Through her Lens: Modern Storytelling With Tradition at Heart

Gabriela Bhaskar

In an interview with Indian-Nicaraguan American photojournalist Gabriela Bhaskar, she shared her current project, merging her formal Western training in the arts with Eastern perspectives rooted in magical realism and oral histories.

“My interest in storytelling was inspired by my grandparents [since] most Indian dances are based on Hindu mythology. I grew up sitting in the car and listening to all these fantastic myths and then telling these stories with my body…[it] is another way photojournalism, in particular, has really resonated with me. I am totally enraptured by storytelling,” shared Bhaskar. 

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Bhaskar’s grandmother, Santha Bhaskar, was a classical Indian dance pioneer who co-founded the Bhaskar’s Arts Academy in Singapore with her husband, KP Bhaskar. Known for her innovative approach to incorporating traditional Indian dance into modern performances, her grandmother inspired generations of dancers and choreographers. One of her most famous works was Butterfly Lovers — a cross-cultural collaboration that integrated traditional Chinese and Indian dance forms and costumes with Tamil lyrics. Through this and other productions, she showcased the beauty and versatility of Indian dance and the multiculturalism of Singapore.


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A post shared by Gabbie Bhaskar (@dontgabalot)

Bhaskar was born in Wisconsin and raised between Singapore and a small rural town in Northern California. She picked up the camera at a young age and instantly fell in love with photographing the world around her. She continued to refine her skills in high school, but also started to recognize how critical it was to apply her passion towards media and journalism. It was after 9/11 that this realization first came to light, after being threatened by kids at school for being brown .

“I remember being glued to the radio and realizing that [media] might be a way for people to synthesize information and understand a little more about the world”, recalled Bhaskar. 

Years later, Bhaskar was living in Indonesia with her husband who was working on a project about mental health there. His work piqued her own interest, given how taboo the topic is in Eastern cultures, and she began researching and capturing stories of human rights violations against people with severe mental illnesses in the country.

“I was photographing that story and realized I don’t really have the training to be able to navigate the ethical questions that are coming up,” shared Bhaskar. “What is consent when somebody has severe psychosis and has been abandoned in a place forever…what is my responsibility to them?” 

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This insight led Bhaskar to go back to grad school to the Columbia School of Journalism. After graduating, Bhaskar was selected as a fellow for The New York Times where she focused on social justice, policy, and women’s issues. She worked on features including the impact of the pandemic on a New York City teen, the women’s Afghan soccer team, and an abortion clinic in Florida. Her most memorable feature while at the Times was the story of Celestine Chaney, one of the victims from the massacre at Tops Supermarket, in Buffalo last summer. Her work on this project coincided with the loss of her own grandmother and crystallized the ethos of her practice.

“One of the things I think about is, who are we serving? I’m serving the public and I’m serving the people that I’m documenting. I don’t necessarily focus my work on powerful people, but the results of policy that powerful people make.”


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A post shared by Gabbie Bhaskar (@dontgabalot)

Bhaskar’s journey from dance to photography to journalism has found a way back to the beginning in her search for her own version of storytelling. She has been diving into the world of Indian art, how it is created and represented. Bhaskar is currently working on a book focused on the South Asian community and the role that dance plays in girlhood, across gender, caste, and religion. Just as her grandmother had once done with her work in classical dancing, Gabriela Bhaskar is poised to create a legacy that blends the traditions of India through a modern lens.

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By Anar Joshi

Anar Joshi is a product and marketing leader with experience across fintech, CPG, retail, and social impact. At Tala, she … Read more ›