To a photographer’s eye, India is a country of color, rituals, tradition, and culture. Mostly I shoot in Kolkata as it is my hometown. Kolkata has been called the “City of Joy, Creative Energy,” which isn’t hard to understand once you see how much there is to look at – color and light, movement, character, and history – there are almost too many photographic options! So where is one to start?
I first started in 2011 and was initially attracted to shooting wildlife. No, I’m not talking about big game wildlife, but there are few urban areas that have as much wildlife as Kolkata and other cities in India: dogs, cats, cows, horses, and my favorite, birds. Birds are small animals, certainly smaller than people, but through the viewfinder it’s as if I can only see their eyes. As it turns out, learning to see expression and light in the little eyes of birds helped me later as I began taking more and more photographs of people. I now consider myself primarily a street shooter, but wildlife has a way of sneaking back into the frame. Old habits die hard!
Like most street photographers, I admire Henry Cartier-Bresson and try to capture the decisive moment whenever I can. I also greatly admire Raghu Rai, magnum photographer whose work has helped me bridge the creative space between Europe and Asia. In his work – and hopefully a little in mine – you can see the daily swirl of people and things as you move along the banks of the Hooghly River, through the Mullick Ghat Flower Market, and to the religious festivals in Kolkata and Puri directly on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. Ironically, although there are so many photographic opportunities in this part of the world, I don’t believe that it is possible to capture a good photograph every time I go on a shoot. I don’t leave home with a preconceived notion about what I’m looking for. Sure, I have an idea of where I’m going, but I don’t know where it will take me or the specific shots I’m looking for. I prefer to step onto the street feeling relaxed, and let the world come to me. Doing this helps me explore the environment with my mind open to the unique situations flowering all around me, and every now and then I get off a shot of something no one has seen before. I want my lens to see more than various “objects” reflecting light back to it. I want it to see the underlying moods and emotions that make a certain place and moment unique in the passage of time.
In the digital age we live in, time is the most precious thing of all to a photographer. For me, every moment in photography – and life – is so valuable. Except for a relaxing diversion here and there, when I’m on a shoot I try to remain intently aware of what is going on around me so I won’t miss a good shot. Even the right moment consists of a thousand smaller moments, so staying focused improves my chances of capturing the best of them all. Of course, taking hundreds of photos on each shoot helps. I often reject about 99% percent of what I’ve shot, but as I said before, sometimes I reject all 100%! Before I hit “delete” though, I generally review each photo to see what I can learn from it, and determine how I can do better on my next shoot. Practice makes perfect, or at least as close to perfect as we imperfect humans can ever get. Not to be hard on myself, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes you just get lucky. I won’t tell if you don’t!
I originally started shooting street with a bulky DSLR, but I knew right away that it had some serious drawbacks. My style relies on my subjects staying relaxed, which is hard to do when there’s a massive DSLR staring you in the face. People tended to become stiff and behave unnaturally. No matter how hard I tried to stay relaxed, they would either begin to pose or to try to avoid being photographed altogether. In either case, the mood and charm of the moment is lost. Knowing I had to downsize, I initially switched to my first mirrorless, but I didn’t like the ergonomics and feel. I don’t like having to rely on deep menus, so when I picked up my first Fujifilm X camera, the dials and overall handling of the camera felt just right, and Fuji has been by my side ever since. I’m presently shooting both an X-T2 and X-E2 with two of Fujifilm’s great prime lenses: the 14mm f2.8 and the new 23mm f2. When it rains in India – and it rains in India! – it’s great to be able to bring out the weather-resistant X-T2 and 23mm and shoot away without worrying about my kit. I particularly find the Acros and Velvia film modes useful, and to state the obvious, the IQ has never let me down. The fast autofocus is a cherry on the cake for street shooters like me. There’s so much to be done between finding and framing the shots that not having to worry about nailing the focus is a great relief. Once the decisive moment has passed, it has passed. Sometimes I return to the place where I previously missed a shot, but seldom have I found it the second time around.
Maybe it’s my upbringing, or the photographers I admire most, but respecting my subjects is paramount. Some of my most inspiring shoots have been of the many religious festivals held in India, and as you may imagine, propriety is essential. I dress inconspicuously and carry a small kit, but I shoot short lenses, so at some point people may know they’re being photographed. If someone really doesn’t want to have their photograph taken, I don’t take it. Fortunately though, I’m a friendly person who smiles a lot and most people don’t seem to mind that they’re being photographed. It also doesn’t hurt that I photograph in India, a country so vibrant and full of activity that perhaps I just blend into the woodwork. Street photography should be fun – certainly it is for me – so why not for the photographic subjects, too? If I can pull that off, there isn’t much more I could ask for.