A voice of her own

Poorna Kulkarni
Tuesday, 15 October 2019

LGBTQ+ activist and award-winning photographer Monisha Ajgaonkar talks about her projects and how she is advocating for rights of the gay community

Ever since Section 377 was revoked, decriminalising homosexuality, there have been celebrations across the country. The LGBTQ+ community has found their voice. But their struggles are far from over. There are many LGBTQ+ activists who are doing their bit to help the community overcome the challenges. A few write, others direct films and a few others highlight the problems through photo stories. Monisha Ajgaonkar, LGBTQ+ activist-photographer and founder of The Photo Diary, is trying to bring about a change through her stunning visuals.    

THE PHOTO DIARY
Ajgaonkar launched The Photo Diary in 2013. Recently, she was honoured with two prestigious awards. She received India’s Most Prominent Women Empowerment Award by Geeta Phogat and Sudha Chandran. She was also adjudged Best Candid Photographer by International Fame Awards (IFA) Thailand 2019. Kangana Ranaut gave away the award. 

Talking about how she approaches different subjects, she says, “If it’s wedding photography, we discuss the concept with the couple and plan the shoot. For candid photographs, we just capture the moment,  there’s no planning involved. If we do a theme-based shoot on subjects like LGBTQ+, the images talk about the rights of the community. Being gay, I wanted to talk about lesbians and their rights. I did a lot of stories on my personal life and thought how I could make use of them to communicate with the audience.” 

Speaking about the objective of The Photo Diary, she says, “When I planned to start the company, I wanted to do wedding photography in a very different format. When we do a video shoot, we keep in mind that it has to be a fun content which the bride and groom, along with their family, can relate to. When they watch it, they must have laughing memories with emotions. We are more into creative and fun stuff yet keep sentiments in the content.” 

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Talking about the projects she undertook, she says, “There are so many projects that are close to my heart. I have done several wedding shoots; the clients have become like family now. Also, under LGBTQ+ theme I have done many projects. I loved doing L: Love matters with Ogilvy in 2018 which speaks about the current issues lesbians deal with. When we google ‘lesbian’, we get more explicit content so through this project we wanted to talk about how normal this is.” This photo story was featured worldwide and won an award at DMA Asia Echo Awards.”

Another project she did was Blossom, featuring Sushant Divgikr, in July 2019. It is a colourful photo series that has Sushant as the muse who is transitioning from a young boy scared to open up due to societal pressures to finally becoming the diva that he is today.

FINDING HER IDENTITY
Ajgaonkar, who came out of the closet in her early 20s, faced a lot of challenges. “I had one thing clear in mind that I will not speak to my family about it till the day I earn. But when I used to stay in Bandra, an article on me was published and that is when my dad got to know that I am gay. He didn’t accept the fact, however, today, I have a cordial relationship with my sister. When it came to friends, they did support me a lot and it also showed me who all are genuinely there for me and who aren’t,” she says.

She adds that her work is her primary source of happiness. “Whatever I am, it is all because of my work. I make sure I am always doing something different as compared to others, else there’s no point of me being an artist. I tell myself that I must be an artist who does work that will inspire people,” says Ajgaonkar  who is also an ardent animal lover.

The talented photographer sees herself in a space where there is more inclusiveness and acceptance. “Currently, I am planning to move abroad. I know that I can get married there because a lot of people in India I dated earlier are still in the closet. Also, as an activist, I want to highlight things that they are not comfortable talking about. When I did the transgender shoot, a lot of people showed the article to their families and sent me messages on Instagram. It felt so good to see that my photostories and interviews have helped,” she says. 

About the change in mindset here, she says, “With the repealing of Section 377, clients have changed their attitude. I also had college interns who were excited to work at The Photo Diary. It’s so heartwarming to see this change. My aim is to keep making art and have a competition with self.”

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