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Pro-Photography Star at 66, Chennai Man Shows It’s Never Too Late to Live Your Dream

A Chennai-based bank employee for the major part of his career, Sukumar today has covered all major sports events, including FIFA and the Olympics.

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Passion knows no age and bears no prejudice, and 66-year-old Seshadri Sukumar’s story is a testament to that.

While he was a bank employee for the major part of his career, he continued to nurse his passion for photography. Close to his retirement, he decided to take a leap of faith and follow his dreams of becoming a professional sports photographer.

Today, he is at the forefront covering every precious moment at the Olympics, including India’s iconic gold win. In the last 35 years, he has travelled across the world photographing sporting events, including multiple Olympic games, the FIFA World Cup (2010 & 14), the Asian Games in Qatar (2006) and Guangzhou (2010), the ICC Cricket World Cup, all the editions of the T20 World Cup tournaments, the Indian Premier League, and tennis tournaments, among others.

Celebrating his brilliance, his nephew recently made an emotional social media post that has since gone viral with reach to almost a million people.

Seshadri’s life and work have been a source of inspiration for many. Speaking to The Better India, he shares his heartwarming story.

Falling in love

Seshadri was born in Thanjavur, but his parents moved to Chennai shortly after his birth. His father, a printing press manager, always emphasised on the importance of a good education and saw to it that his son secures a stable job. So, after graduating with a BCom degree, Seshadri, like many at the time, applied for a job at a national bank.

“In those days, the process of appointment would take a long time, sometimes years. So I applied for the job in 1976 and got the appointment confirmation and letter in 1978. During the two years in between, I decided to learn new skills like typewriting, book-keeping, photography, and more. But I fell in love with photography. After the job was confirmed, I moved on to make my posting as a chief cashier at the bank in Manampatti near Mahabalipuram. After 10 months, I was transferred to Chennai, and in 1979, my employers recognised my talent in photography and made me their official photographer,” he says, adding that he continued to manage his dual roles for the next 21 years. In 1984, he began working as a freelance sports photographer as well.

“I was very passionate about photography, but getting a brand new camera was too expensive at the time. I remember asking one chief photojournalist to sell me an old camera. He quoted a price of Rs 1,200. But this was too expensive for me to afford, so just to avoid the situation, I asked him to bring the price down to Rs 600, thinking that I’d quoted an impossible bargain. To my surprise, he agreed. That’s when my journey of taking photography more seriously started. In a way, he pushed me to make a career in the field,” he says.

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After retirement in 2001, he began taking up international assignments, covering a plethora of iconic sports moments.

Recalling such memorable moments, he said, “Sports is all about emotion and its expression. Be it victory or loss, as sports photographers, it is our duty to capture the most precious moments. One such incident was during the 2016 Rio Olympics when Helen Maroulis made history by defeating 13-time champion, Saori Yoshida, Japanese freestyle wrestler. It was a historic moment for the USA but a crushing loss for Japan, especially Yoshida. My photo captured the raw emotion of loss on her face.” This photograph later won Seshadri a gold medal from the Photographic Society of America.

For his relentless contribution to the field, the Chennai-based photographer was also awarded the prestigious Rotary Award in 2012. In addition to several other accolades, one of the most memorable moments for Seshadri was when ace cricketer Sachin Tendulkar chose one of his clicks to adorn the book cover of his autobiography, ‘Playing It My Way’, published in 2014.

“I was shocked and speechless for a moment when I got a call from a London-based publishing house asking to use my photograph in Sachin Tendulkar’s book. Out of thousands of clicks, he had chosen mine, and that was such a big honour. When they started to talk about remuneration, I was taken aback because it was not about the money, but about the recognition. I am deeply humbled by it,” Seshadri says.

His passion for his craft and sports has inspired him to push all boundaries and do better everyday. From waiting in a single position for over 4 hours to capture a single shot of Usain Bolt to clicking the biggest national and international sports celebrities, he has done it all. “Next, I want to publish a photo book on synchronised swimming as a sport. And I feel like I’m just getting started!”

Photo Courtesy: Seshadri Sukumar

Edited by Divya Sethu

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