Photojournalist Masrat Zahra

"We photojournalists, are the key witnesses of the people's pain"

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / August 11, 2021

(Credit: Associated Press)

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

Masrat Zahra: During my teenage years, I would often witness photojournalists reporting clashes between protestors and government forces in my neighbourhood. The thrill of running amid tension fascinated me towards the profession of photojournalism. I would often get intrigued to see the bylines of only male photojournalists on the front pages of local newspapers. I was determined to find my name there too..

Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?

Masrat Zahra: I started with a Nikon D5200 fitted with 18-55mm and 70-300mm. Later I shifted to Canon 5D Mark IV fitted with 24-70mm, 50mm and 70-200mm. This remains my preferred lens/camera oflate

Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

Masrat Zahra: I use Twitter and Instagram to share my journalistic work.

Twitter: @MasratZahra
Instagram: @masrat_zahra 

Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?

Masrat Zahra: Before embarking on an assignment, I do a necessary background check of the story or any other similar stories to gain knowledge about the subject. I also make sure to write notes of the important things to do like setting an alarm or a reminder on my phone, recharging my camera batteries, emptying memory cards and loading them back into the camera. I also carry extra memory cards and extra battery backups in case of any emergency. Then before leaving for the field double check the contents of my bag and make sure I carry everything that is needed for the assignment.

Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work?  What are you trying to say with your photography?

Masrat Zahra: I try my best to be ethical with my work and do justice in documenting the truth.

Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?

Masrat Zahra: It depends upon the kind of assignment I am doing. Sometimes, if the situation is serious, I try to capture as many photographs as I can for proof. There are times when I take minimum number of photographs.  

Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

Masrat Zahra: The last photographic trip I took was earlier this year to a far off village in Kashmir where many Kashmiris, killed during Kashmir conflict, have been buried.

Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?

Masrat Zahra: Currently I am on a fellowship in Germany which involves working on various projects pertaining to your taste. I have not been able to do much because of the pandemic. I am planning to travel to different cities and cover life.

Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?

Masrat Zahra: My favourite picture remains the one I took on a rainy day in the spring of 2019 when thousands of people jam packed in a ground are carrying an empty hospital bed on their hands at the funeral of a famous militant commander.

Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?

Masrat Zahra: I want my photographs to convey the emotions, the grief, the joy of the people and the subject.

(All images © Courtesy of Masrat Zahra)

Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?

Masrat Zahra: A great picture for me is the one which is self-explanatory and doesn’t need a caption to describe it.

Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?

Masrat Zahra: A photograph becomes memorable when you relate to the subject of the photograph the moment you see it or when it contains the raw emotions of the people.

Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?

Masrat Zahra: My last picture motivates me to continue taking pictures. I always go back to my own work and also to the work of the greats in the field of photojournalism.

Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?

Masrat Zahra: I haven’t taken one but many professional risks. The one I like talk about was when I dislocated my shoulder and injured my knee while reporting a gunfight between government forces and militants up close. While running for cover, I fell down on the ground and my colleagues thought I was hit by a bullet.

Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?

Masrat Zahra: I have not thought about my dream assignment yet. I take every assignment as a step forward.

Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?

Masrat Zahra: Passion to learn every day and the urge to carve a niche for yourself and your work are the essential skills a photojournalist should have. Besides these, one should have the continuous eagerness to look for people-centric stories.

Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?

Masrat Zahra: Digital manipulation of pictures is a serious concern and reflects the motives of people to distort the truth or the reality. It also highlights the lack of professionalism and ethics.

Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?

Masrat Zahra: An ethical photojournalist is the one who respects the pain of the people, shows empathy by highlighting their pain without any manipulation while maintaining the journalistic distance at the same time.

Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance? 

Masrat Zahra: Photojournalism has gained its importance as the technologies of visual journalism have improved. We need more photojournalists then we ever needed. We, photojournalists, are the key witnesses or the chroniclers of the people's pain or the atrocities committed to them. 

Photojournalism News: What is it like to be a female photojournalist in a male-dominated field?

Masrat Zahra: I don’t see myself as a female photojournalist while working on the ground but I see myself as a “photojournalist”. I have always benefited from the male photojournalists around me in terms of safety and encouragement.  It's also true that I sometimes get the access to women centric and other stories because of my gender.

Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?

Masrat Zahra: Keep learning and clicking pictures every day. Don’t get discouraged by your failures. Try to look for the unusual in the usual.

Masrat Zahra

Masrat Zahra is an internationally acclaimed independent photojournalist and a documentary photographer from Kashmir. Her work has appeared in several media organisations including Washington Post, Aljazeera, TRT world, The New Humanitarian, Caravan, etc. She has also contributed her work to various international photo agencies like SOPA Images, NUR Photos, ZUMA Press. Through her pictures she brings out glimpses of everyday life in Kashmir. She is the recipient of the 2020 Peter Mackler award for ethical and courageous journalism and the 2020 Anja Neidringhaus award by the International Women’s Media Foundation. Currently, she is working as an independent photographer focused on long-term projects and is based in Germany.