Manjari Sharma – Photographer
I have known her since we were 16 … and it took me five more years after that to get a glimpse of her artistic sensibilities, her leadership, her negotiation skills and her vision and after what was just a simple inter-collegiate festival that she visualised, planned, led and hosted… we somewhere knew she was meant for greatness. What is so special about Manjari is that she does it without much fanfare… she does it. Yes, as a personality she is so refined today and so poised. With amazing clientele under her belt, Manjari makes Photography eclectic, electric and philosophical. Manjari today is based in the US and the best thing is she is so totally self-made, in a different land, hand in hand with the man in her life… making a fabulous and inspiring story. Read on.. my latest Boss Girl… I am so proud of her.
1. Manjari, do tell us your story first. Your journey in Photography. How you started off in India, initial years in USA, your early days as a Photographer, the challenges etc.
I was that girl that always had the Kodak point and shoot camera when we went on family road trips. I had no idea it would become a career one day. When I moved to the USA I came to Columbus College of Art and design and that’s a 1500 person college in Columbus, Ohio. I was quite culture shocked, I have to say. Columbus was small and simple and I was coming from the madness of Mumbai. So initially the challenge was to assimilate to this new life where I had to do everything solo. Besides, India is a very group mentality culture, while in the USA the idea of making kids independent is encouraged from very early on. I just remember wanting my village, my familiar faces, my family and my friends around me. I think my first 6 months here were quite on par with a lot of international students where you race to your freedom… but once you have it you’re lonely.
Photography was and is always the home I carry with me. In a way, my camera protects me. I can hide behind it and it becomes a shield. So even early on in the USA, I feel, taking pictures was what kept me centered.
2. Did you always want to be a Photographer? What attracted you to it?
Taking pictures makes me make better sense of the world. Access is what attracted me to it. The camera gives you access or a self assigned authority to go up to the world around you that you can investigate, invite and collaborate with.
3. Who was that inspiration or mentor that was driving you towards your bigger goal?
Col. Prakash was the first one in SNDT that recognized I was doing something meaningful with my camera and he gave me a certificate of achievement in my first year at S.V.T. I remember being shocked with literally zero expectation of being recognized for it; because frankly I felt I was only toying around with it. I was having fun with my camera but all I did was turn in work without thinking much. I remember walking up to him and saying, “Wow, thank you Sir. I feel I didn’t even work so hard to deserve this”. And then he looked at me and said, “Well, imagine if you “actually” worked hard.” It was such a simple thing to say but it turned me into a determined person and I’ll forever be thankful for that.
4. Manjari, would you be so kind to tell us more about your family. Your parents, your husband, their role in honing you as an artiste.
My Parents have been my rock and my Dad always encouraged me no matter what. My mom had her reservations and her concerns about her daughter going to another country and she wasn’t un-supportive, but always had concerns and mostly because the world was never safe enough. I’m a mother now and I get it.
My world has taken a toll over the last four years as my mom has suffered a very sharp decline through a very early onset of dementia. For those who know dementia they get it, and for those who don’t… well, it’s a disease of unlearning everything you know. Everything you’ve taught evaporates and everything you understand about life turns into mumbles. To see your Mother forget to do every single thing you know because of her feels unfair and I don’t wish this disease on my worst enemy, yet my family and largely my father battle it every single day of his life. As an artist every emotion that is strongly felt informs your work. This tragedy has largely affected my understanding of the circle of life. It’s not a new story…
Aging parents is everyone’s problem and eventuality of what happens to all of our alma mater’s is something we all know factually, but as we get closer to it, it hits as if we never knew it.
My husband always has my back and we’ve adapted to our new realities together. It’s not all neat and orderly like this paragraph though, There are many pitfalls, outbursts and the early years of living through my moms’ unexpected illness was spending a lot of time wishing it away. But that’s all right of passage and then the point comes where you get on board with your team and tackle what’s been handed to you.
And I’m proud to say we may not be perfect but we are together and that counts for a lot. You can see a bit about my journey here: https://www.manjarisharma.com/lossandresurrection/
5. How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who cares to empower. I wouldn’t be who I am told if I wasn’t encouraged at critical moments.
6. How do you manage the Balancing act?
As best as I can… Some days are better than others but I cannot do it single-handed… there’s family, friends, child-care professionals. It truly takes a village. But most of it is in your mind. Because people run countries, and reach to summits of Everest at age 80. The internet is overwhelming but it also reminds you that your task is exceptionally achievable.
7. It is difficult for parents to foresee a career for daughters in Photography, art and other fields in creative faculty. How would you encourage that? What kind of challenges and opportunities does the world have to offer for women in these fields?
This is a difficult question to answer because parents need to look at their children as humans drawn to their own calling and path and not “girls” and what they “should” be made to do. The challenges of any field in the world is that they are largely male dominated fields. Another thing to be aware of is that people of color and especially women of color have been given the short hand in this world for a very long time. India and the world is sexist and racist and lookist and ageist and
it is our job not just as humans but especially as parents to change that.
Parents in India have a patriarchal and biased society to deal with and the progressive ones have to lead by example by educating their girls and make their little girls of age 5 and 6 believe that they are citizens of equal mind, measure, form and function from the get go. With talent and perseverance any girl could surpass anyone they choose to.
Photography just like other creative fields is challenging to succeed in but with support, education, mentorship and opportunity, every girl can be off to the races, exploring new worlds, carving her much deserved under recognized place in History.
8. What is the scope of commercials and stability in a field like yours, for women who want to pursue it full time? What kind of education would help? Could you advise.
A solid education in Art would never do you wrong although the commercial viability of this field is hard to pin down. It sometimes takes a while to find your footing but if you love what you do and stay focused sky is the limit. I would say it is not uncommon for a lot of artists to wear other hats like teaching or post production while they establish themselves in the field.
9. What is your biggest and surest way to relax, to unwind? Also, what triggers the creative juices in you, that big idea based on which you work an entire series?
To unwind is to roll around with my children and feel like a kid again. That’s one thing that’s beautiful about being a mother is innocence revisits you a million times a day and you can giggle and tickle and experience the joy of tasting something new and running through a field all over again.
What triggers me can be a conversation with my neighbor to a single blade of grass. My hope is to be open and receive whatever the universe sends my way. My big idea is to tease something from a multicultural perspective. I grew up in India and left the country to move to the states when I was 21, so all of my work on my website constantly investigates a thought from a pluralistic lens.
The differences or commonalities between the Eastern and Western world is what my work is about. Dissecting and studying in form and function the disparities between the two cultures the one I was born and raised in and the one I have now adopted, as an Indian born American.
10. Give me that one quote you live by… not someone elses’, but yours.
It’s not a quote but more of a philosophy.
To stay porous and vulnerable, to absorb and release.
We are lucky to feel, to be moved, to create, to connect and to cry.
May we never be too proud to learn because every single person we meet knows something we don’t.