‘Sadly, a lensman is just a cog, never the wheel’

The well-known photojournalist T.S. SATYAN was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award for Freelance Photojournalism instituted by the Essel Group and the Zee Network, in Bangalore on Sunday. Another Mysorean, former Praja Vani editor M.B. SINGH, was also honoured similarly.

This is the full text of Satyan’s acceptance speech.


“Thank you for the honour done to me. I accept this award with great pleasure and much humility. It is very special for me because it is not a government award. It is an award conferred on a freelance photojournalist.

“I have worked for nearly sixty years and enjoyed both the ecstasy and agony of freelance photojournalism. In my own humble way, I have attempted to visually enrich the pages of many newspapers and magazines around the world, shunning the more profitable sector of commercial photography.

“My early years were difficult. I had to live on my wits and from money order to money order and later from cheque to cheque. Unable to earn enough from pictures alone, I was forced to take up temporary jobs to supplement my income. Not many of you know that my first job, after graduation, was that of an engine-cleaner-cum-inspector at the Hindustan Aircraft factory in Bangalore, in 1944. My boss, B.G. Karve, told me one day that I had a great future in the aeronautics industry! Thank God, I disproved his prophecy.

“I was greatly influenced and inspired by the pictures published in the Life magazine that was started in 1936. No other magazine at any period of time had such extraordinary impact on its readers. I had the wonderful opportunity of working for Life for some 15 long years. I was able to meet with and work alongside some great photographers of the world. I learnt a lot from them.

“Even today, for a large country like India, only a few photographers have made the grade and are big names. They are in demand. This is the tragedy of photojournalism in the country. It is confined to a limited circle of elite practitioners. This circle should expand as quickly as possible.

“There is a total absence of organized training facilities in photojournalism for those who want to specialize. Most of our successful photographers are self-made. There are institutions for pure photography, not photography for journalism. Even here, those who teach have not had much practical experience. In a society which cries for information, there are not enough men and women trained in the visual media to rise to the occasion. Also, there is not much appreciation of the photographer and his work by those connected with the media in the government.

“The amazing part of print journalism is that while some editors become celebrities and an occasional reporter becomes a hero or a heroine for a day, the regular photographer hardly ever commands the limelight. It is rare for a photographer ever to be discussed at the breakfast table. Usually he is taken for granted. Rarely is he taken note of. He may be sought after, but not socially. He is rarely to be found at a celebrity dinner in his personal capacity. He is a cog in the wheel, but he is not the wheel.

“I feel disillusioned on one important count. Even top printed media houses in the country are continuing to illegally access photographs and publish them without a credit or a courtesy. Requests for clarification and payment are ignored. To be indifferent to authorship hurts photographers. These very media houses endlessly publish columns and editorials on copyright, intellectual property rights and ethical practices, but banish them in their own dealings. These unprofessional and unethical situations are agonizing and traumatic for photographers. I ardently say this, as a personal victim, so that we wake up to building healthy professional milieus in the future. I pray that tall professional and ethical standards become common pursuit for everyone in the media.

“It is the prerogative of the photographer to record the present as a reliable witness in the court of history. This is what is going to make photography a witness to the past as well as the future.

“I thank you once again for the honour bestowed on me.”


Also read: T.S. SATYAN

Cross-posted on sans serif