“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
- Maya Angelou
As artists, influence is a potent formula that many spend their lives trying to crack; yet, it’s those who are ultimately after a larger purpose that eventually end up attaining it. Always on the prowl as we are for meaningful photographs coming out of the country, we decided to ask some interesting contemporary Indian photographers to cast a look back at their visual journey so far, and recount the various elements and aesthetics that went into it to zero in on one photograph that was truly a game-changer in their lives.
No mean feat, certainly. There were several scandalised murmurs explaining that it’s difficult to pinpoint just that one pivotal photograph, as expected, but as the finalised images and stories began pouring in, it proved to be almost like a multi-layered time capsule – a glimpse into pivotal moments in the lives of the photographers of today, shaped by the images made by older, more seasoned ones.
[We’ve compiled a story just like this once before, and you really shouldn’t miss it. As for this story, all photographers and their images have been presented in alphabetical order, and no particular order of preference.]
I. Arjun Menon
“When I was a child, my father would read out some of the most fascinating stories from National Geographic to me. One such story which I distinctly remember is a photo series called ‘Honey Hunters of Nepal.’ I was mesmerized; it is the most self-explanatory set of images I have come across. This story was shot by French photographer Eric Valli; it was about men of the Gurung tribe of central Nepal who braved the Himalayan foothills to harvest the honey of the world’s largest species of honeybees.
I always questioned how the photographer managed to get such great angles, when the task was so difficult for the native masters themselves! He dangled off a 395-foot cliff from a nylon rope to make one of the most breathtaking nature photo essays. It won that year’s World Press Photo Award for Nature Stories. It really made me wonder how exciting and unpredictable the life of a travel photographer must be.”
[Arjun Menon is a travel and Fine arts photographer, and the Founder of Art Leaves A Mark. His body of work include ‘India: Change The Perception’ and ‘The Archive Series,’ amongst others. His personal projects have been featured on Buzzfeed, NDTV, Condé Nast Traveller, and Vogue India. He’s a TEDx speaker and is also a part of Sir Robert Swan’s International Expedition to Antarctica 2016.]
II. Asif Khan
“During my early days of shooting music shows, the idea was to create perfect images; capturing the raw energy that makes a live performance, the contorted facial expressions and the way the stage lighting added to the rockstars aura of majesty.
Around that time, I came across the Rolling Stone Magazine cover by Annie Liebovitz, featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Apart from the accompanying backstory of the image, It was the element of vulnerability, that transcended the immortality of an icon, that appealed to me.
This photograph provided recourse; it showed me that while using the same subject, what else could be achieved through the medium of photography. The image undeniably belonged to the genre of music photograph, but also went beyond what I, until that point, had identified with it.
I further explored Annie Liebovitzs’ body of work, and I came upon the series she made while touring with The Rolling Stones. It built my interest in a documentary format of shooting; in focusing on building a body of work on a subject, rather than on a simple image. I have moved a considerable distance since then, in terms of subjects and the my method of shooting, but it’s that one image of a couple in bed which led me, not singularly but serendipitously, in directions I didn’t know at that time.”
[A self-taught photographer, Asif Khan works on subjects that portray the human condition, through the themes of identity, migration and socio-cultural traditions. You can view his work on his website.]
III. Bhumika Bhatia
“There are so many artists that have influenced my work; you’ve put me in quite a situation! If I had to choose one, it would definitely be Sally Mann.
I came across her work about 4 years ago; at the time I was experimenting, trying to open up myself through my photographs. There was just something about her work that instantly attracted me, particularly this one, titled ‘The Good Father.’ The depth, the connection with her family; it’s something that makes you want to look at it all day long. It scared me how someone could photograph something so intimate and share it with the world.
Her work, being extremely dark, is something that has attracted me the most. I’ve started to photograph kids over the past couple of years; it’s very challenging, but quite intimate at the same time. The innocence and the depth in these photographs is something that no model can recreate. I’ve grown a lot over the past few years, and she’s made me realise that I’d love to have a family and photograph them one day.”
[It all started 6 years ago. Bhumika felt the need to find an outlet to translate her dreams and imagination; that’s when photography came to her. For her, it has always been about capturing delicate emotions; things than cannot be easily expressed, felt or heard. An amalgamation of vividness, romance, love, desolation, sensitivity and pain; her images are just like her dreams. And just like her dreams, she only shares what touches her. Know more about Bhumika and her work on her Facebook page and Instagram.]
IV. Gayatri Ganju
“It’s actually been hard for me to identify one photograph, narrowing it down to a body of work is easier. Rinko Kawauchi is one of my ultimate idols when it comes to photography, and her work ‘Illuminace’ cut through me like a hot knife in butter. I was having a bit of a crisis with my own practice a couple of years ago, I hadn’t picked up my camera in a few months, and I couldn’t see the point of it. That’s when I came across her work for the first time.
