The Photographer Soul Behind Sacred Transformations
We see a lot of photographers, but have you met someone as humble as this one? Meet Niraj Gera, the super talented photographer and an Art of Living teacher. He is the man behind the photograph series “Sacred Transformations” which displays the transformation journey of Acid Attack Survivors. Though there is a lot that can be written about him and his great work, we tried to get the best for you in this interview.
BV: What made you think about acid attack survivors?
Niraj Gera: When I first met and interacted with the survivors and the directors of the organization “Chhanv Foundation” in a protest march held at the Jantar Mantar(Delhi) in 2014, I was really moved by them. I wondered how could one be so heartless to be inflicting such inhuman trauma (both physical and mental) on anyone. The problem doesn’t end just there, there are people who indulge in victim blaming and there are also people who are not very sensitive to their feelings or emotions. We need to go beyond sympathizing. It was at that moment when I decided to use my skills as a photographer to bring them out in the mainstream. They needed to be taken seriously, and accepted in the society with much required sensitivity. A superficial acceptance hardly solves the problem. Therefore, arranged for a shoot with them, and slowly we were on it.I wanted the world to connect with them personally, and what could be more universal yet personal than human emotions? Fortunately, we all have feelings and can relate to them at that level and so I decided to showcase the emotional journey of the survivors and eventually came Sacred Transformations.
Gradually, half way down the project I realized that, definitely as a photographer whatever I was doing was good for them but then there was more that could be done. As an Art of living teacher and above all as a fellow human I had some responsibilities too. By now we had become very close, and had developed familial equation with each other to the extent that they share their joys & sorrows with me on a regular basis.. I then decided to take this forward and introduce them to the path of knowledge and spirituality. Though, it was bit difficult to manage however, their love was indeed a driving force for me that kept motivating me to bring about a positive change in their lives. And so I conducted the program with them at Agra.
Rupa (A president award winner) & Laxmi, who is also the face of the Acid attack campaign and an awardee of the International Women of Courage Award from the First lady of USA Michelle Obama, also joined us along with Ashish Shukla (the director of the Chhanv Foundation). All of them had beautiful experiences and it felt really worthwhile to see them blossom and reconnect with themselves. Spiritual and mental healing is very important, though we often tend to ignore them. Ignoring only leaves you with some serious confidence and personality issues. In this process of their Transformation, I also happened to learn a lot from them. Their bravery and courage have been very inspirational and I often share their stories with people who crib about small things in life.
BV:Tell us about the successful ‘Sacred Transformations’ & ‘Shades of Love’ , your recent photo series which went viral across the globe?
Niraj Gera: Sacred Transformations is one of the most prominent milestone of my life. Apart from the overwhelming response and worldly success, it has given a new direction to not just my photography but also my life. “Sacred Transformation” of society has become the motto of my life. I am constantly receiving the love & blessings of masses & the people around me.
‘Sacred Transformations’ & ‘Shades of Love’, which is another series covering the love story of an acid attack survivor – Rani Roul, has received heartfelt appreciations from the global media- including Mail Today(UK), The Sun (UK), Metro News(UK), Yahoo News, NDTV, News 18, Hindustan Times, Al Jazeera & many more, which has created a lot of awareness about acid attack survivors & their acceptance in mainstream. The series has reached millions of viewers who have read the stories of these acid attack survivors through the photographs. Many donors have come forward to generously donate for these survivors. These photographs have already received several national & International awards in various photography festivals & competitions. As an artist, I feel great to have touched chord of millions of hearts through my photographs & have been able to contribute towards the cause, in my limited capacity.
BV:Would you like to share an unforgettable experience with some survivor?
Niraj Gera: I really cherish every moment spent with them, and honestly speaking, the whole process has been a memorable one. Initially, they were not comfortable but I am glad ,I was able to create a cordial environment. And, soon they became comfortable and camera friendly. We did share some of the happiest as well as touching moments during the shoots. There were times, they laughed and danced around with all their energy, whereas there were also days when they could not hold themselves and cried their hearts out. But it was more because of the equations we shared than the result of the shoot. Overall, it was a beautiful journey and all of us lived every moment to the fullest. I feel blessed to have them with me and they are no less than a family to me now.
