Posted 22 September 2022
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Mathushaa Sagthidas

Photographer Mathushaa Sagthidas on documenting the intricacies of South Asian identity

Inspired by identity, authenticity and representation, photographer Mathushaa Sagthidas seeks to capture the intricacies of South Asian culture with her lens. Initially developing her creative career at photography and illustration agency Studio PI, she made the leap into freelance work, where she was encouraged by creative communities she was part of to submit her work to open calls, leading to increased exposure for her photography. Mathushaa talks to us about the effects of being at uni during the pandemic, learning on the job and her ongoing project, Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian.

Mathushaa Sagthidas

Mathushaa Sagthidas

Job Title

Freelance Photographer and Photography Assistant



Selected Clients

Amazon, Deezer, Bloomsbury, Glass Magazine, gal-dem, Campaign Live, It's Nice That, The British Library, Graduate Fashion Week, Tate, PhotoFusion, BBH London, Lake Gallery, Camberwell Space Gallery, Rankin x Maryland Studio

Previous Employment

Creative Assistant, Studio PI (2021)

Place of Study

BA Photography, Camberwell College of Arts (2018-2021)


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m a fashion photographer with interests in creative direction, styling and fine art, which I picked up from my time studying these skills and my experience on shoots. Sometimes, it can be a lot to think about while trying to make sure I’m happy with the photos, but I feel like I work best this way. I’m quite involved in the process – it gives me an opportunity to expand on my creativity, using the things I’ve learned in the past three to four years.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
The key inspiration for my work are identity, authenticity and representation. This is important to me because of my parents’ upbringing and experiences during the Sri Lankan civil war, which took place from 1983 to 2009.

The history of the war, along with their personal suffering and experience, has led me to learn more about and embrace my ethnic culture, traditions and heritage.

“The key inspiration for my work are identity, authenticity and representation. I’ve learned to embrace my Tamil culture, traditions and heritage.”

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Shots from Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian (2022)

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What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
I would have to say my most recent project, Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian. After leaving my first creative 9-5 job at the end of last year, I managed to win some funding for this project that I’ve been wanting to create since my second year of uni. The funding came through at the perfect time – when I started freelancing – because I felt like I finally had the time to be creative.

I’ve been working on the project since January, with some really incredible South Asian creative women from across the UK (being funded meant that I was able to work and connect with women outside of London too). That’s the best part, because I really got to dive into their experiences with their identity in creating this piece of work and getting to know them.

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Having gone through the education system and having completed a degree in photography, I would say what you really need is time and money, and that is what I feel like university provided me with. Despite this, there are so many other ways to go about it, like working part-time and collaborating with other creatives.

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Shots from Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian (2022)

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What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now?
A bunch of fake marigold garlands – they’re quite pretty and have been really important for some recent and exciting projects.

If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
I saw a meme once about saying yes to too many projects and I know that’s a very “me” thing to do. I'll have a moment where I’ve got so many projects going on and I’ll feel a bit overwhelmed. In my head I'll think, “I’ll complete these projects first before saying yes to a new one”, but I still say yes if someone comes to me with an exciting idea or something that I really love! Having notebooks and a schedule really helps me to manage it all.

How I got here

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
It’s a toss up between studying during the pandemic and the first two months of freelancing. Studying and working during the pandemic was no fun for anyone but I was so used to travelling and working with models. Going from that, to then only creating stills in my room felt really limiting. However, I did gain a new skill and appreciation for still life work.

When I made the leap into freelancing it was terrifying, because having been in the industry before, with regular pay, [stability] was one of my key concerns. It can still be scary, but speaking to other freelancers, who’ve been doing it for years, made me see that the fear doesn’t completely stop and is actually normal to have. I’ve come to realise that work will always come through at some point.

“The fear about freelancing doesn't completely stop and it’s normal to have. But I’ve realised that work will always come through at some point.”

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I would have say South Asian platforms such as Juice Magazine and [digital community] Pardesi. These platforms have really supported my career and have also given me the opportunity to meet more and more South Asian creatives, some of whom I worked when I was first starting out.

There are also people in the industry who I’ve worked with or that have mentored me. There are a fair few who gave me some really open and honest advice about the industry and the best path for me to take to ensure growth. I remember that at my first creative job, when I told my managers my interests and what I wanted to do in the long run, they were some of the first people to tell me I’m in the wrong place and that I needed to go freelance and do assisting work. This is advice I never got while studying.

Of course the last person would have to be my mum, cliché as it may sound. She really pulled through and helped me out with my pandemic projects at university, especially my final major project, which led me to graduate with a first.

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Shots from Not Just Brown, Not Just Indian (2022)

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How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
It’s 100% important. I’ve had some clients screenshot my Instagram to show me what type of work they want me to create. Increasingly it’s helped me get my work out there, but Instagram is my tool to meet more creatives, especially for projects that are South Asian-focused.

I know an account can be overwhelming to maintain, but what helps me is planning out content in advance and setting alarms to remind me to post so I don’t need to constantly think about it. Also I mainly use social media for work so, for me, it helps to not feel so overwhelmed and pressured.

How did you go about landing your first clients and commissions?
Networking and putting myself forward for open calls for certain exhibitions. I have and still network with some really amazing platforms, especially those centred on POC creatives, such as Pocc, Fashion Minority Alliance and Working Class Creatives Database. Some of these teams have put me forward for amazing projects. In regards to open calls and exhibitions, I never overthink them; I just always submit my work and try my best, you can never regret trying.

“In regards to open calls, never overthink. I just submit my work and try my best; you can never regret trying.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Since going freelance, the commercial and assisting work I have done has definitely been the thing sustaining me. Along with budgeting, it’s given me the time and space to work on more creative and personal projects. Having a schedule and diary really helps plan out both aspects of my life, as well as making sure I have a social life. I would feel really overwhelmed if I was constantly just working.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
When I was contemplating between freelancing and trying to find another 9-5 job, I was advised by some members from the FMA [Fashion Minority Alliance]: “If you go for photography and don‘t put your all in it whilst you’re in this position, you may regret it.”

I’ve also had some people tell me that now is really the best time to freelance and explore as I've so recently graduated and feel like I still have much to learn about the industry. Freelancing gives me the chances to be immersed in different aspects of a shoot – from production, photography to art and set assisting.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Email the photographers that you love and have a connection with. Introduce yourself, say what you do and what you love about their work, as well as maybe going in with a CV. I’ve come to learn that people really want to help you because they’ve been in the position you’re in: feeling like you’re struggling to get your foot into the door.

Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Mathushaa Sagthidas