Celebrating Women's Day with Kerosene Digital
Photographer Seemal Karthik brings stories to life with her camera; in each picture there’s a curious blend of intimacy and intensity that makes her work whimsical, wondrous and distinctive.

From a trip through Japan to time-travel tokens and carefully styled set-ups to stunning portraits, she mixes an eye for simple details with a creative flair for storytelling, capturing images that we could gaze at all day long.
— Kerosene Digital

Team Kerosene: Tell us a story about your beginning.

Seemal: My parents have always really liked taking pictures. I remember my father used to have this film camera, he clicked all these pictures of me and my mother, and he used our bathroom; with the windows blacked out, to develop these himself. It was the coolest thing. I remember, he picked two-three images from the negative and made many copies of those photos in different sizes. I think he still has them. All black and white. Apart from that, for the longest time I can remember, my mom has owned this basic Kodak film camera, which she would bring every time we travelled. Our family albums are full of photos she took. I can easily remember her, with her camera neatly tucked in her small purse. My parents in fact, used ‘taking pictures’ as a hack to stop me from crying or throwing tantrums. They would also sometimes allow me to take pictures of them. Reminding me, every single time, that film isn’t cheap and to make the most of the photos I take. So I’d think hard about how the picture was going to be. With my parents, (and later my younger sister) as subjects, I would put a lot of effort in getting the frame right, their faces lit properly, picking the background, etc. Make my each shot count. Thats probably my earliest memory about this. 

After that, the other thing that stands out, is when I got my own camera. It was when I joined Architecture school. It was recommended that the students own a camera. So now I found myself with this shiny new Sony 3.2mp camera, which was to be my best friend through the rest of my teenage years. A basic, simple camera, but suddenly I was without the pressure of film, and the heaviness of working with a DSLR which felt like a  serious commitment. But here, with this little camera, which thankfully did not just come with automatic settings, I freely experimented with styles, self portraits, portraits of my friends, everything. It was an important step in my growth as an aspiring photographer. And when I got my first DSLR, I was ready.


Team Kerosene: Why is storytelling so important to you as a photographer?

Seemal: I’m always telling stories. I struggle to stay focussed sometimes, and work very hard to see things start to finish, but when it comes to stories, I follow through. I can spend hours just listening, reading or watching a good story. It applies to a lot of us though, yes? That makes me want to be good at telling stories too. A good story is everything. A great piece of art will pull you into the frame, it will make you feel, make you wonder, guess and take you to the place it wants to. I believe this applies to good photography as well. When I’m shooting an art portrait, I’m asking myself -what are people getting from this? Do they see what I see? If they do, even if its just a little bit, I feel like I’ve achieved something incredible. It makes me really happy.


Team Kerosene: Women feature prominently in many of your photo-series. What themes or subtleties do you explore and express through them?

Seemal: Ah women do feature prominently in my photo series! Why? Well… I am not really sure. Its not a very deliberate choice, nor that I have refrained from shooting men, its just that at this point I have met more women than men that I have found fascinating. I could say women are a little more emotive by nature, but, I might change my mind about it later. I don’t really know for sure. I don’t like to think of it like that. I don’t like to think, ok, men are good at this, women are better at that, no. Its just that I’m also still discovering who I am as a woman, as Im growing older, and sometimes I think as I’m going about it, I’m trying to projecting that discovery and process onto images Im shooting with these incredible women who somehow take that energy, that story and make it something special. I have been enjoying that collaborative work. 


Team Kerosene: What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

Seemal: My advice is always: work hard, put your heart into it. I tell myself this often as well. Just go outside and take photos. Whatever it is that you like to photograph, go find it, and take pictures. Don’t wait for the day you’ll get that right camera, and the right gear, don’t wait for the day you’ll have more time, etc. Just go take photos, you’ll figure it out.  Use whatever you have handy. You’ll find your style, your area of interest. Another thing- don’t expect handouts, okay? Don’t go looking for handouts. Don’t look for instant fame. Work hard. Work really hard and it’ll pay up in the end. It shows, really. I believe that the heart that you put into your work- always, always translates. There are no shortcuts. 

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