Rinko’s images, and this one is particular, are made up of light and feeling. I see it as being about the magic and disquiet in our everyday lives. She has this way of looking at the ordinary with an almost child-like wonder and freedom, which I find so inspiring and evocative.
I’ve had that crisis a few more times since then, but looking at Rinko’s work is always a great reminder of why I love to make pictures; because it can be joyous and simple.”
[Based in Bangalore, Gayatri Ganju is an independent photographer. You can view her work on her website and Instagram.]
V. Hersh Acharya
“This photograph has been the most influential when it comes to my work. I first came upon it at a gallery in Bombay seven years ago. Titled ‘Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare’, it was taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1932 with a Leica 35mm camera.”
Cartier-Bresson, in his writings, describes what he terms as ‘the decisive moment’ in photography. To me, this image is a physical embodiment of his theory. It is one of the first photographs I’d seen displayed at a gallery and I remember being instantly drawn to its symmetry, depth and impeccable timing, all hallmarks of Cartier-Bresson’s work that I was discovering for the first time. It led me to explore more of his work, while concurrently developing my own interest in photography.
A few years later, I was fortunate enough to view an original print at a retrospective of Cartier-Bresson’s work at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Viewing this image after years of having made images myself, not only reinforced my appreciation for it, but also that of photography as a medium of expression. For that, I will always be thankful.”
[An intellectual property lawyer by profession, photography is a personal project for Hersh Acharya. A keen observer of life, street photography is his way of satiating that curiosity. You can view his work on his website.]
VI. Kaamna Patel
“I saw this photograph at the Wolfgang Tillman exhibition at the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris. It was part of the series ‘Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast,’ and it completely shook my world—so simple, so efficient and so powerful.
The photographs appear black and white from a distance, upon closer inspection they appear to be extremely colourful. Viewers aren’t certain of what they see as the colours shifting across the images surface. The images are revealed to actually consist of intense red, green and blue colours.
So the experience of seeing it changes according on your position, colours appear and disappear—it’s analogue magic in digital photography. He gives the buyer an option. If they buy an unframed piece, they get all the data to reprint it when it’s damaged, or they can buy the framed piece and be sure that it will last. In this way, he makes the buyer actively question how they want to consume and experience the work. The photograph is no longer a document to be preserved but something to be interacted with in more than two dimensions. He questions the medium itself while commenting on the world at large—always in a coherent, almost scientific manner.. It was like an epiphany, and a turning point in the way I understood photography.”
[Kaamna Patel is a Mumbai-based photographer and is the current ambassador for Paris College of Art in India. She has spent the last five years working and travelling between Mumbai and Paris, where she attained a BFA in Photography under scholarship. Kaamna works extensively with traditional processes while experimenting with digital techniques as well. Her inspiration comes from literature, music, paintings and cinema, with themes ranging from translation and urbanisation, to identity and psychology. Check out her work at her website ]
VII. Kanika Nagpal
“Peter Beard shot in Tsavo Park between 1961 and 1977 exploring the future of African wildlife and the intimate relationship between humans and animals as they adapt to the changing environment.
He titled the project ‘The End of the Game.’ I stumbled upon ‘Elephant Caresses’ in a Google image search. Beautiful models walk majestically with elephants in the wilderness. It was so inspiring, I saved it immediately.”
[Kanika Nagpal is a Mumbai-based photographer. Her wish is to unite her interests in photography and meditation. For her, meditation has been an internal exploration, she includes the external, natural and human forms in her photographic practices. Between 2009 and 2010, while shooting for the Palazzo Grassi Museum in Venice, Italy, and the Theatre de Cornouaille in Quimper, France, she had three solo exhibitions in India and six international artists group shows in galleries in France. Her work has been published in Mumbai Mirror, Indian Express and as a cover of The Sunday Guardian. Her work can be viewed on her Website, Photo Blog and Facebook page.]
VIII. Karen Dias
“This image is from a stunning body of work called ‘Gypsies.’ Josef Koudelka travelled for six years through Romania, Hungary, France and Spain in the late ‘60s photographing gypsy communities.
I don’t remember when I saw this photograph for the first time, maybe it was three or four years ago, but I remember how it made me feel: it made me smile and wonder what that man could be saying. Was he really talking to the horse? Why was the horse bowing its head? What kind of relationship did he have with this horse?
This photograph reminds me to keep it simple. Koudelka’s way of working, traveling incessantly, living minimally and nailing every image on its head is an inspiration. Mystery is such an important and often overlooked element in life, this image has captured it perfectly. I’ve made a small print of it and tacked it to my wall. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at it.”
[When she’s not travelling, Karen Dias is a Mumbai-based photographer. Her work can be viewed on her website.]
