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Anthropology

Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri ’01

Photographer, Digital Artist, Director, and TV Docu-series Star and Co-Producer

I am an award-winning photographer, digital artist, director, and the star and co-producer of my own TV docu-series following my artistic adventures, Double Exposure, on the U.S. Bravo network and airing around the world. I’m the author of a forthcoming book published by Harper One, called Image Craft, a guide to creating your own image that represents the real you, defining yourself to become what you want to be. I’m also the co-founder and director of fundraising for a charitable educational foundation in my homeland of India, SEEschool.org.

As a freshman at Princeton, I found it confusing to try to choose between my varied interests to decide what to be. I grew up in India and became a model at 14 to travel the world, studying photography and Eastern philosophy. After exploring India photographically, I wanted to return to my roots intellectually, and chose Princeton as it taught Sanskrit. Upon arrival I realized Sanskrit had been discontinued, and there was no program in South Asian studies. So I spearheaded a student movement to create a Program in South Asian Studies at Princeton, though it was not instituted until a few years after I graduated, and I helped reinstate the study of Sanskrit for three years. But I convinced myself that I should prioritize fields that were more “serious” and “important” for my future career, whatever that might be, and forced myself to take classes that I had the least interest in, to make myself grow as much as possible.

However, I supported myself and my school in India by working with my photography and digital art in New York City, commuting to college. With my dual workload, I found that the classes I took as medicine for my future left me exhausted, while those I was most passionate about fueled my life and energized me so much that I could handle all challenges with ease. My academic adviser encouraged me to focus on what inspired me. As there was no photography or South Asian major, I chose anthropology, which provided an excellent theoretical basis to study my various interests and continues to inform me and my art in ways that I could not have then imagined. 

Laying a foundation

Looking back now, it is the classes that I loved that I learned the most from, and that helped me achieve the career I truly wanted but was afraid to pursue, fearing the needs of my future career. A film class inspired me so much that, 10 years later, I still go back to my old notes for inspiration as a director. A humanities sequence gave me a crucial foundation to start to comprehend the powerful interrelationships among politics, economics, religion, and art. Classes in Eastern philosophy inspired my thesis and continue to help me achieve balance in my life. And studies in cultural anthropology led me to investigate deeply the subtle codes of meaning imbedded in our cultural choices, which continue to inform my research and my art. By the time I was a junior, my career was blossoming in photography, I was shooting David Bowie and Beyoncé between classes, and I graduated with high honors, studying what I loved, which 10 years later, keeps growing in importance to me.

My advice is, focus on the present; the only thing you can know about your future is that it will not be what you expect. Study everything that interests you, however disparate, and trust that if you’re passionate enough about them, you’ll find ways to combine these areas through your life, to forge your own unique path.

Pal-Chaudhuri-Indrani