Student photographer featured in art gallery showcasing Indian culture and religion

Mechanical Engineering student Sharan Sathya, prepares to take photos of children visiting the Hindu Society of Central Florida. It was part of a partnership with the Asian Cultural Association.

UCF senior mechanical engineering student Sharan Sathya was careful to avoid capturing the heavily decorated deity statues adorning the walls of the Hindu Society of Central Florida on his camera, despite their eye-catching nature.

Photographing deities is unwelcome in Hindu Temples due to the belief that doing so would capture a small amount of their power. This is something Sathya, a student photographer, said he remained mindful of as he planned out the pictures he would be taking of school children visiting the temple on a Thursday morning.

The children were arriving as part of a trip sponsored by the Asian Cultural Association, a local nonprofit organization in Longwood, Florida, whose mission is to preserve the ancient performing arts in Asia.

Sathya, 21, who volunteered to photograph events for ACA in the past, was asked to embark on a year-long photography project that focused on capturing themes such as religion and culture at events within the Indian community in Florida. On April 19, ACA featured his work in an art gallery in downtown Orlando.

Sathya said his interest in photography began in high school where he started capturing photos for his school’s yearbook. It was an experience he was able to extend when he came to UCF in 2015. Later, he joined the Indian Student Association. His role as historian of the club required him to regularly take photos at the organization’s events, he said.

“Besides the fact that I’m studying mechanical engineering, I love photography, so it’s definitely a passion I’ve been able to turn into a business,” Sathya said.

Despite coming from an Indian household and growing up feeling rooted in his culture, Sathya described his project with ACA as a learning experience that helped him gain more insight into his background.

“It allowed me to understand not only what my parents taught me about my culture and background, but what else goes on within India as a whole and connects back to me,” Sathya said. "It honestly felt like I was discovering a part of myself I didn’t know existed or fully understood.”

Sanjana Pratti, president of ISA during Sathya’s time with the organization, said he played an integral role in the club as he continued the responsibilities of historian even after he was promoted to vice president.

The two also held the shared the responsibility of being the core representatives for the club.

“He was the one responsible to go to the Senate meetings and try to persuade them to give us the SGA funding for all of our events,” Pratti said. "He was actually the only one who knew that entire process, so he took on that responsibility."

Sathya said he is grateful for the opportunities ISA provided him, such as building up contacts within the Indian community — something that became useful when he began his photography business Legacy Shots in December 2018.

The company's name is derived from a mission to achieve one-of-a-kind photographs that leave an impression, Sathya said.

“To capture something that nobody else has ever captured before and to leave a legacy where no one else has," he said. "That’s why I called it Legacy Shots."

While beginning his business, Sathya said he was enrolled in five courses and entering his senior year, in addition to photographing events every weekend. He said he has since learned the value of allotting more time for himself with a hectic schedule.

“I don’t mind taking it a bit slow, as long as I can keep my mental state calm," Sathya said. "I don’t want to lose a lot more sleep because last semester it was atrocious. The lack of sleep I had I nearly passed out.”

Sathya said he is proud of his business's financial start. Unlike most business, Legacy Shots did not lose money in its first year.

“I have already set up the foundation for what I can do this year, so it’s definitely a good start,” Sathya said.

Legacy Shots’ biggest event to date was an Indian dance event attended by about 3,000 people, Sathya said. However, he said he doesn’t feel intimidated by the scale of large events and enjoys meeting new people on the job.

“I feel comfortable enough to be able to say it doesn't matter the size of the crowd," Sathya said. "I can still take it on and say, 'how do we move forward?'”

It was the experience of capturing large scale events that challenged Sathya when he started his project with ACA, he said. The project differed from how he typically photographs as it was focused on capturing intimate candid moments versus the more staged photos he typically took for past projects.

“We had to capture culture and religion," Sathya said. "When we had to sit there and get that certain vantage point, we had to get wide-angle shots, close-ups, people right in the spur of the moment."

Priyanka Chandra, who acted as marketing director for ISA prior to graduating 2017, said she has been able to see the growth in Sathya’s work over the years. Chandra had the opportunity to once again work with Sathya this year for ACA's gallery where she was also a featured photographer.

“I think he kind of realized he can’t take a picture of everything so he gets the best of what he can get, and because he’s doing that he’s actually putting out real memories,” Chandra said.

Like many other seniors approaching graduation, Sathya said he has many options he wishes to explore in his post-graduation life such as working in mechanical engineering and attending grad school. However, one certainty he said he has is the persistence to continue photography.

“My parents always said, 'if you’re going to do something in your life, do something you love and you're never gonna work a day in your life,'" Sathya said.

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