Founders | Women Series | Karthika Gupta

Women series is a monthly edit to explore creative entrepreneurship amongst women globally. Through this series, we wish to understand creative journeys, challenges, inspirations and develop a community. This month we interviewed Karthika Gupta of CulturallyOurs, a cultural podcast based out of Chicago, USA.

karthika gupta
I definitely think technology has had a huge effect on photography and publishing.

Tell me about how your creative journey started. Did you have creative influences growing up?  What education/ training did you receive?

My creative journey started much later in life. I come from a very creative family my mother was an artist and loved to paint and draw with oils and my sister is very creative with quilting, knitting, and crochet and a whole of other things. Growing up I always felt that the creative genes skipped me somehow. I loved climbing trees and playing games rather than do anything that forced me to sit still and concentrate. After the initial few years, I found a love for education and focused a lot on my grades. I took a very traditional route and went to school for an undergraduate and graduate degree in Computer Science.

After a double masters, I joined Corporate America where I worked for almost 15 years. Like many things in life, circumstances played their hand and I found myself draw to a camera. When I started photographing for myself and my clients, I realised that I had finally become my mother’s daughter. A lot of time spent self-learning all the technical aspects of photography strengthened my craft and I finally quit my full-time job and took up photography as my new profession.Now 8 years in, I specialise in family portraits and weddings, teach photography to others via articles and workshops and also do a lot of editorial, culture and travel photography.

What has been the source of inspiration for you( people, travel,  places, cultures etc)? How has your cross cultural identity influenced what you do now?

As cliché as it sounds, my source of constant inspiration is my family. I see the world so much more differently as I watch my kids go about their lives – both in the States and in India, where we travel often. There is a level of innocence in how they interact with people, places and culture. The aspect of being curious for the sake of learning and understanding is something that I always strive to do as well. I used to think travel photography was all about beautiful places and dramatic landscapes. But overtime I have realised that a lot of what makes travel, and life for that matter, special are the people we meet, interact and build relationships with. 

In my first few years of being an immigrant in America, cultural identity and cultural association were very hard. I did not quite know where I belonged. As I built my life outside of my home and home country, the lines slowly started to blend. I realised that where I am from, where I grew up as as much a part of my life as where I live now and where I work/play. And with this realisation came a renewed sense of appreciation and respect for both sides of my cultural identify.

Can you also talk about your experience of working in the field of photography and publishing. Do you think a digital medium is more accessible to express yourself than print? 

I definitely think technology has had a huge effect on photography and publishing. As a technology professional I understand that everything digital is perceived as easy, a more efficient use of resources and makes things more accessible. But I am also quite old school in some sense. There is a certain old world charm in holding a book, flipping the pages and getting lost in the words and images of a physical magazine. The accessibility of digital media also makes it rushed, chaotic and saturated. Yes, it is easy to express ourselves with a limit of 156 characters or 500 words for SEO but the whole swipe left/right mindset makes the experience very fleeting. Where as seeing an article in a print magazine for the first time, reading the words and getting lost in that experience while holding that magazine in your hand is something else all together.

How did CuturallyOurs happen? How do you think it is different from other digital publications?  Could you comment about 'being a creative soul' and does travel facilitate your ideas?

CulturallyOurs was really derived a lot from my own life experiences and life’s path. Much of my life has been a beautiful mix 

of technology and creativity. Having lived and worked in many parts of the world, I always found myself surrounded by amazing friends and co-workers who brought so much rich cultural diversity into my life. I was very much aware of how important culture and diversity are in life and in business, no matter where you are. It was always there in the background and something that I just took for granted. 

Today we live in a time where we are constantly connected by way of social media and 24×7 news. Yet more and more people have admitted to feeling isolated, misunderstood and alone. Even in a crowd, we often feel like we don’t know anyone or worse yet, belong. Emotive heartfelt conversations get lost in a sea of texts, emails and swipes. 

CulturallyOurs is my solution to change that narrative. It is a space to share stories and get connected to people from different parts of the world to explore cultural diversity without prejudice, religious bias or a political agenda. When we are given an opportunity to share our story and offer our unique perspective, we feel welcome, included and heard. While diversity and inclusion can mean different things to different people across different languages, the importance of belonging is universal. The more we understand each other, the more we appreciate one another. Appreciation and understanding brings empathy and acceptance.

My goal is to showcase the beautiful and the diverse world we live in by way of conversations, narratives, visuals and hands-on experiences. 

I truly believe that we are all creative in our own way. Creatively isn’t just defined by physical works of art or things that we create with our hands. Creativity can be via thoughts, ideas and even conversations. And one of the easiest way to explore your creativity is to travel - and travel to experience something outside your comfort zone even if you are just exploring your own city. Try that new restaurant and order something completely atypical from your norm, explore that museum you have only heard of or even enter that new boutique and have a conversation with the owner. All these are such simple and easy way to explore and grow our creative mindset. Creativity leads to curiosity and being curious about the world around us is such a beautiful way to live a full life.

 Could you comment on the current landscape of independent publications and how they can keep the content relevant with easy access to publish. 

Independent publications are so uniquely positioned to really make an impact on mainstream media and make it better. Focusing on the real stories – not just the ones that are cool - makes sure that such stories and narratives are heard and appreciated. While I will be the first to acknowledge that the road for indie publications is not easy but in terms of keeping content relevant, I think the key is to explore that what is true and real with the intention of honest narratives and not to win a popularity contest. 

Your favourite place in India? How do you stay connected to India in the States? 

This is a hard one to answer. I am from the south so I am in love with my southern roots and places in the south have so much history and cultural significance for me. But I am also a mountains girl so anytime I get a chance to escape on a camping or trekking trip in the Himalayas, I am so there! 

For me staying connected to India while living in the States isn’t about Indian food or wearing Indian clothes or even watching Hindi movies! I cannot wear a sari to save my life and often walk away within the first 15-20 minutes of a Hindi movie! And on top of that, I am a terrible (and I am not joking) cook. For me being Indian is more internal and deep rooted. It is hard to explain but it is something that comes from within. It about the memories I have of the places I have lived - climbing trees at my grandparents home with all my cousins, the people who have come into my life – my good friends, my husband, his family, my childhood stories that my mom told me and that which I now share with my kids. I don’t have to come to India to reconnect with my roots, I can do that where ever I am just with my memories and my life experiences.

I truly believe that we are all creative in our own way. Creatively isn’t just defined by physical works of art or things that we create with our hands.