IX. Kaveer Rai
“A friend introduced me to the work of Sally Mann and it opened up a door for me that I had never really noticed, but had been there the entire time. The photographs in her work ‘Immediate Family’ influenced me a lot. As easy as it may sound, doing a project on family is a difficult job—to find frames in a space where you’ve lived for so long, and with the people you’ve always been surrounded by.
I’m mesmerised by the soothing nature of her photographs, they teleport me to a whole new world. The dedication she has towards her art keeps me gripped to her work.”
[Kaveer Rai is a Bangalore-based photographer, who gave up a career in an event management firm and pursued photography professionally. He was one of the five global candidates selected for a master class with Stephen Alvarez in Puerto Rico, organised by National Geographic and Nokia in 2014. He shot the winning photograph for the National Geographic Cover-Shot (online edition), which was featured as the cover of Afaqs! Reporter in 2015. Having earned a degree in documentary photography from the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Bangladesh, he’s set to speak to the world through his photography. His work can be viewed on his Facebook page ]
X. Nirvair Singh Rai
“I’d like to talk about the one person who has been right next to me, each step of the way, not just while learning photography, but also about life. My father started shooting in 1993, the year I was born. Someone gifted him a camera and he has been photographing in the same 25km radius for over two decades.
Even when he’s travelled to different places within the country and others, he has managed to lay his hands on the pulse of that particular space. He’s the one person I know who has never hungered to be recognised or celebrated.
There’s a certain quietness and gentleness to his work, and also his persona, which just begs to be emulated. This is how life should be lived, and this is how it can also be seen. There is beauty, there is joy, there is also impermanence and nostalgia, but most of all, there’s the pursuit of satisfaction. He has taught me that photography is not something one does purely for a client or an external viewer, it’s what one does for oneself.
He captured this image while trekking in the Singalila National Park, Darjeeling. He was camping at Tumling and had set his tripod to capture the last light on the grand Khangchendzonga mountain, which is famously known as Kanchenjunga. He was about to release the shutter when the faint outline of the face of their guide, Shiring Sherpa, appeared in the frame. Upon request, the Sherpa stayed still for five seconds, and he got this portrait which he calls ‘The Face of Khangchendzonga.’ For my father, a picture is an anagram. When the objects in the frame and the order in which they relate to each other, resonates with him, it opens him up to receive the visual and rearrange reality in his own way.”
[Nirvair Singh Rai hails from Bathinda, Punjab, and studied photography at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has interned with World Press Photo award-winning photographer, Pablo Bartholomew, who further honed his method of seeing and capturing the world. Nature has always been an inspiration for him, and he spends a lot of time documenting the natural world.
Photographing cultures has become an intrinsic part of his work. He believes that photography is a study in visual clues and grammar.Constantly building on his impressive portfolio, he has previously shot for National Geographic Traveller, India, and Drik News Agency, Bangladesh, along with working on a commissioned project by Fabrica, an Italian publication. Check out his work on his Facebook Page.]
XI. Prerna Nainwal
“The photograph is by Alain Laboile from his series ‘La Famille.’ He photographed his growing family which became his major subject: a life on the edge of the world, where the temporality and the universality of childhood meet. I first came across this picture and his work when I was in my second year of college. I was deeply moved by the way he captured his family without manipulation.
The thought of capturing something which is very dear to you without contriving it, showing the monotony of life and his growing family in a real setting appealed to me. Although Laboile has captured everyday mundaneness in a domestic setting, he has still managed to depict an element of mystery and magic, with a strong dreamlike version of reality.”
[Prerna Nainwal started her career as a junior photojournalist at Times of India, New Delhi. For the past one year she has been working as a freelance photographer, in Mumbai. You can view her work on her Behance page]
XII. Rema Chaudhary
“It’s hard to pick only one photograph that has influenced my work, there are so many! One photographer that immediately comes to mind would be Arnold Newman, though. The photograph he took of Igor Stravinsky is one that has really stayed with me. Everything about it is so aesthetically pleasing; the tones, the humourless expression and the lines on the piano lid, it almost looks like a clef.
Gregory Heisler, one of my instructors at photography school, introduced me to his work. He’s a brilliant photographer himself, and once had the pleasure of assisting Newman.
Arnold Newman was a master of composition. Every photograph he takes shows a much deeper understanding of the person in it, even of himself as the photographer. The environment in his frames isn’t just decorative. It’s done deliberately—and it’s so precise. Everything from the expression to the positioning of his subject, even the scale of things: it all comes together so beautifully. It creates a sort of compositional tension. Oh God, it’s exciting just talking about it!”
[Rema Chaudhary is a Mumbai based fashion and food photographer. You can view her work on her website]
XIII. Sachin Pillai
“I was working as a D.A. in advertising when I came across the work of Bruno Aveillan. Its visual brilliance was riveting. I immediately looked him up and came across this image from his exhibition MNEMO#LUX.”
