Early-morning work shift demanded Kopal Goyal, 27, wake up at odd hours back in the day. Yet, there was always something to look forward to, as the route weaved through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, allowing her to soak in the sights and sounds through the car window.
Though without a camera at that point, she was already framing images in her head and through her phone camera. It was around this time she realized her love for narrating a story through the viewfinder. But she had no plans of making a career in photography.
After finishing her schooling from Ballia and Ranchi, Goyal had moved to Delhi to get a degree in mass communication from a private institute. During her second year, she joined a media house as a trainee, which soon translated into her first full-time job. “By then, I had worked on a documentary... but I only edited it. As a result, I was handed the role of a content editor," Goyal says. Around the same time, she started following photo stories put out by an international media company to learn the art of storytelling.
After her first stint with a borrowed camera, she wanted to explore her options within the organization. “I showed them some photos I had taken in the streets but what they offered me was to shoot Bollywood stars. It just wasn’t in me to chase them all day," Goyal says.
She quit her job to explore other options. While considering a career in banking, she came across the story of Edurne Pasaban, a Spanish mountaineer who was the first woman to climb all the fourteen 8,000m mountains in the world. She was in awe of this new-found world of ice and snow, and the sheer strength of women like Pasaban. It prompted her to pursue a basic mountaineering course from the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports in Pahalgam. But when she tried to learn more about climbing, she found the internet plastered with photos and videos of only foreign climbers. “It was only when I looked up social media that I found a few videos of an Indian climber. When I wrote to him, he told me about a competition in Delhi, so I made my way there."
By then, Goyal was armed with a Canon 7D, and at the event, she started shooting the climbers. A week later, she was at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation campus in Delhi to hone her climbing skills.
“I met a lot of talented climbers, but no one really knew them. So I started collecting their footage, without knowing what exactly it would lead to. I realized that if I got better at rock climbing, it could help me with filming to a great extent."
Soon, Goyal wanted to become a full-time athlete, with photography as a side business. One such climbing project took her to Badami, where the team was to attempt a climbing route called Ganesha, considered the hardest in India. But when two of the teammates left, it was down to Goyal to not only belay her climbing partner but also document his climb over two weeks. It was the first time the camera took precedence over climbing. Once home, she edited the film, titled Ganesha 8b+, and after releasing it in May 2016, realized that she had made the entire film on her own and had really enjoyed the process.
At a climbing workshop, she arrived at the idea of her second film, Project Wild Women. “I thought of finding women who were chasing extreme and alternate sports and against all odds, just like me, and promoting them through Inspire Crew (her platform)," Goyal says. Goyal’s Inspire Crew is a platform to promote female athletes who are into extreme and adventure sports. They raise money to help athletes, organize events to promote a sport and make films to raise awareness. The odds were stacked up against her though. Her savings from work had dried up and she now signed up as a yoga instructor to keep herself going. “I decided to put all my worries aside and set out looking for these female athletes, who would be featured in Project Wild Women," Goyal says.
It took two years of relentless pursuit for Goyal to pull off her second film. There were moments that were frustrating, but she took it all in her stride. And her efforts bore fruit when Ganesha won the Best Climbing Film and Project Wild Women the People’s Choice award at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation’s Mountain Film Festival in February last year.
There were times she considered going back to a full-time job, but then wondered how she would explain her work over the last few years. “I think Ganesha helped me figure out that I was on the right track. After it, I decided that I never want to work a job," she says.
Goyal wants to empower women by continuing to make women-centric films and support these athletes to give them an identity. “When you think of a downhill biker, you assume him to be a male. I want to break this stereotype." Career Detour features people who quit their 9-to-5 job and made adventure sports their profession.
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