In the Kashmir region, a quiet revolution is unfolding, as a new generation of empowered female photographers takes the reins in the world of wedding photography. No longer confined to the sidelines, these talented women are reshaping the art of capturing cherished moments, rewriting gender norms, and weaving cultural narratives through their lenses
Once dominated by male photographers, the wedding photography industry is experiencing a paradigm shift as women photographers ascend to the spotlight. Among these pioneers, Sahiba Wani stands out as a trailblazer who has shattered barriers and paved the way for a new era in the field.
Sahiba Wani’s journey from challenging stereotypes to becoming a role model epitomises the transformation sweeping through the industry. With an unwavering passion for storytelling and an innate ability to capture raw emotions, Sahiba entered a realm previously considered a male stronghold. Through her lens, she not only freezes moments in time but also crafts narratives that resonate deeply with the cultural heritage and emotions of Kashmir. Her work transcends the realm of photography, evolving into a form of visual storytelling that touches hearts and minds alike.
In conversation with Feminism in India, Sahiba Wani, shared her remarkable journey. ‘Despite being the topper of my BTech batch, I gave that up for my creative pursuits. I was artistic since my childhood sketching, making jewellery, designing clothes and taking photos from my mother’s old phone.’ She recalls
Her decision to pursue wedding photography was inspired by the discomfort her friends and aunts experienced with male photographers during weddings. This personal insight ignited her journey. As the first female photographer and sole cinematographer in the Kashmir valley, Sahiba acknowledges the challenges:
‘Covering entire weddings as a female is certainly a technical, physical and emotional task that isn’t for everyone. You really need to care about your work to stand out. I am tested to my limits almost every other week, but I try to stay on top of things to the best of my ability.‘
Sahiba’s path led her from photography to filmmaking, a transition that demanded immense technical skill. She candidly admits her initial uncertainty but found validation in her client’s emotional reaction to her work. ‘I was very nervous because it’s one thing to make videos for fun, but doing it with client expectations in mind is a whole different thing. And I did it. And she literally cried from how emotional it was when we watched it together. I will never forget that day. That’s the day I knew I’m onto something.‘
As the industry transforms, these women are painting a vibrant tapestry that celebrates individuality, challenges norms, and captures the spirit of a changing era. Sahiba Wani and her contemporaries are leading the charge, forging a path towards an inclusive and diverse creative landscape. ‘There is a real difference between part-time photographers and full-time professional photographers. There may be many part-time photographers entering the wedding space but going full-time needs a lot of sacrifice – financial, emotional, physical. Everything. I was the topper of my BTech batch and I gave that up for my creative pursuits. That is no less than career suicide in our culture. You have to believe in your dreams and if someone else does too, then be grateful. So while I do envision many part-timers entering the field, full-time photographers and especially cinematographers will have to make some real life-altering sacrifices.’ Sahiba emphasises.
In the words of Sahiba Wani herself, ‘The fact that now I have an audience is great, but it’s not foundational to what I do. Because I was at it when nobody was watching. I can’t imagine a life without creative artistic expression. As for representation in different fields, I am a firm believer in meritocracy. The question I ask myself is, “Would I hire me for my wedding, given my portfolio?” and then I ask the same question to a hundred others. I think if you are really good at what you do, your identity will fade away and all that your audience will be left with is your work. The only role my gender plays in my work is that my clients, who are mostly female, feel comfortable in my presence. Other than that, I want my work to be scrutinised at the same level as my male counterparts. Why? Because that is the real test of one’s skill.‘
The surge of female wedding photographers in Kashmir signifies more than just a passing trend; it marks a powerful movement. With every click, these women inject a fresh perspective into the industry, infusing it with creativity, empathy, and an acute understanding of the region’s unique cultural nuances. Armed with their cameras, they dismantle gender biases and break the glass ceiling, forging a path toward an inclusive and diverse creative landscape.
These female photographers are not merely capturing events; they are weaving narratives that bridge tradition and modernity, while simultaneously challenging conventional gender roles. Each snapshot encapsulates the essence of relationships, emotions, and cultural dynamics that define Kashmiri weddings. As they seize the limelight, they inspire aspiring photographers and young women across the region to pursue their passions fearlessly.
Hailing from the Burzama area of Srinagar emerges yet another remarkable female photographer, Aysha Irtika. Her journey, shaped by resilience and determination, paints a vibrant picture of transformation and empowerment in a field traditionally dominated by men.