“I’m assuming he took this photograph while he was traveling for a Louis Vuitton ad shoot. I can’t quite gauge what it is exactly that moves me about it.
The many levels of focus, the sharp yet faded silhouettes against the haloed out of focus subject, the subtle formation of perspective with the intersecting lines: they all create a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. To put it simply—I just couldn’t stop staring at it.”
[Sachin Pillai is an independent filmmaker, who has worked on experimental films, music videos, as a director and director of photography in digital advertising. After assisting director Razy Ghai in advertising, Pillai worked as a freelance online and offline editor. He then took up various roles involved in filmmaking, and currently works as a one-man unit documentary filmmaker. You can view his work on Vimeo]
XIV. Sandeep Dhopate
“One photographer who consistently amazes me with his work is Sabastiāo Salgado. An image that haunts to this day is from a series that he shot during the 1984-85 famine in the Sahel region of East Africa. Many eminent photojournalists had covered this famine and made the world aware of its horrors. I came across this photograph many years ago when i was working in the corporate world and was far from being a photographer.
Salgado’s photograph speaks a thousand words and more. This image and many others like it, such as the infamous vulture and the little girl taken by Kevin Carter, made me aware of the inequality that exists in the world. It has greatly impacted my general outlook towards life. Although the image was shot in 1983, there is no dearth of such hard hitting truths even today.”
[Sandeep Dhopate is a professional photographer who works on fashion, lifestyle and other commercial projects. In his free time he enjoys travelling and experiencing the diverse beauty of the world. He wants his work to highlight the uniqueness of individuals in a world full of differences. You can view his work on his website ]
XV. Sharmistha Dutta
“I can say with surety, that the work of photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, on the child brides of Afghanistan has really shocked me, and of course, influenced me to a large extent. She was on assignment in Herat, in 2002, when she discovered a disturbing fact. Many of the women and girls in the burn unit, where she was photographing, had been forced into marriages as children. She was appalled and took on the issue of child marriage as a long-term project.”
We all hear of incidents of child marriage, but hardly ever witness the gore details. I was in a state of shock when I first saw Stephanie’s work. The kind of brutality and abuse these girls must have gone through; that’s driven them to immolate themselves, go through so much pain and even take their own lives. These images from the burn unit will always stay with me.
Well, I thought about it, and what I’ve realised is that It’s not about a single photograph, it never is; it’s about the subject which impacts you the most. For me, it was the utter violence she’s captured in her images that’s really disturbed me. “
[Sharmistha Dutta is an independent photographer, based out of Delhi NCR. Her journey as a photographer started at a time when India was going through massive social upheavel, with a sudden spurt of cases, especially in the national capital, of violence against women. She started to approach the status of women in the country in a critical manner, and began her first photo-project, called ‘Durga,’ on gender bias, as she documented the life of widows in the country. When she isn’t documenting social issues, she loves taking portraits, photographing landscapes and old architecture. You can check out her work on her Facebook page.]
XVI. Shreya Dev Dube
“I first came across this image when a photographer left his copy of ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ by Nan Goldin in the dark room. The way she had documented the lives of her friends and lover was so fascinating. I fell in love with the way she used colours. The more I sank into her work, the more I realised that it’s not purely about having a great eye. Living my life in a way which gives me opportunities to be surrounded by interesting people and stories is just as important.
As an artist, I must put myself in situations that I am not entirely comfortable with in order to find a great photograph. Over time, I have found that this thought has become a part of who I am. Now I constantly hunt for experiences that will make a good story.”
[Shreya Dev Dube works as an independent filmmaker/photographer in Mumbai and London. Her work can be viewed at shreyadevdube.com.]
XVII. Sumer Verma
“I was mesmerised. I had never seen a picture like this before. It was taken by David Doubilet and it captured the magic and beauty of this realm—and drove my hunger to take underwater photographs. Split shots are like capturing two worlds in one image. I love it, I think it’s absolutely beautiful. I won an award in 2014 for a photograph I had taken that was greatly inspired by this photograph.
David Doubilet and his work has always stood out to me in particular. This was my initial inspiration and gave me a glimpse into the kind of photographs that I could and wanted to take.
At that time, I looked at these images in such awe. Now with experience and the correct gear, it’s within my grasp. I now have the skills to capture such images, if I’m in the right location. I still think they are spectacular though and they were a major starting point for me.”
[Sumer Verma is one of the most experienced underwater photographers in India. He began his career in the crystal waters of the Lakshadweep Islands, and for nearly two decades has made it his muse. His work has been internationally recognized and won him several awards. He is a passionate marine conservationist, and in all his works supports Reef Watch: an Indian NGO working on the protection and sustainable use of the oceans resources. His work can be seen on his website ]
Compiled by Diva Garg and Sara Hussain
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