BV:You have been referred to as a spiritual healer, what do you think about that?
Niraj Gera: I really don’t know if the term “Spiritual Healer” is the right word for what I do, but yes, I firmly believe in the power of spirituality. Being on this beautiful path & helping others to walk on this path , has made my life meaningful. The more I share with others, the more I receive from almighty & my Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji (founder, The Art of Living). I really wish to reach to maximum number of people in my life & bring them to this beautiful path and it no different for the acid attack survivors. While working with them I felt that they also needed to attend to their spiritual and mental healing just as much as they did to their physical healing and being an Art of Living faculty, the least I could do as an instrument is to introduce them to spirituality and the knowledge of my Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, to empower them mentally, and show them a new perspective of looking at life.
I was motivated to conduct the Art of Living Happiness Course (A course which offers Sudarshan Kriya– a rhythmic breathing technique which has had miraculous effect on innumerable people around the world.) for them at Agra. This course helped them enormously in connecting with their inner self and the feedback was very promising. It helped them overcome their fears and inhibitions to a great extent and most of them showed interest in repeating the course. It was truly uplifting and their experiences spoke for them. I feel blessed to have been able to help them through the course, meditation and motivational sessions and contribute in their Sacred Transformation.
Whatever I have been able to do and execute is all because of my Guru’s blessings and the support of these lovely souls and I’m sure with an understanding of the self and with the love & support of people around them (including you and me) they can become stronger and happier.
BV:Are women the only ones who have been victims of acid?
Niraj Gera: This is one of the misconceptions that only girls/women are the victims of acid attack . As per a recent report around 30% of the acid attack victims are males. You will be further surprised to know that apart from developing / underdeveloped nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh , India, Ghana, Uganda, gulf countries, etc, where majority of such attacks happen to women even the developed nations like United Kingdom, South America, USA, Germany & many other countries are facing the problem of acid attack & most of the victims in these countries are males. The numbers of such attacks are rising in developed countries which is a serious matter of concern & should be addressed through a joint effort of Govt, NGOs & public.
BV:Tell us about some of your achievements
Niraj Gera: Foremost achievement for me has been the shower of love in abundance from the masses & people around me. However, in terms of worldly gains, I think I have been blessed to be doing well in whatever I do and feel grateful for all that I have so called ‘achieved’.
As an independent photographer, I feel fortunate that my works have crossed territorial boundaries and have been exhibited in several reputed galleries and festivals like Ariano Film Festival (Italy), Blank Wall Gallery (Greece), the Indian Habitat Centre (India), Arpana Caur Art Gallery(India) etc., besides having been featured in several national and international platforms. I have also been presented with a handful of awards and token of honors, which include the IPOTY (International Photographer of the year)16’ award (Hon. Mention) , CEPIC Award 2017 (Germany), SIPA award (Singapore), Golden Orchid Award (Italy), Gold Medal in People category by SIPA Awards 2017 by PSS (Photographic Society of Singapore), Winner of Family category of a contest by Better Photography ( A Leading Photography magazine). Both the series i. e., ‘Sacred Transformations’ and ‘Shades of Love’ have received appreciation & acclamation worldwide.
As an Art of living teacher too, I am happy to impart and practicing the philosophies of my Guru, and trying to spread his message of love and peace by conducting the Art of Living programs as often as possible and by helping people from all walks of life and re instilling faith & confidence in them.
As a life coach I am very happy to see my pupil doing great in life and excelling in their fields, be it music, academics, judiciary or any other.
I feel very comfortable & satisfied with the several roles I play as a traveler, blogger, artist etc. and the balance which I am able to maintain. Spirituality definitely uplifts and empowers you beyond imagination! I am really grateful to my Gurudev for making me experience the magnanimity of this beautiful life.
BV:A message you’d like to convey?
Niraj Gera: I have always motivated people to understand the value of life & to contemplate the purpose of their being on this planet, which is definitely not feeling sad, insecure, jealous, fearful, angry or being stuck in any such emotions. If you are stuck in any of the emotions then you definitely aren’t living your life & its time to go within , introspect, meditate & realize your real nature which is love , peace , joy & enthusiasm . One should understand the difference between merely existing & living a life. Trust me…life is extremely beautiful.