Aysha’s path began after she completed her graduation in journalism and mass communication, with stints in various magazines in 2019. Her early experiences behind the camera revealed a prevailing hesitancy among people to speak on camera. The frustration of this experience stirred within her, leading her to question whether this was truly her destined path. However, her resolve never wavered. ‘I had fought a lot at home to pursue journalism, and I wasn’t going to let it all go to waste,‘ she shares.
The turning point arrived when a friend approached her to photograph her wedding. The friend’s desire for a female photographer resonated deeply, igniting Aysha’s curiosity about wedding photography. The pivotal moment, however, occurred during her cousin’s wedding, where she witnessed the bride’s discomfort posing for a male photographer. The realisation that women needed a more comfortable and empathetic presence during these intimate moments spurred Aysha to embark on her journey into wedding photography.
In a field that remains predominantly male-dominated, Aysha faces her fair share of challenges. The extended hours of Kashmiri weddings, which often stretch till the early hours of the morning during winter nights, require her family’s unwavering support. And indeed, her family’s backing has been a crucial pillar of strength. Another challenge she confronts is finding balance between her professional commitments and personal life during the demanding wedding season. Yet, despite these obstacles, Aysha remains resolute.
Reflecting on the rise of female wedding photographers among the younger generation, Aysha shares, ‘Female wedding photography is rising. I receive many messages from girls who want to do this. They say, “We want to do this, teach us. You can understand a woman better than a man.“‘
Female wedding photography is rising. I receive many messages from girls who want to do this. They say, “We want to do this, teach us. You can understand a woman better than a man.“Ayesha Irtika
For aspiring photographers considering entry into this domain, Aysha offers sage advice: -‘For those who want to enter this field, my message is to avoid negativity. People will say things, but don’t pay attention to them. It can ruin your work. Just focus on your work, ignore everything else, and do your work with passion.’
Aysha Irtika’s journey echoes the sentiment of many young women who are reshaping the face of wedding photography in Kashmir. With determination as their driving force and passion as their guiding light, these photographers are stepping into a male-dominated space and changing it from within. Their stories stand as testaments to the power of art, determination, and the unbreakable spirit of empowerment.
Emerging from Srinagar’s Lal Bazar, Syeda Sakeena Qazmi has carved her name in the domain of wedding photography. Drawing on a journalism and public communication background, she embarked on her matrimonial journey seven years ago. Syeda recalls, ‘As my Instagram unveiled diverse snapshots of my artistic sensibilities, the persistent curiosity of my followers flooding my inbox guided me into the world of wedding photography.’
Understanding potential concerns brides might harbour, Syeda firmly believes in the unique perspective a female photographer brings. She elucidates, ‘A girl can effortlessly connect with the bride, providing solace and fostering transparent communication.’
Throughout her journey, Syeda’s parents’ unwavering support remained constant, even as she ventured into nature photography, fashion captures, and filmmaking. Reflecting on her beginnings, she reminisces, ‘It all began at my sister’s nuptial festivities, where I first grasped the camera. Thereafter, there was no looking back.’
Syeda warmly celebrates the rise of remarkable female artists in the wedding industry. She acknowledges, ‘From intricate Mehndi artists adorning hands with henna to makeup artisans enhancing natural beauty, and visionary costume designers weaving dreams with needle and thread, I am convinced that women are poised to contribute their unique talents to photography while respecting the sensitivity of posing before na-mahram individuals.’
From intricate Mehndi artists adorning hands with henna to makeup artisans enhancing natural beauty, and visionary costume designers weaving dreams with needle and thread, I am convinced that women are poised to contribute their unique talents to photography while respecting the sensitivity of posing before na-mahram individuals.Syeda Sakeena Qazmi
Blessed with an unwavering eye for detail and an unyielding passion for her craft, Syeda meticulously oversees every facet of her artistry. She emphasises, ‘From scrupulous editing to ensuring the final outcomes align with my clients’ visions, no aspect is overlooked.’
Mindful of intimate settings, she gracefully steers clear of crowded environments, cultivating an ambiance that empowers her subjects to flourish. While her devoted sister often extends her support, Syeda takes immense pride in infusing a personal touch into every element of her work.
‘I carefully curate and edit each photograph myself, capturing both deliberate and serendipitous moments that unfold before me,’ Syeda shared.