surety of getting a job if only one had a camera then. The return on investment was very low and there was no digital technology at the time. That’s the reason I couldn’t convince his father to buy him the camera. Still, I continued going to a studio by the name of Studio Esdico in North Kolkata to learn the art of photography and post-processing in the darkroom.
There was no institute at that time that offered a photojournalism course and photographs being published in newspapers were a very big achievement those days. I got my breakthrough after struggling a lot and one day it was by chance. I was at this same studio when a photographer of Bartaman Newspaper arrived and was asking if someone could click photographs of tiger cubs in the Alipore zoo for his assignment as he had missed the opportunity. I volunteered and got the shots the same day. After that I worked in a magazine called Protikhyon and in the meantime was selected for working in Bartaman newspaper.
For me, Photography is my passion. I carry my camera with me always wherever I go, even after office hours be it attending someone’s wedding or any event my camera is always with me. I don’t see photography as my work it’s a part of my life.
I have faced many difficult situations in my career till now but one of the most dreadful experiences that always come to my mind is during the joining in Reuters. I have just joined the agency as a staff photographer when there was a fire outbreak in the state of Odisha. It was a huge one and more than 200 people died.
Normally when I go for assignments I just take photographs. No sentiments work in me during work. But in this case, I was shaken by seeing a small local boy along with his mother searching for his father. Since the event took place in Odisha the language barrier was there. They were asking for help and I was feeling helpless as I couldn’t understand their language. I tried but the bodies were charred like nothing was left for identification. Till now after so many years I feel very bad about the accident.
Many people imagine the conflict zones coverage and coverage of wars are the same. It’s different. Mostly in war, photographs are shared by the armed forces like during the Kargil war most photographs were given by the army and when journalists like me used to go for shooting there they used to restrict us to the safe zones. We were not allowed to go to any place for our photographs other than the sites where the army took us. Conflict zones coverage is totally different from this. It is not a war as the government doesn’t declare it as an act of war.
What happened in Kargil was a war-like situation but not a war itself. Many of us don’t understand it. As the situation in Syria and Afghanistan now is a war-like situation as the country has not declared war against any nation and is actually trying to resist the civil war building inside the country.
About Afghanistan I can say that its one of the most dangerous place in the Earth. I have been there for covering the conflict during my work with Reuters. Recently what happened to Danish (Siddique) is very unfortunate. I left Reuters in 2009 and he joined in 2010. I think personally he should have been more cautious as the afghan forces are less trained and experienced. There’s a difference between the training and fighting skills of American soldiers compared to Afghan forces. No doubt they are very trained and capable but there’s a huge difference. It’s very unfortunate that he was killed by the Taliban and we lost him at this young age.
For me its always been covering conflict zones due to the fact that it has that uncertain bit like anything can happen at any point of time. Doing sports photojournalism or political photojournalism is not what excites me and challenges me. Political is covering politicians’ speeches and propaganda. But the excitement is always there in covering war or conflicts.
It’s not about how many cameras do we carry around but the end result that’s the shot that matters ultimately. In photojournalism, there’s less chance of being creative. What’s happening at ground level is what we have to capture. Capturing the moment is very important.
In relation to my book, it’s about the vanishing islands of the Sundarban Delta. I have been working on this for quite a long time and its nearing completion. Maybe by the end of this year, it will be complete and will be released next year which means 2022.
For upcoming photojournalists, my message would be to learn everything. Today it’s not only photography, but a photojournalist should also know how to click proper photographs, do videos, editing skills for both photo and video is a must and writing skills is very important. If you don’t have these skills then surviving would be very difficult for you. Now multimedia is a necessity for companies as well as for agencies due to this low budget for pandemic and economic reasons.