By Daniela Degrassi
Can you imagine anything more romantic than a destination wedding? It definitely feels like a dream while we’re all confined in our homes during lockdown. But if you are actively planning your 2021 or 2022 wedding, combining a well deserved vacation and your nuptial celebration may not be a bad idea, right? We can leave you in the expert hands of today’s feature wedding photographer: from Italy to Paris, London to Dubai (just to name a few locations in his curriculum), he travels anywhere you desire to capture your unforgettable memories and even offsets his flying carbon footprint planting trees! A true vegan and environmentalist, it was a pleasure to interview International Photographer Chandan Sojitra.
Chandan, how did your passion for photography started?
I bought my first camera in 2010; it started as a hobby; I’m self-taught. Friends and family started asking me to take photos of small events and celebrations such as birthday and anniversary parties. After getting a bit of practice, I got into documenting weddings. The more weddings I shot, the more I discovered the power of images to tell a story, but even better, I realized how happy, special and magical those images could make people feel. I always wanted to bring joy to the couples I work with, and through photography, I was finally finding my voice. That’s what I want to share with couples through my photographs – a little bit of happiness, a little bit of magic.
What made you turn vegan and how did it change your business?
I turned vegan on 1st September 2015; I have this date as a tattoo on my wrist: it’s of a giant barcode-like cage, with various animals escaping from it to symbolize that animals are not a commodity. Underneath it, I have the date I went vegan and the Sanskrit word “Ahimsa” – which is an ancient Indian principle of nonviolence which applies to all living beings. The tattoo is a reminder to myself of the time I broke free from being socially conditioned.
The concept of Veganism was on my mind for a while after I saw a few videos about the animal agriculture industry – you never know what happens behind closed doors and what we pay for until the truth is shown to us. I’m glad I saw it, a few months later I decided to go vegan and embark my new lifestyle towards a life with minimal cruelty to the animals and the environment.
I believe that animal derivatives are unnecessarily used in various products that we purchase. I learned that sometimes, glue in wedding albums are not vegan and that photo paper can also contain animal derivatives. This is typical when using Silver Halide photographic prints which use gelatine to hold silver halide crystals in an emulsion. After researching with various album suppliers across the world, I found a few that use vegan-friendly paper, inks and glue for binding. I stopped offering leather covers and now only provide albums in canvas or linen, wood, or printed covers.
You have a very environmentalist approach to your business. Tell us more about the organizations you donate to.
For every wedding booked, I donate £50 to either an Animal Sanctuary or an animal rescue group. I don’t have a particular charity where all donations go to; instead, I look at which Sanctuary I feel would benefit the most at the time of donation. For example, when Tower Hill Stables almost ran out of funding and was on the brink of closure, I decided to donate to them at the time. In addition to this, I plant 12 trees for every album ordered via an organization called “One Tree Planted”. I’ve recently introduced the same for destination weddings where I take a flight – I offset my carbon footprint using a carbon emissions calculator that tells you how many trees you need to plant-based on your journey.
How was your business impacted by Covid-19?
Like most suppliers in the wedding industry, I am at a standstill and have been since March. All weddings that were due to take place this year are rescheduled for 2021. With all the restrictions in place and people worrying about safety, there’s not a lot we can do for work at the moment. I do think every cloud has a silver lining though – and 2021 is going to busy for many! I’ve been using this period to work on my marketing and making myself more visible to potential bride & grooms who are looking for a visual storyteller for their big day. I think that there could be a possibility of smaller weddings being allowed to take place at the end of the year with restrictions, I’d be prepared to shoot this with a face mask and gloves on. As far as social distancing goes, I think this could be viable with smaller weddings with less than 50 guests; photographers can use a zoom lens to get the framing they need while maintaining at least 2 meters distance.
You split your life between London and Dubai. We know London is such a vegan-friendly city, how’s the vegan scene in Dubai?
That’s correct – I spend most of the year in Dubai but the summers in London. I also travel back to the U.K for weddings here and there out of summer. If you asked me this question almost three years ago when I was on Honeymoon, I’d say that the vegan scene in Dubai was a nightmare! However, I’m surprised at how quickly the vegan movement has grown here! Most chain restaurants now offer a vegan menu or mark which items are vegan. In addition to this, there are now several vegan restaurants, including one which boasts to have the biggest vegan menu in the world! I’m impressed with what’s available in the supermarkets and hypermarkets here too; the plant-based milk section is HUGE!
Aside from this, I get to witness the growth in Veganism since I run a Facebook group called “Vegans in Dubai”. I use this group to educate and support “vegan curious” people who want to make the switch. It’s also a virtual space for the vegan community to share things they spot in supermarkets here such as new vegan cheeses, chocolates or meal plan providers etc.
What’s your favorite vegan meal?
Vegan comfort food! Burgers, Pizza, Mac n cheese, Jackfruit or seitan wings, chilli tofu – the list goes on. I’m a HUGE foodie, and I can’t pick just one dish! I love experimenting in the kitchen too and have recently started an Instagram account (@Vnoglife) where I’ll be sharing vegan recipes for others to try.
An incurable enthusiast and independent spirit since she could remember (her childhood heroines were Pippi Longstockings and Katharine Hepburn) Daniela Degrassi found her creative outlet as a lifestyle photographer, working mainly in Northern California. Currently splitting her time between SF Bay Area and her native Italy to continue to be her autistic sister’s primary caregiver. Vegan since 2014, she found a perfect way to carry her message of compassion while celebrating her love for the wedding industry launching The Kind Bride in February 2018.