A Visual Storyteller
After college graduation, SESHU BADRINATH (BA, History and American Studies, ’93) was poised to enter a PhD program in Japanese history when his parents gave him a camera. Since then, he says, “I think, breathe, live photography ... and love it!” Badrinath, now based in New England, has built a business on wedding and portrait photography, specializing in events that bring together people from different cultures and faiths, an interest he defined while at CSU, Chico. He approaches each event, each person, and each family as a story unfolding, drawing on his journalism background to create visual vignettes for his clients. His photography can be viewed at www.seshu.net.
What brought you to CSU, Chico? What was your college experience like?
After graduating from a San Jose high school, I remember visiting Chico on a very hot summer day and falling in love with the lay of the land. It was still a small town back then, and everybody seemed to know everyone. The first year in Chico, I lived in the dorms and met many people from different parts of the world, and that had an impact on me right away. Even back then, Chico State was a very multicultural place.
Without reservation, attending CSU, Chico was the best academic decision I made. Sure, I had a lot of extracurricular fun when I started, but settled down soon after I found my calling. I had always liked to read, but it was the history class with Joseph Conlin that really got me thinking about the world—or rather, America’s place in it. Subsequent classes with Chuck Harvey, Dale Steiner, and Jeff Livingston—all terrific teachers—really got me interested in race, immigration, and cultural issues. I took a few Japanese language classes with Kimihiko Nomura, whose wit and wonderful style of teaching a clearly difficult language set me on a path to hone in on modern Japanese history and, in particular, U.S.-Japanese relations since World War II.
When did you discover photography was something you wanted to do as a career?
I spent my last year of college in Japan and then extended my stay for another year. At that time, it occurred to me that I wanted to narrate people’s stories using my camera. I applied and was accepted to Indiana University’s graduate program in journalism and so spent a couple of years in the Midwest. While at Indiana, I encountered a special program in Portland, Maine, called the Salt Center for Documentary and Field Studies. Like a moth to light, I moved to Portland and began to learn the fine process of documenting everyday people doing extraordinary things.
Part of me wishes still that I could dedicate my life to this kind of work, but it simply couldn’t sustain a family. With that in mind and the possibilities on the Internet becoming more apparent, I interned at MSNBC.com, then worked for Corbis, a photo agency based in the Seattle area. I have been fortunate to see a good many parts of this country and meet a diverse group of people because of my passion for visual communication. Taking or, as I like to think of it, making images gives me an opportunity to understand the world we live in a little better.
You specialize in East Indian, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith weddings and family portraits. What draws you to the subject?
Though I was born in the U.S., I lived in India for 12 years with my parents, who are from India. So there is a natural affinity to all things South Asian. Sheer curiosity draws me to document people from different walks of life and different cultures.
What is your favorite thing to shoot?
I love the energy, colors, sounds, and smells of an Indian wedding. When clients come from multiple cultures, it makes it even more interesting for me because I know that I will experience something very special. Even with Indian weddings, nothing is ever the same, and they go largely unscripted. It’s a form of controlled chaos that I feel only the Indian in me can understand, appreciate, and use to make meaningful images for my clients. Other than weddings, I absolutely love photographing children. With two young kids at home, I get to practice a lot.
As a wedding photographer, you are expected to capture some iconic shots. How do you keep it fresh?
After light, composition, and timing, it’s perspective that is most important to me. If I were in a position to photograph something safe all the time, I would have hung up my cameras a long time ago. It’s the hunt for capturing something different that keeps me on my toes. For example, if I photograph hennaed hands, I’ll find a way to either change my physical position or use a different lens or lighting setup. With so many choices and with a diverse set of clients, I rarely get to the point where I am scratching my head for new ideas. It’s almost as if the opportunities fall in my lap and it’s mine for the taking—oops, making.
Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications. Photos by Seshu Badrinath.