“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.
[This piece is part an ongoing series, read Volume I and Volume II, 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. Anai Bharucha
“I first came across this image by Tim Walker while working on a university essay-project about 4 years ago. It made me think of a collage at first glance rather than a strong portrait, however, the longer I looked at it, the more I started to read into it. At the time, I was a huge fan of Tim Walker’s work, I still am but now I respect it rather than obsess over it. He has a flare for set design, over-sized props and creating his own enchanted world--things that I dreamed of doing in my projects at the time. This is probably sober in comparison, which is probably why I invested into it so much more. I love reading into images and discovering something about the photographer and not just the photograph. With photography becoming digitalised, today we may click a thousand images as photographers but at the end of the day, we sit down and select the ones that really speak to us--there’s a reason why they do that.
Today I can easily say this is one of my favourite images of the artist because it isn’t as elaborate as his other works. My own work is gradually taking a turn from the surreal to being more realistic. The days of fantasy and fairy tale are slowly fading away in fashion, people want to know what a real model looks like. Now, bringing out the personality of a subject within a photograph is what is becoming most essential to me. I wait for the moments the model is most unaware about the camera. Everything posed feels unnatural.”
[Anai Bharucha is a fashion photographer who studied and worked in London for 3 years before returning home to Mumbai. Working with both mediums--digital and film--her work tells stories and narrates subtle emotions, and you can view it on her website.]
II. Arvind Hoon
“This picture of Tenzing Norgay was made by Sir Edmund Hillary at 11:30 AM on May 29, 1953, on the summit of Mount Everest. This is the only picture of summit at the moment of the first ascent of Mount Everest. We have no picture of Hillary, it’s possible Tenzing could not operate a camera or simply that Hillary was apprehensive about handing over his precious camera to his climbing partner. While this photograph works at various levels--documentary, archival, emotional and much more--to me it was all about that particular historical moment.
This picture transported me to the top of the world, it was the beginning of my fascination with photography. It showed me that a photograph could take you anywhere, even to the Moon, and beyond. It evidenced what a camera and photography was capable of. Can you imagine a world without photographs? In the age of cell phone cameras and the selfie, enough said.”
[Arvind Hoon is a freelance photographer based out of Delhi NCR, who picked up his camera professionally very late in life. His travels across Kashmir resulted in his first photo book, Unsettled Waters, which was published in 2015. His work has also been featured in the Indian Quarterly, Better Interiors, Inside Outside, Home Review, CW Interiors and Elle Decors. He was one of the Indian artists featured at the Venice Biennale 2013 as a part of the Luciano Benetton Collection. Click here to check out his work published on his website.]
III. Ashish Gurbani
“David LaChapelle, with his free expression of imagination completely unadulterated, is one of the photographers who definitely inspires me. I can’t select one image but this one from his series ‘Exposure of Luxury’ is among my favourites from his large body of work. His work often references art history and at times even conveys social messages. I came across his work back when I was studying photography. At first, I was a bit taken aback, it took me a while to understand his style and interpretation of fashion.
Over the years, as I pursued fashion photography I gained a better understanding of his photography. He has a certain attitude and style, which sets him apart from any other fashion artist of today. His style made me realise how fashion is a way of living and not just about anything that can be prescribed.”
[Being born in Liberia and brought up in different cities like Kanchipuram, Mumbai and ultimately Pune, life for fashion and advertising photographer Ashish Gurbani’s was injected with cultural diversity. Apart from indulging in crazy adventures and experiments, Ashish has a background in not just Photography, but Mass Media, Advertising and Journalism as well and has worked with renowned photographers like Vikram Bawa, Manjari Sharma and Brian Pineda. You can view his body of work on his website.]
IV. Hashim Badani
“An image that stays with me is Alex Webb’s photograph of a man on board a ferry at dusk near Prince Islands, published in 2001 as part of his book ‘Istanbul.’ Webb is known for his layered frames and the multiple stories contained within each of them. The shadows in his images reveal as many plots as the light--though, this image is different from those, it’s of a quieter moment.
