As founder of Kara Foundation and author of the book pictureforapicture, Gautam Kulkarni talks about how his love for photography led him to philanthropy.
Gautam Kulkarni was born in Mumbai, raised in Dubai and graduated with a BSc (Hons) in the UK. He started his Chartered Cost Consultancy at a young age of 23 and built it in to a multi-million dollar business by the age of 35.
How did you go from being an entrepreneur to a photographer?
When I started my company, work was exciting and although I worked very long hours, I was ambitious and happy about watching my company grow. However, after a certain point in my life, money and the luxuries it bought did not excite me and the thought of spending my entire life working to earn more seemed meaningless. This was a difficult and confusing time for and I contemplated several times to just quit and walk away from it all.
I told my family I needed a break and went on a three-month backpacking trip through China. That helped clear my mind a bit, but I dreaded getting back to work. Just a short while later, I went to Dharmsala to see the Dalai Lama and told my wife that I might just stay there and become a monk or go live in the mountains by myself.
Then one day, out of the blue I decided to go to Allahabad to the Kumbh mela, the largest gathering of mankind. Whenever I took photos of the people who had come there, they would want to see how it turned out and for the first time I felt a bit selfish that all my images would return home with me as many of people I photographed had no access to email or social media. I felt a sense of taking these photographs, without giving anything back in return.
That’s when the idea of carrying a small portable printer came to me. When I photographed one child and gave him his print, he would usually run around and show it to all his friends and before long I found myself surrounded by several children. The commotion usually attracted the adults who also wanted their photo prints and soon I found myself running out of cartridges to print photos.
The setting up of the printer, connecting and then printing afforded me more time to get to know the people I was photographing. The experience of photography for me had changed from whether or not my photograph was composed perfectly or had the perfect lighting or not, to actually enjoying the whole experience from the conversation during and after taking the photograph, to the pleasure of seeing their happiness when they received a print of their photo. I started “pictureforapicture” as a means of giving something back to the people I photographed.
Tell us about your book Pictureforapicture
Photography is a medium that has helped me connect with people irrespective of age, race or language. It gave me an opportunity to meet some remarkable people from the furthest corners of India, tribes in Africa, nomads in Iran, reindeer herders in Siberia and more.
These people, no matter how poor, have shown me extraordinary hospitality, inviting me into their lives and their homes, offering me shelter, food and friendship. They showed me that giving needn’t mean sharing just resources, but also emotion and kindness.
Wanting to further share this transformative experience, I collected some of my favorite images and published them in my book “pictureforapicture”. I hope my book inspires other photographers to give back, and in so doing, enrich their own lives and art.
The success and fulfillment of this adventure led my wife and I to found our charity – the Kara Foundation (#kara_foundation), which thus far has funded several education and healthcare projects in India and Nepal.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I still run my company, but that work feels infused now with new purpose and energy; a means to expand the reach and impact of the Kara Foundation.
Life for me now is more fully realized. It is centered around experience and connections with people, not possessions and wealth, and I feel at last that sense of peace that had long eluded me.
My wife is a mental health coach and the two of us plan to travel around the world to find our connection with nature and the rest of our human family.
Picureforapicture is available on Amazon and Kindle and is published by Notion Press. Gautam’s Instagram handle is #hobograph and his social media is managed by Groundwork.