Sharafat Ali, 24, is a documentary photographer based in Kashmir. He freelances with various organizations where he contributes photo stories. He is an alumnus at the Aks School of Photography and Visual Journalism. While still at the threshold of his career, Sharafat has won few prestigious honours. He was awarded the eminent Ian Parry Scholarship in 2017 for his work on the ramifications of the conflict on people in Kashmir. He is the first Kashmiri photographer, in fact the only South Asian to be awarded the Ian Parry Scholarship. For the same project, he recently won the first prize in the 72nd College Photographer of the Year competition in the documentary category. Sharafat has also won a nominee award at the 2017 PhotograVphy grant. In the year 2018, he was accepted in the final list of nominees for World Press Photo Joop Swart master classes.
Sharafat calls photography his only true calling. This is his exclusive photo essay for the Wande Magazine.
“The people I capture, I view them as my own. Most of the people I capture I have never met and I don’t know them at all but through my images and stories I live with them,” - Sharafat Ali
Sharafat Ali’s photographs capture people not as subjects but as characters who inhabit his world – who he meets and interacts with as a young documentary photographer working in Kashmir. “The people I capture, I view them as my own. Most of the people I capture I have never met and I don’t know them at all but through my images and stories I live with them,” he says.
The subjects of this photo essay are Kashmiri women, who embody for Sharafat ‘symbols of resistance.’ Sharafat finds dignity in their lives and his photographs are remarkable for they invoke almost a primal urge in the viewer to want to know more about these women. The photographs are unique as Sharafat finds it difficult to break the ice with these women and admits finding it extremely challenging to go into in-depth conversations with these characters ‘due to uncertainties and unpredictability of this place where I live.’ Sharafat navigates the world of these women through a reluctant gaze but manages to capture their essence as born out of their stories of loss and trauma.
Sharafat, like his mentor and ace photographer Showkat Nanda, recognizes the human element of his work and admits seeing himself as a human being first and then a photographer. This recognition allows Sharafat to immerse in his characters stories and revel in their happiness, ‘or be numbed by their pain’ and he sometimes feels ‘that the only way to escape is not by leaving but to cry.’ Sharafat approaches his characters with the expectation to understand them not just through one event, but also through entire lives. “I believe impact-full visuals are outcomes of a deep understanding of your character which comes when you spend a lot with them without the anxiety of outcome or exploitation of their stories.”