The author Orhan Pamuk describes Istanbul as having an air of ‘huzun.’ A Turkish words with Arabic roots, huzun has no English equivalent but a loose translation of it would be ‘a collective state of melancholy (not as extreme though).’ When you look at this image you feel Webb’s huzun, you feel the huzun of the man in the image and the melancholy that accompanies the coming of dusk. It’s Pamuk’s description and Webb’s translation that’s stuck with me, and I carry it everywhere I go.”
[Hashim Badani is a Mumbai-based documentary photographer, and a consultant photographer at Lonely Planet Magazine India. You can follow and view his work on Instagram.]
V. Karan Khosla
“This image by Henri Cartier-Bresson changed my life. I first saw it in the summer of 2013 at the International Centre of Photography, New York. This was the first time that I viewed photography as a form of art, as a form of expression that transcends time. Whenever I see this photograph it affects me the same way it did the first time around, it never fails to inspire me.
He founded Magnum Photo and his images of Paris in the 1930s changed the world of photography. Cartier-Bresson said, ‘To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.’ His words have held true, it has been a way of life for me ever since.”
[A photographer based in Mumbai, Karan Khosla currently works with us at Homegrown. He enjoys shooting sub-cultures and photo-narratives that are slightly left-of-centre. Karan attended the International Centre of Photography in New York during the summer of 2013, and subsequently was a part of Magnum’s first workshop in India conducted by Raghu Rai. His work has been featured on Unmapped, 101India and Homegrown, check out more of his work on his Instagram page.]
VI. Madhumita Nandi
“Over the years, photojournalist Alex Webb’s work has inspired me to see the reality in different layers. All his images have a lot happening but there is always symphony in all the chaos. I like the dynamism of his images--it makes me examine each and every detail first, then the whole image, and read it like a book. Distinctions between photojournalism, documentary and art blur when you look at his richly layered and complex compositions.
I got introduced to his work through this particular image shot in the Caribbean country Grenada in 1979. He had travelled to Grenada to document the fledgling days of the island’s revolution.This image stuck with me due to its rawness and intensity, colours, light and emotions. Every time I saw this image I felt like I am right there, having a conversation with them. It is always a beautiful process to build a relationship with your subject which can transcend to the viewer as well.
No matter how many times I see it, there’s always something more to see or feel in his images. His work has influenced me not to bind myself only in conscious thoughts but to explore and discover unexpected things and relationships when you are out there.”
[From the first time she held a camera, photography has driven Madhumita through life-changing, uncomfortable and glorious experiences. She continues this journey through an advertising profession and has worked with a range of brands like Wildcraft, Tanishq, Titan, and many more. Madhumita is also a part of the Untold Collective that explores and documents untold stories across India. Currently based out of Bangalore she works as a photographer for 22feet Tribal worldwide and Untold Collective. You can follow her on Twitter and view her work on Instagram.]
VII. Parizad D
“This portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono was shot by Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Rolling Stone. What I love about this picture is how it perfectly captures their relationship; I keep going back to it and it baffles me how something so simplistic can be so strong.
It’s also extremely iconic because it was the last picture of Lennon ever taken, he was assassinated a few hours after. For me it’s just one of those photographs that stays with you because it’s like a moment in time has been eternalised in this one picture.”
[An obsession with all things feline, and an abundance of tea make Parizad D the strange little person that she is. Based out of Mumbai, she enjoys shooting fashion, music and portraiture, view her work on her official website, Instagram and follow her on Twitter.”
