Archive for November, 2016

Saraya Cortaville

Posted: November 2, 2016 in Interviews


Saraya Cortaville is an award winning portrait and social documentary photographer based in London. She has received two fellowships (one of only two women in the UK to have achieved this) one for studio portraiture and most recently social documentary for a project she completed in 2015 whilst living in Africa. She was awarded the Peter Grugeon award for the best fellowship portfolio of 2015, and a gold award in Visual Arts in the professional photography awards 2016. Saraya’s passion for travel and people has pushed her career into a more adventurous phase and she has recently lived and worked abroad for various international NGO’s documenting social issues in countries as far as Tanzania and Nepal. Saraya skilfully manages to draw out her subjects emotions and feelings, in a sensitive and empathetic nature, her portraits are an observation and moment of connection, between two people, rather than photographer, subject. When not abroad Saraya shoots primarily location portraiture specialising in children and documentary weddings.

Her website is

Her fan page on Facebook is

She is also on instagram


Following discussion with her would help you to understand her vision about art of photography

  1. How would you describe yourself briefly (including your equipment and editing program)?

I have been a photographer for 12 years now, I started out as an assistant in a commercial studio, and then migrated into portrait photography from there!

For many years I was a studio photographer, I loved the control of the light, but after 9 years I was starting to get a little bit bored and needed a boost to inspire and motivate me again.

Most recently I have changed my career, I now shoot all of my portraits on location in and around London. I shoot weddings and I very much enjoy shooting for various NGO’s internationally.  I love the freedom of not being tied to a studio, each day is so totally different for me, and I just love the unpredictability of this, as it keeps me constantly learning and inspired to try new things with my imagery.

I enjoy speaking about my work abroad and helping to inspire and educate aspiring photographers.

I have 2 fellowships, from the British Institute of Photographers, the first in portraiture, and the most recent in social documentary, for a collection of images I shot whilst living in Tanzania for four months in 2015. (This fellowship was awarded the best Fellowship of 2015)

I am a Fuji X photographer..

My kit is A Fuji X-T2, 16-55, f2.8 mm Lens, 50-140, f2.8 lens, 90mm, f2 prime.


  1. Describe your photographic vision in a few words.

See the beauty in people of all walks of life.


  1. Do you think a formal training in principles of art and elements of composition are as necessary for a photographer as for a painter? How did you learn this art? From books, academy or just from senior photographers?

I am not a particularly technically minded photographer, as for me the most important skill of being a portrait photographer, is the relationship, and the connection with the subject. To get the best expressions for me is key to strong, emotive portraiture.

I did do some formal training; I have a degree in Typography and graphic communication, which has been the strong foundation to my style of imagery. I see colours, shapes and compositional elements as an important aspect of my work.

In my mind all of the best photographers in the world are constantly learning and honing their style. So for me I try to develop and learn endlessly.


  1. Art has been influenced by various art movements originating from philosophy and literature. Do you find similar influences in photography as well?

For my photography, I am always inspired by the country that I am in! This can include their philosophy and culture also.


  1. What type of art movement is currently in vogue? Who are the most prominent exponents of that trend?

For me I have seen a real resurgence of street photography in recent years. It is a hard medium to succeed at, and in my mind many do not. For me one of the most successful is Jonas Rask from Denmark, I love the way he sees shapes and graphic elements in his imagery.


  1. Have you been influenced by any literary figures in shaping up your photographic vision. How and what type of influence you received from them?

Most of my photographic vision has been inspired from other imagery that I have seen. As photography is such an emotive and visual medium for me its all about the storytelling of the images that are strong.


  1. Why are you interested in portraits rather than other genres of photography?

I really like the connection that the photographer has with the subject, I love the interaction and the trust that the subject is giving the photographer, it is a real privilege to be able to do this.


  1. What is your main preference, coloured or black and white? Explain the reasons of your preference.

I think that it really depends on the specific image, when travelling I will mostly shoot colour images, especially with the countries that I have visited recently, Nepal, India and Thailand being just full of such beautiful vibrant colours it would not seem fair to represent these in black and white.


  1. From whom you have been most impressed in photography? Do you still keep learning from the work of masters or do you feel they hinder and blunt your innate personal vision?

I am always looking for inspiration, and it can come from anywhere, I love visiting exhibitions of art and photography and of all genres can add to my personal work as a photographer.


  1. Do you feel photography influences one’s personality as literature and other genres of art do? How it has changed your own personality and world view.

I think that it has made me patient, and more observant of the world around me. I tend to be able to read people and their body language very well, this is hugely useful when taking images of people of different culture, where you have to communicate non verbally a lot of the time.


  1. Can you explain your interest in culture of different civilization rather than capturing your own surroundings?

I just love visiting all different cultures, for me I just love to learn about how different people live. I find it really interesting.


  1. What is your photography routine? How much time you spend in it and how you are able to manage it with your busy professional life?

My full working week is based around Photography, I work from home, which is great, but I have to be very disciplined.


  1. What do you think are the benefits of social media in promotion of today’s artist? There is a frequent complaint that most of the celebrities are not personally present on media. Their publicity managers keep them alive on social media. How you can manage so much time on social media?

I have made some wonderful connections with other photographers on social media, and it is also a wonderful way of others having access to your work! Unfortunately is does take up a certain amount of time, but if done properly it is well worth it!

Some of my biggest and most exciting projects this year, have come from recommendations from face book or instagram.


  1. Do you think photography can help promote tolerance and human value in our lives? Do you feel you have been able to make a difference with your work?

Absolutely! Photography is a wonderful medium for this! It’s so instant! And can give people a real insight into issues that are otherwise overlooked.

When working as a photographer for the NGO’s , my work is used to promote and record the work that they do in some of the poorest areas of the world. If this helps in some small way I think that its great!


