Posted 01 July 2021
Interview by Lyla Johnston

Community photographer Hark1karan on why you shouldn’t chase likes

Self-titled and self-taught photographer Hark1karan knows the value of community. Aiming to give back through his art, his Sikh faith and Punjabi upbringings have long influenced his work across reportage, portrait and fashion photography. As well as working for magazines like THIIIRD, last year, Hark1karan also self-published photobook, PIND: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab. With a desire to “create the book [he] was looking for”, it has since gone on to sell out – a success he attributes to being organised, realistic and patient. Here, Hark1karan talks about finding growth in failure; why it can be a good idea to take things slow; and shares his advice for anyone looking to self-publish their work.



Job Title

Community Photographer



Selected Clients

THIIIRD Magazine, Immigrant Museum


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I am a community photographer. I tell stories about communities that I am part of and those around me. And as an independent photographer, I create work for the sole purpose of narrative and documentation. As a result, I get asked to collaborate on an array for projects ranging from fashion shoots to cultural exhibitions.

An example of this would be when I was asked to document the Sikh community in Copenhagen. I spent a weekend taking photographs at the local Sikh Gurdwara for an exhibition by SikhArchive for the Immigrant Museum. On the other end of the spectrum, I showcased three fashion shoots in THIIIRD Magazine, all with Punjabi models in collaboration with a stylist. I get approached a lot by music artists for press shots. As you can see, community photography is rather broad and fluid.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I’ve always found movements inspirational. I am part of London’s DIY culture of doing things yourself. London has a rich history of birthing new cultural influences to the world. I believe I am just another person who is caught up in this energy.

Another influence I would say is my culture and faith. Punjabi Sikhs have a rich culture of speaking up and creating art for the last 500 years. This, and giving back to the community, is definitely something that influenced my decision to become a community photographer.

Day Out With The Girls, 2020

Can you tell us more about your book, PIND: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab?
The book is a moment in history, documenting rural Punjab – on the India side. It’s an important story to connect generations and diaspora across the globe.

I felt like I had no option but to self-publish the book. I assessed how much effort it would take to pitch an idea, and I thought I might as well put that energy into publishing it myself. I wanted to create the book I was looking for. I knew that this book didn’t exist, therefore it would be unique and also something that people will want to see. By this point I was also somewhat confident in my photography skills.

“If you remain organised, realistic and patient, you’ll be able to achieve your goals.”

After looking into the process of printing, costs, distribution and marketing, I felt I would be able to take this on, on my own. I saved up for a year and a half to pay for the book. Now a year on after releasing the book, I have sold out, selling over 600 copies through my own site.

For anyone looking to do the same, I would say ask yourself the following: Do you have a unique story? Do you have an audience? Can you meet the costs? Do you have a marketing plan? Can you distribute worldwide? If you remain organised, realistic and patient, you’ll be able to achieve your goals.

PIND: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab, 2016-2018
PIND: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab, 2016-2018
PIND: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab, 2016-2018

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Communication and being organised are the most important skills when it comes to executing creative ideas. When you work in the community, you will communicate with pretty much all personalities and peoples. You need to be mindful, respectful and honest. You shouldn’t assume anything when working with others or when you release your work.

Be clear with your intentions, practices and ideas. After that make sure you’re organised. All this allows for everyone you work with to feel comfortable and you to concentrate on your work. It’s important to nurture these relationships and you never know what something will blossom into.

PIND: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab, 2016-2018

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
As an independent and self-taught creative, the journey is longer and full of early failings, which prepares you for the creative world. You have to put in the hours; networking, reaching out and the dog work to earn people’s trust. For me, it took around three to four years of consistent work and experimenting. Your ideas will develop the more you work on them. And also you make your own luck...

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your career, what would they be and why?
Instagram has allowed me to develop an audience to tell my stories, directly communicate with people who enjoy my work and also sell my photobook. It’s a creative tool to show off your portfolio of work.

Secondly, meeting and working with so many different people is a humbling experience. This element is crucial to me, especially as a community photographer. It has allowed me to understand the people I photograph on a more personal level. In turn, I am able to capture and share something far more meaningful.

Thirdly, you need a handful of people who can provide you with critical and honest feedback. Simple questions and statements can really make you think critically about what you are doing. The smallest comments can make the biggest differences.

“I’ve learned to slow it down and trust in the process. Don’t cut corners. Complete one thing at a time.”

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
When you have a vision, the hard part is executing it all yourself and taking on too much. At first you have all these great ideas, but it can quickly become overwhelming, especially when so many people are involved.

I’ve learned to slow it down and trust in the process. Don’t cut corners. Complete one thing at a time. The ideas only get bigger as you further into your career, but you never forget the challenges on the way.

Day Out With the Girls: Cimmie, 2020
Sukh Sohal: Karam, Parmjeet, Gurpreet, Brinda, 2019
Taraki Campaign: Parmjeet and Mum, 2021
Saijal Reahal: Sukh Sohal, 2019

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
As I started from the bottom, social media and my website have been great tools. I have been able to create an audience, share content and sell my book.

I would say never chase the likes. Make sure your work online translates to something meaningful offline. I used Instagram and Twitter to sell my book, however I only shared the images when I was close to selling out, as I valued the book over likes. If I had based doing the book on likes, I would’ve never made it. Creative output can be taken in many different ways and social media is only one way.

“Never chase the likes. Make sure your work online translates to something meaningful offline.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?

Having a spreadsheet with all the numbers has been super-helpful. When you come to sell your work or services, you need to think with a business brain. Good business allows you to continue working and growing as an artist. It’s as important as networking. I’ve been honest with myself throughout the process on how to value myself. Certain milestones allow you to access your value. For example, selling out a self-published book or working with certain clients.

Also my nine-to-five has allowed me to pursue photography. I am in a period where both add value to my life in many ways. It can be hard to find a balance, but I make it work.

London Farmers Protest, 2020

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
You need to fail in order to grow. Everything always balances it out in the end. The mistakes and failures will be constant. Just make sure you never lose the lesson. Also be kind and fair to people along your journey.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Work on your craft. You don’t need to know everything, but enough to start working on your goals and visions. You’ll learn as you go along and naturally want to learn as you grow.

If you’re looking to work with communities and groups of people, be honest and respectful. Ask yourself about the impact you are having on people by taking their photos and potentially putting them out in the world. What will this look like and what difference will this make to the world? Constantly check yourself on your ethics and morals when taking photographs. The photograph isn’t always the most important thing.

Mention Hark1karan
Interview by Lyla Johnston