The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 23, 2003
Lead Article

Portrait of a photographer as an artist
Gitanjali Sharma

Surkhab ShaukinHERE’S a snapshot of the man behind the lens. He’s all of 21, has eight solo photo exhibitions behind him, and a couple of awards under his belt — the most recent being the Punjab State Award for extraordinary work in photography. The award, given to him on February 27, carries a citation and a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.

For capturing the rest of Surkhab Shaukin, zoom in on his works which will not only hold forth on his artistic talent but also define his moods and determine his strengths and shortcomings, if any.

Dubbing himself both a traditionalist and a non-traditionalist, Surkhab says he doesn’t limit or restrict himself to any one area of specialisation. He likes to shoot all kinds of pictures — be it still life, abstract, action, sports, nature. Taking delight in exploring new sights and scenes, any evocative image makes him lift his camera.

Sukhna Lake: Surkhab’s photographs showcase his artistic talent
Sukhna Lake: Surkhab’s photographs 
showcase his artistic talent

Since his first solo exhibition at the age of 15, which displayed two years of work translated into more than 70 prints of all that came his way, this young photographer has come a long way. The rest of his presentations, held in Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Amritsar and Delhi, have been more focused and theme-based. His works on the Harike wetland in Punjab and the natural beauty of Chandigarh fetched him the "budding photographer of the year" award in 1999. Besides concentrating on the region, Surkhab has travelled widely, encapturing the hues and heritage of Rajasthan, the rugged splendour of Ladakh and the pristine grandeur of Europe. That he found Ladakh a "photographer’s paradise" and Europe a "joy to the eyes of a lensman" can be gauged by his breath-taking prints depicting different shades of Ladakh and the picture-perfect frames of Switzerland, Scotland, and Venice. These picturesque takes got him the invite to be the youngest photographer to hold a weeklong exhibition at the India International Centre in Delhi. The display was inaugurated by ace photographer Raghu Rai.


Opening the door of perception
Opening the door of perception

This creative artist’s craze for the camera began early. At the age of eight, he would wistfully eye the complicated Pentax in his house till he was handed an automatic camera to freeze his fancies. At 13, he got his first formal exposure to photography when he took it up as a hobby in Vivek High School, Chandigarh. He took two days to operate the P-30 manual Pentax and by the third day he had clicked the entire roll. In his teacher Navneet Saxena, this aspirant found his guru, who encouraged him to make his each new shot better than the last with aid of different techniques like better light control, good composition and concentration on the subject.

Displaying a fondness for both black and white and colour takes and presenting a wide repertoire of subjects and techniques in his exhibitions, Surkhab says picking up photography as a profession in his teens wasn’t difficult once he realised this was what clicked best with him. Moreover, he had even started earning recognition for his keenly pursued interest.

But isn’t photography an expensive activity, making most newcomers shy of giving it their best shot? Agreed, says this professional photographer, as developing about 100 roles for a single exhibition comes close to Rs 50,000. And this does not include the cost incurred for frames, venue and travel expenses. Initially, Surkhab was financially supported by his mother, who he says is his biggest critic as well as the main guiding and motivating force, but now after several years of work he is even saving to do his masters in photography from the US. Though this self-taught photographer has made a mark by learning the tricks of the trade from his guru, interacting with known names in this field and reading books yet he confesses that a tag of a sound course is significant in today’s world.

A study in still life
A study in still life

But degrees aside, what ultimately counts and makes you excel is belief in yourself. This 21-year-old neither feels overawed by famous lens men nor likes to be influenced by their works. Both these can hamper originality, he maintains. Also, he does not like to digitally alter his pictures. Art photography is a challenge when done the manual way. Done differently, you could lose interest, initiative and satisfaction that comes with capturing a moment, creating a feeling and bringing out an emotion.

But creating good art alone is not enough in this competitive field where appreciators are few and where mostly big names sell. Therefore what is essential to survive, says Surkhab, is to reach out to the maximum number of people, be consistent and bring out new work at regular intervals.

Photography, besides sustaining him, has made him know himself better. His photos reflect his feelings. Here, admitting that he possesses an artistic temperament, he rues the fact that he misses out on great pictures when he is suffering from black moods.

This artistic sensitiveness notwithstanding, Surkhab aims to shoot high by eventually focusing on any one area of specialisation, be it nature, studio or fashion.