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Shooting with a conscience

In his 30-year stint as a photojournalist for the United Nations, India-born American photographer John Isaac captured thousands of images of war, genocide, famine and starvation across Third World countries, reports Aarefa Johari.

mumbai Updated: Feb 25, 2010 01:58 IST
Aarefa Johari

He is perhaps the only photographer who is planning to publish a book on pictures he didn’t take.

In his 30-year stint as a photojournalist for the United Nations, India-born American photographer John Isaac captured thousands of images of war, genocide, famine and starvation across Third World countries.

“I saw myself as a human being first and a journalist later, and never shot anything that compromised on human dignity,” said New York-based Isaac (66), who was in Mumbai on Tuesday for the launch of a camera brand’s store at Fort.

Isaac recounted an episode in war-torn Vietnam of the ‘70s, when he was expected to photograph a young rape victim left alone in a boat on a river. Instead of taking the picture, he got some nuns from a charity home to rehabilitate her. “Other photojournalists would laugh at me for not sticking to my job.”

Isaac turned to wildlife photography and depiction of human cultures after a burnout in 1994. He attributes his Gandhian principles to the lessons taught by his mother in a village near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, where he grew up. And for the last few years, he has made India — “his home” — the subject of his books.

“In my book, The Veil of Kashmir, I deliberately ignored the politics to focus on images of real Kashmiri people, the rural tribals,” said Isaac, who did the book to help Indians think beyond the boundaries of religion and region. “Unfortunately, it has sold well everywhere except in India.”

Isaac is shooting for a book on the condition of tigers of India. “I want the book to spread awareness about encroachment and poaching, and the profits will go towards the protection of tiger reserves.”