Photographer Interview: Neelakshi Vidyalankara

Photographer Neelakshi Vidyalankara
The work of UK photographer Neelakshi Vidyalankara amazed me both for it's commercial and documentary aspects. She covers a wide range of social issues like young mothers in prison, swingers and members of the Chicago chapter of the Nation of Islam.

Outside of her commissioned work, Neelakshi has also been published in several newspapers and magazines, and still finds time to nurture a family. You can connect with Neelakshi on Facebook.

D&B: Where are you from?
NV: I was born in Sri Lanka and came to the UK when I was 4 years old with my family. I am currently based in London, where I have lived for the past 25+ years.

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started - any "formal" training?

NV: I discovered photography late in life - in my early 20s. I completed a Postgraduate course in Photojournalism at the world-renowned London College of Communication. In terms of shooting, I’d best describe my style as a documentary journalist. However, more recently I’ve been approached to do everything from children’s portraits to corporate assignments.

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
NV: I learned basic photography on a Nikon FM II. For current day-to-day use I use a Canon 5D. I also enjoy shooting with my old Hasselblad for personal work.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
NV: My early inspirations were from the classic masters of reportage like Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson and Eve Arnold. There are so many amazing photographers out there whom I take inspiration from, especially now with the scope of the internet. I am amazed every day.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color? (this question is optional)

NV: Often working for editorial clients you tend to get 'pigeon-holed' for certain commissions where they think you may fit the brief. That said, I don’t see it as a negative as I try to use EVERY opportunity that presents itself in a positive way. 'Pigeon-holing' can be frustrating at times but I have used it to my advantage. As a female photographer clients often think you're more suited to more sensitive subject matter.

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.

NV: After leaving the course and working in a photo library I started getting commissions. I was lucky. They gave me a chance and they seemed to like my work. So in hindsight, I guess I made some of my own luck.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?

NV: A living! My ideals aren’t as high as they used to be but I’m managing to hold my own making a living as a photographer, for which I am privileged.

D&B: What's your dream photography project?

NV: To go to South America (a Continent that I have always wanted to see) and travel.

D&B: What's the biggest (life) lesson you've learned through photography?

NV: Don't sit around waiting for things to happen! You need to be proactive in order to realize your potential and achieve your dreams. I'm still trying...

Next week's Photographer Interview on Dodge & Burn: George Pitts

Read previous interviews with:
María Fernanda Hubeaut (Argentina)
Elia Alba (NYC)
Jaime Permuth (Guatemala)
William Vazquez (NYC/Puerto Rico)

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