Meet Sanya, the forensic photographer who fell in love with the profession as a teenager

Image Credit: Special Arrangement/Manorama Online

When Sanya looks through the lens of her favourite camera, it is death that stares back at her. Yet, she would craft each frame with perfection so that the images would speak a million truth. It was her sheer perseverance, confidence and hard work that helped Sanya hold on to her life that was once slipping away through her fingers. Sanya has now earned a name for herself in forensic photography, an unusual profession for a woman. Besides, she does wedding photography and portrait photoshoots too. Even as she finds herself busy doing the job that she loves the most, a determined mind and paralysed legs are what drives her forward.

Sanya didn’t hesitate to drop her studies as she was obsessed with photography; however, she isn’t someone who has learned the nuances of photography at a premier institute. Sanya assisted ace photographer Rajan Chembakassery who taught her the basics in the art. She was just 16 when she had fallen in love with a Kodak camera at her childhood friends Nithin and Neethu’s house. After class ten, Sanya became a full-time photographer. She began doing freelance photography works at that young age itself. After that, Sanya worked as a freelance photographer in a prominent newspaper. Sanya became Rajan Chembakassery’s assistant at his studio in Pannithadam in Thrissur as she wished to get into professional photography. She worked for almost 13 years at the studio, building a solid career in photography. Three years ago, Sanya bought the studio from Rajan and has since been running it.

Forensic photography
Sanya got curious about forensic photography when she was just sixteen years old. It was with her guru that she handled her first ‘case’. “The first crime scene that I had covered was the case of an 80 year old woman who had set herself ablaze in her bathroom. After that, I had covered many crime scenes of suicides and murders. Crime scene photography is not like other areas as the pictures that you click would be submitted in the court as evidence. So, even the tiniest detail is significant.

The articles in the crime scene, their measurements and position and the camera that you use are some of the important factors that sets crime scene photography apart. Besides, the detailing in each case would be different. If it is suicide by hanging, then we should concentrate on the marks on the neck. The full-size pictures of the dead body too should be taken. Moreover, the pictures of the witnesses would be clicked for further use. It is important to concentrate on the technical side of the camera in this field. Even the smallest mistakes could turn the case around, making a murder look like a suicide,” says Sanya.

The pain behind the smile
Even as she wades through crushing life experiences, Sanya loves to keep a smile on her face. She wishes to spread her infectious smile, without hurting or bothering anyone. However, she survived a life-threatening accident, jeers from the people in her neighbourhood and many other undesirable life experiences to reap success in her career. There was a time when she was worried whether her body would fail her. But, Sanya wasn’t ready to give up and fought a hard battle to stay afloat.

“I met with an accident when I was going to deliver a wedding album. A car rammed into the autorickshaw in which I was traveling. I was thrown into a muddy puddle. But the impact was severe. The blood circulation to my brain stopped and couldn’t even feel my legs anymore. The infection spread to my eyes, nose and ears. I underwent surgery thrice to remove a fibroid that had grown on my neck. My incredible mental strength, excellent treatment and the fabulous support from my dear ones were the reasons why I could get up and walk again. I am, in fact, still recovering from all these,” notes Sanya.

Sanya easily overcame the challenges that her own body had thrown at her. However, it wasn’t easy for her to deal with the patriarchal gaze of the society that couldn’t accept a woman donning the role of a photographer. She had to approach the women’s cell when a group of youngsters in her locality began creating problems for her. A case was registered and Sanya won it at the court. Sanya is proud that she decided to take the legal recourse to seek justice.

“I was advised by the doctors to take bedrest for at least six months. But, I thought that I would lie down forever if I decide to take rest then. I go to the studio everyday as photography is my passion. I used to use crutches in the beginning. Now, I am using a special belt that helps me walk. But, I need help when I got for works outside,” says Sanya.

Being the voice of the voiceless
Sanya who had fallen in love with images at a young age, is now finding peace in silence too. She also works alongside the Kerala Police as a freelance sign language translator. “When I went to click the pictures at a wedding in Pannithadam, I realized that the bride and groom were deaf – mute. I somehow managed with hand gestures to take photos then. They taught me English alphabets in sign language. I became close friends with them and soon learned the sign language. They would call me to click pictures whenever they gather with their friends. I organise photoshoots with them. Now, I have become part of their friendship group. The police would call me to translate when they handle cases of deaf – mute persons, at the police station. I would talk to them and prepare reports. Sometimes, the cases would be trivial. I have even tried uniting couples who were ready to take their divorce cases to the court,” says Sanya proudly.

The dreamer
Sanya who nurtures myriad dreams is a filmmaker too. She has proved that not just forensic photography or wedding photoshoots, but filmmaking too is her forte. “It was through cinematography that I had entered filmmaking. The makers of ‘Chendumalli’ music album came to my studio and requested me to direct this beautiful song for them. After that I directed the visual narration of a poem titled ‘Athreyum’ by Rafeeq Ahamad. The makers of ‘Athreyum’ approached me after they were impressed by a video in which I had covered the famed Akkikavu temple festival. We had even showed the album to Rafeeq Ahamed sir. He was impressed by my work and said that he liked my frames and other technical details,” recalls Sanya.

No limit for dreams
Sanya vows that she has no plans to set a limit for her dreams. She wishes to go for trips on trains, bullets and on cycle. Moreover, she is determined to work hard to make her legs better. She has even prepared a bucket list of wishes that she aims to fulfil.

“We wouldn’t reach anywhere unless we love ourself a bit. We are bound to fail if we do not realise our negative and positives and live accordingly. Even if people say only negative things about us, try to stay positive and motivated. There is no need to nurture hatred for anyone. Find your strength and move forward!” Sanya advices.

Many may think that Sanya has chosen an unusual profession for a woman. But her experiences too were unusual and they have taught her to be strong and face life with more confidence. With camera in her hands, Sanya loves facing life and its bitter experiences with a sweet smile on her face. The hardships and failure do not bother her as Sanya is determined to take on life with all her might. 

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