Anshul Raja - From Norway to Chernobyl
Anshul Raja is a London based travel lover who makes the most of his time around his day job to travel around the world, visiting countries from Norway to Ethiopia, and Cuba to Uzbekistan. I caught up with him to learn about some of the stories behind the images and the importance of making sure you get off the beaten track to find your own angles.
Hello Anshul. Where do you call home?
Hi Maxine. SE London is home to me but I was born in India and lived there until I was 16.
How much are photography & travel a part of your life? What do you do for a living?
I am an area director for a large London-based estate agency. I run the Belgravia office and oversee six other Central London offices and while I enjoy what I do it is essentially a means for paying for my passions.
I live to travel and to see life through a lens. To leave without my camera is to leave without an important sense. Travel and photography make me happy like nothing else does. To not have a destination booked at any time is to not have something to look forward to. To stop travelling is to stop learning and living and while I am not proud of my carbon footprint it is a cost worth paying for the immense joy I get from it.
Your Fjord photos taken in Norway are beautiful. Do you prefer capturing people or landscapes?
Thank you. It doesn't take much to capture something of such great natural beauty. It is probably the most impressive natural display I have ever seen and I highly recommend it. I probably enjoy photographing people more as I like the interaction with people and their personalities and reactions. I also appreciate capturing the social context I find people in.
So how long did it take you to capture the Aurora Borealis? The green light has come through so strongly!
I treated myself to a trip to Norway for my birthday and to do something that has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I was lucky that for 3 consecutive nights the aurora was visible, growing every night. A full display on the final night was the grand finale. The aurora danced across the sky for an hour and across several fjords – a truly divine experience. The aurora hunting company I used was brilliant and gave a very quick introduction to photographing the aurora. After that it was a lot of trial and error. Modern cameras that allow time-lapse videos are perfect for this but my equipment is slightly dated. In any event very slow shutters speeds and endless adjustments of the ISO helped.
Tell me a little about the San People of the Kalahari. How did you get to photograph them?
Having made an initial trip to Namibia in 2012 I was keen to return and visit neighboring Botswana, Zambia and Victoria Falls in 2013 but the main aim was to visit the Okavango Delta. While working out an itinerary with the travel company I has previously used, I was keen to visit the Kalahari. It was our fabulous environmentally aware and knowledgeable tour leader who had arranged a brief ‘walk with the San’ who still make every effort to live the traditional life and hunt like they used to using techniques of their forefathers. However in reality they are now kept in reserves by the government and given grants to stay in their reserves. I am told that many of the San people have given up their ways and taken to a life of alcoholism and drugs. In the case of the family unit we met, retaining their ways was important and they were proud of it. While they were a shy people they were so photogenic that it was a pleasure photographing them, particularly the matriarch and the young man who made fire. I have no doubt that in decades to come the San people will have disappeared and integrated into ‘modern society’.
How did it feel to photograph Chernobyl? Your photos are devoid of people – is this because there was no one around or you wanted to concentrate on the empty spaces?
It wasn't a conscious decision to exclude people but as you rightly point out there are very few people who live within the exclusion zone and Pripyat (the main town) is a ghost town. Chernobyl was a difficult one. I had hired my own car and guide as I didn't want to be part of the tourism that has much evolved since the recent film Chernobyl Diaries. I really wanted to get a different side to the place and refrain from photographing all the stereotypical subjects that have been exhausted over the years including the ferris wheel and the diving board. While I have photographed these ‘icons’ I hope that I have treated them slightly differently than the rest. For me the juxtaposition between the destruction and decay against the serenity of that very highly contaminated lake was interesting. To find such beauty and danger in one place was simply surreal. The fact that Chernobyl still remains a source of great concern and the sarcophagus around Reactor 5 is crumbling is extremely worrying.
Black and white or colour?
I’d have to say both. I have traditionally only ever shot in colour to add to the story of the image. This is particularly true in countries rich in colour such as India and the Middle East. Recently however, while I still shoot in colour, I have converted the majority of my images to black and white and I do not believe that monochrome takes anything away from the image. In many cases it draws the viewer into the image in its bare bones without the visual complexities of colour.
And lastly, where is on your list of places to travel?
This year has been busy with trips to Tromsø, Seville, Bologna and Paris and India. I have a trip to Turkey booked for end August but it’s time for me to return to Africa, my inspirational homeland. The road less travelled is the path I would rather take. I hope the troubles in Sudan ease as I would like to visit the old lesser-known pyramids there. A photographic expedition to Afghanistan and a return trip to Syria may never materialize but I live in hope.