Story by: Lisa Marie Corso
Photographer: Amelia Stanwix

Anu wears: Midnight Patch Jacket (shop) + Chin Up Buttercup Pant (shop) + Salina Boot (shop)

Anu Kumar

Anu Kumar preserves history from behind her camera lens. Born in India but relocating to Melbourne with her family when she was eight months, Anu discovered photography when she returned to India for a six month trip in her early twenties. She was at a loss and feeling the pressure of what to do with her life and booked the trip to better understand and form a connection with her cultural roots. She packed her bags and a camera that she’d barely ever used.

On the trip Anu felt compelled to document how her family lived in India and their everyday nuances. Anu’s photos were guided by intuition and emotion, she was interested in people and how they connect to one another and her shots showed that. Through this trip she discovered photography is what she wanted to pursue professionally and while abroad decided to apply for a photography course at RMIT, sending her travel photos as part of her application. Not surprisingly, she was accepted into the course, then graduated and now freelances as a documentary photography where people are her subject.

We recently stopped by Anu’s Clifton Hill home ahead of her most recent trip to India to chat about her indirect pathway into photography, her connection to her family and how hard work led this young photographer to India on assignment for The New York Times.

Anu wears the Midnight Patch Jacket (shop)

Hi Anu! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you were doing before you landed in photography?

I’m a documentary photographer but my pathway to it wasn’t straight lined. I was born in India and moved here with my family when I was eight months. My mum’s a doctor and my dad’s an engineer, and we’re a very academic family. Growing up I thought I was going to be a doctor but realised I didn’t have the discipline to be one, so after school I studied occupational therapy. I was kind of floating along and was okay with that, until I completely failed my studies, and that’s when something ignited in me – I was like, I should actually take the time to find out what it is I want to do to. So, I packed my bags and travelled to Nepal and India for six months.

So was it on this trip that you had an ‘a-ha moment’ that led you to photography?

Yes! I took a camera my parents had given me as a birthday present a few years before and started taking all of these photos on my travels. I quickly realised this is what I wanted to and should be doing. I decided to apply for a photography course at RMIT and sent some photos from my trip as part of my application. To my surprise I was accepted and arrived home from overseas just as the semester was about to start.

How would you describe the photography work you do now?

It’s interesting to see how my work has evolved in the last few years. I recently looked back at my earlier photos from my trips to India and compared them to more recent shots, and there’s a noticeable difference. Even friends I’ve shown have seen a shift, and one said the newer shots look like they were taken by an insider and that’s honestly the best compliment I could get. As a documentary photographer, my shots should look like I’m in the moment and part of the scene, I don’t want to look like I’m a voyeur.

How do you split your practice between creative work and commercial work and the idea of work for money but also work that keeps you creatively fulfilled?

I get hired a lot for my fine art style of documentary photography and I’m working hard to get to the point where all of my commercial and creative work will be shot in this style. Commercially, I also get hired a lot to take portraits of artists and creatives, which I love because there’s still that documentary element to this style of work.

How do you make someone feel comfortable when taking their photo?

I make sure I don’t launch into taking the photo straight away. I just sit with someone for a bit, have a chat and get to know them. I think it’s important that we both feel at ease and comfortable with each other before the shoot officially starts.

Most of your fine art photography is shot on location in India. How have you personally connected to this place through your work?

I felt more inspired in India and for me photography was this kind of tool to understand India better and understand me and my relationship with India.

Anu wears: Pansy Silk Pant (shop) + Pansy Silk Top (shop) + Medusa Heel(shop)

You’re currently in India for a few weeks working on a personal photography project – can you tell us what it’s about?

I’ll be shooting work for my photo book, it’s about my family’s house in India and all the people who still live in the house. It’s located about two hours away from Delhi and my grandmother, aunties, uncles and cousins still live there. I’ve been working on the project for a few years and I’m excited to see how it will evolve on this trip as it’s become an intimate portrait of my family’s life.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to pursue a similar career to you or something to pass on you wish you knew from the beginning?

One, have people you respect look at your work. Two, you don’t have to study photography but studying photography for me was super important because it just gave me access to that world. I made so many friends in my course and get so much work from knowing my colleagues and some of the teachers, who have helped me get published in all of the magazines I had on my wish list.

One of your clients is The New York Times – how did this collaboration come about?

I have no idea how it came about but I’m glad it did. I just got an email from them and was freaked out and like “Whaaat?! How did they find me?” They had pitched an assignment for me to shoot in India and I replied saying I didn’t actually live in India but if they had budget to fly me over I would love to shoot for them. They were like 100% yes and the rest is history. It was amazing. I shot fashion designer Caroline Weller in her Jaipur home and this job led to another with The New York Times earlier this year when I photographed Bill Henson at his home.

And did they fly you to him too?!

No, he lives locally!

Serious question, best snack for a 3pm pick up?


The best TV show you recently binged?

I just watched Fleabag’s second season for the millionth time.

What’s a daily ritual you could not live without essential to your creative practice?

I always have a morning moment outside in the backyard.

How would you describe your personal style and how does this reflect who you are?

Me and my friends are always talking about developing a personal style and have been on this pursuit for years! It’s something that’s constantly developing but I feel I’m definitely closer to it than I was a few years ago. I’d describe the way I dress as feminine for sure and when I’m buying clothes I look for things that make me feel sexy and comfortable.

How would you describe Gorman to a friend?

Colourful, bold and expressive.

Anu wears: Midnight Patch Jacket (shop) + Chin Up Buttercup Pant (shop) + Salina Boot (shop)

Instagram: @kumar_anu