VIII. Shaaz Jung
“I had stumbled upon Nick Brandt’s portfolio in my early days as a photographer and what drew my attention to his work were the haunting and underlying messages behind every one of his photographs. One particular picture that stood out for me was of an abandoned Ostrich egg on a dry lakebed in Amboseli. Brandt asked the question of what it could possibly mean, the same question I had asked myself when I first lay eyes on it. Was this an image of hope? Did the egg represent life and a new beginning in a turbulent world or did the lone abandoned egg represent the end? There was no definitive answer and that was what lured me into its depths. To me the empty and dry lakebed full of cracks symbolized a dying world. The monochrome effect used by Brandt further emphasized this as the colorless yet powerful sky added to the drama.The egg was the perfect subject to symbolize both life and death and Brandt’s fabulous play of shadows and light had me caught between two worlds.
Brandt taught me the importance of using photography as a tool for not just showcasing wildlife and nature’s beauty, but also to pass potentially powerful messages to the viewer and hopefully evoke a sense of emotion, which might spur him or her into contributing towards whatever the cause may be. As a diehard wildlife lover and conservationist I began to do just this and use my photography as a way of creating awareness and also as a tool for conservation. I spent a lot of time, just like Brandt did, on post processing and using the play of light to my advantage in order to make the scene more telling and dramatic.”
[Shaaz is a renowned naturalist and big-cat tracker who left the corporate life, having earned a degree from the Utrecht School of Economic, to follow his passion of establishing ecotourism as an integral tool for conservation. A wildlife lover, he runs camps on the fringes of the Nagarhole forest and in East Africa, and spent years studying game movement in South India. Shaaz spends most of his time photographing wildlife and has been featured in National Geographic, Sanctuary Asia, Conservation India and number of other publications. You can view his growing body of work on his website and Facebook.]
IX. Shuchi Kapoor
“I am a person of the past, and a lot of my present is shaped on my inability to move on. Travel may have taught me to leave things behind, and my memory fails me on most occasion, but the photograph remains - to remind you of a feeling you may tend to forget with time. A feeling so dear, you had wanted to hold on to it forever. I found some perspective and balance with the sex workers of India, and a personal project titled ‘Jhalli’ (meaning silly girl in Punjabi) started taking shape. And then comes along Nan Goldin with her raw honesty and her unmatched poetic realism when she says, ‘I used to think I would never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost.’ I just laughed at myself.
As I waded through Nan’s most significant work, the ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependency,’ which my memory fails me how I chanced upon, I realised, it didn’t represent my life, but it represented a feeling - a feeling of deep loss, abandonment, insecurity, insignificance and survival. I cannot say there is only one particular image that impacted me the most, but this need to document most parts of one’s life became a way of dealing with the self that changed the course of how I would allow myself to heal. Photography helped me move on, not from the past, but from where I was. Ironically it also taught me how to preserve--myself more than the memory. The Ballad, as Elyssa Goodman perfectly describes ‘was a reminder of what it looks like to dig up your inner life and offer up the contents to an unsuspecting public in an unflinching way.’ I realized I’d never made myself as vulnerable as Nan, and I understood why. It comes from a fear of reliving every single moment associated with an image, having physical evidence of once being happy with another human — and then being reminded of the rift in my chest when they were gone. ‘I am not as brave as you, Nan,’ I thought to myself, but maybe one day I will be.
Maybe photographs are like ex-lovers or people who you’ve lost along the way - you stash them away. You treasure the moments. You learn from them - one photograph after another.”
[Fondly known as the ‘Girl in the Galli,’ Shuchi Kapoor is an documentary photojournalist, whose work mainly focuses on humanitarian and social issues spanning across regions, cultures and mindsets in her country. Her portfolio presents a diverse coverage of issues on women’s rights, gender and sexuality, mental health, political upheavals, the aftermath of communal warfare, juvenile and child labour, social and environmental issues, cultural practices and more. Her work has been published with The Washington Post, Save the Children, Economic Times, The Sunday Guardian, Mint, The New Internationalist among others. She was selected as a DART Asia-Pac Fellow in 2015 and a part of her mental health project was recently showcased at the Asian Women’s Photographers Showcase in Singapore. You can see her work here.]
Compiled by Diva Garg