Through my years as a photographer, I’ve learnt a lot from various people. Some of them are photographers I know personally, some are artists, some are just random discussions with friends and some of them are just photographers on the internet. My explanation of photography and interpretation has changed over the years, with every shoot.
There have been highs and lows, the fun of photo walks have translated into solo journeys with my camera and I’m still learning.
One of the photographers who inspired me was Brandon Stanton of the Humans of New York fame. I’d been shooting random strangers and getting pieces of their story, but Humans of New York put a name to the project. It became more focussed and I met many more interesting people and stories.
But ever since I got the HONY Coffee Table Book, I’ve begun to feel that this is not enough. A portrait on a street, where they are looking straight into the camera… that isn’t really what I want to say. I’m not sure what I want to say through the photograph but this is not just it. There’ve been periods when I was hunting for faces for my city’s project when I felt… a little tied up. Perhaps I became too focused on what HONY was about and followed the same path, down to a T, instead of defining it my own way.
I rejected photographs from Humans of India because they were too random… just photographs of street children, laughing. They looked pretty but when you stripped them of the captions, they were just similar images of laughing children. I looked to Humans of Mumbai and that too seemed insufficient. That was more an anthology of Mumbai, and not a very strong one at that. I’ve seen better, untitled projects that captured the spirits of Mumbai better.
So what remains? What is it that drives me a photographer to tell a story? Strangely, I was not able to find the answer to that. Perhaps it is the commercialization of what I do… all the pitching, and marketing and mailing… but the answer seems to have faded.
I wanted to tell stories of people. But the photograph needs to speak for itself, and should not require captions. It should be defining features, should be poignant or funny or whatever. But should not require a caption. At least, it should be able to create a story by itself, awaken imaginations.
I find the work of David Terrazas suddenly compelling. I find Danny St Photography’s project of #100Strangers compelling. The focus is on the face, the eyes. The entire story is told in that little space.
Yet, it isn’t enough. Should I add props, do a studio shoot? I would love to convince people to give me ten minutes, loosen up and portray them as they are… but that is not always a possibility in this fast city. Besides, the world is changing and people are always suspicious of those random weirdos who walk up to you with a camera and say “I want to take your photograph”.
So what is the alternative?
There are fabulous stories, if we only had the time to break the ice and get people talking.
My favorite photograph remains of Diana… I ran into her in a mall in Australia. She sat down next to me to rest her feet, enclosed in those high high heels and began chatting. She was a busker… posed as Marilyn Monroe every evening on the main street.She told me stories of the people she met, and said she was a singer too. She dreamed of going to Paris someday, where she could eat good food and sing. And she posed for me, Marilyn Monroe-style, despite her aching feet.
Her pose, her dress… it evokes the question – who is she? You make your own story about her, or you read about her.
If I were to shoot her today, I’d probably do it a little differently. I’d probably frame it better, be more visual and capture little details about her separately.
But what do we do in this fast, fast world?