  1. What are your future plans in photography?

I plan to travel more often; I have a trip planned for the next week or so, where I will travel to the epicentre of the Nepali Earthquake. Here we hope to document how the rebuilding of the area is continuing a year after the tragic event.

This in an area of photography that I am extremely passionate about, getting the message to a wider audience will hopefully gain more support for the people in this area.

I also will be running various workshops and training days next year, and mentoring other photographers to try and achieve their own goals in photography.


  1. Lastly any other lesson/advice you would like to give to an aspiring photographer’s

Be passionate about what you are shooting.








Photography, like all creative arts represents an outlet of personal expression. The art per se is non-judgemental and a representation of a particular time. Famous street photographer Eric Kim says, ‘as a photographer, I see myself as a sociologist with a camera as my research tool to observe and record the people and world around me’

Many a time’s vision of a creative artist may be contrary to the existing social ethos. Ideas which aspire for a change in social narratives or the ones which tend to promote a global humanism as compared to a parochial view of nationalism may be viewed with scepticism. In such cases artists are under lot of pressure to conform to existing social narratives. Any deviation or open challenge may be severely censured.

The key elements of social narrative promoted in Pakistan in the last few decades are based on a puritanical concept of religion and nationalism which at times tend to touch the boundaries of   xenophobia and paranoia.

In my experience of working as a photographer with interest in portrait and cultural photography, most of the people tend to assess art not for its technical or artistic values. They just wish that it should be a vehicle to promote their religious / nationalistic sentiments.

A picture showing a Hindu woman bowing before Lord Krishna is immediately objected and declared against monotheistic principles of Islam and thus worthy of being rejected as infidel practice which has nothing to do with our culture of Pakistan. This rigid attitude tends to ignore and excludes a significant percentage of our population.

The word culture is a broad term with multiple layers of meanings. According to Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the word, ‘Culture’ is defined in

  1. The customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group
  2. The arts and other manifestations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

From these definitions it is obviously that culture is an extremely broad term. This is easily understood by an artist, but general public is not so clear on this concept. They tend to confuse religion with culture and Pakistan with Islam.

According to many people any picture which depicts life style of minorities should be excluded from, ‘culture of Pakistan.  They can’t understand that in a multi-cultural and multi-racial society like our country, life style of all these minorities are actually sub units of a bigger whole. A passion to promote a monolithic society abhors beauty of a cultural diversity

This intolerance is sometimes even extended to picture showing practices of Muslim sects with different views. This shows art and other manifestations of intellectual achievements are being seen through a tunnel vision of religious and sectarian faiths.

In its endeavour to be a social documentary, art tends be objective and non-committal.  Viewers may interpret in different ways depending upon their own set of beliefs and social mores. A picture of women in shuttle cock veils shopping in posh markets may be seen as an indicator of changing social trends where old is rubbing shoulders with the new. However, the image was interpreted as a deliberate attempt to ridicule what viewers thought was our cultural traditions.

Another picture where a woman was seen carrying a 20 Kg sack on her head while in a shuttlecock veil, became controversial. For some it was a wonderful picture showing slice of a culture depicting drudgery of life of an ordinary women and their hardships. However some others objected and labelled it as an insult of our society with potential to tarnish its softer image. They thought such pictures must not be displayed on social media as they might project us as a backward society which treats its women so harshly.

In one of my picture, an elderly bearded owner of a boutique was shown trying to cover his face to avoid the offence of being photographed while standing with mannequins wearing sleeveless low neck dress. For some it is a social satire on our confused moral and religious criteria. They view it as a serious photography where it becomes more than an art. It achieves the status of a social documentary, a record of our time and its trends.

Umair Ghani commented on this images, ‘Commerce and Art play a tug of war with Faith and provoke greater conflicts and challenges for those who consciously focus on such concerns. These trends affect everyday life and our understanding of it. Some societies have learnt to sustain that shock; others are too fragile to come to terms with this recent awareness’

However the same picture was severely criticised as an intrusion on someone’s personal space and violation of personal belief.  Yet some others critics labelled it as putting religious class under ridicule, projecting them as hypocrites. A conspiracy of so called modern social society where anything related to religion becomes a butt of jokes.

Is documentary photography a violation of privacy? Can anyone claim privacy in a public place?  Laws vary in different countries.  Photography, as always, has lot of grey areas, where ethical concerns are involved.

Is showing social hypocrisy in a photograph is a breach of social rights, esp?

The obsession with a projection of a soft progressive image of Pakistan is so overwhelming that any image of poverty or human misery is advised to be pushed under the carpet and pretend that as if it never existed at all.

Similarly naked children sitting on the trash, addicts lying on the pavements, or poor children playing in villages are thought embarrassing. However it is a reality of our lives as much as hunger and war.

Such festering social wounds can be healed only when we admit and accept their existence. A denial is nothing but a self-delusion.

Art should not be used for promotion of what state considers as national interests. Rather it should aspire to uphold higher values of humanism irrespective of caste, creed language and race. Recent unrest in Kashmir after killing of Burhan Muzaffer Wani by Indian forces should be seen in the light of human tragedy rather than for point scoring by respective governments.

A sudden popping up of huge posters of Burhan Wani is unusual and would definitely catch the attention of a documentary photographer. He would be curious to know the reason behind this promotion and attempt to shape a new cult figure as this might have implications this society.

The picture though posted without a personal comment became a cause for heart burn and resulted in outburst of anger and abuse from my followers across the border. Both sides showing indignation with complains that I was being partial

These are issues which need to be debated. In the absence of a photography magazine and lack of interest by photography groups, we lack a platform to discuss photography as an art form with an to educate and enlighten not only the public but photographers as well with an ultimate aim to develop a tolerant and humane society.