“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.
“So, here’s a photograph from a photographer who I believe influences me to a large extent, not in the manner that I shoot, but in the kind of subjects that interest him, the way he goes about doing his work and living his life. He’s a bit of a recluse, which I can identify with, and his body of work, as a whole, really moves me.
Josef Koudelka, a Czech photographer and a member of the prestigious Magnum photo agency shot this in Lourdes, France, in 1973 and this was the very first Koudelka photo that I ever saw. The caption for this image, which was a part of Koudelka’s book, Exiles, reads, ‘CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Prague. August 1968. Warsaw Pact troops invade Prague. In front of the Radio Headquarters’.
The Russians are invading, the streets are forlorn, and here is one photographer with his camera, and another guy with his watch, both standing there above the city, one of them being asked to show the time on his watch to the camera, with the photographer sort of going, “Time of Invasion: 6:03 PM (perhaps).” It makes you feel like you are standing there with the photographer and the person who kindly posed for him, looking down on a city you’ve never seen before, but which feels familiar, in the way that all vacant streets do.”
[Ambarin Afsar lives and works in Mumbai, India. Professionally, she writes and shoots for Better Photography magazine. She is an avid reader and is still cataloguing all the books she’s read so far on GoodReads. Her virtual shelf houses more than 700 books. She likes travelling as much as she can, and while she has not ventured too far from her city, she considers it fertile ground for many adventures and serendipitous meetings. She believes that her images are little messages sent by her heart to her hands. You could say that they are romantic in nature, just as falling in love with a moment, a passing stranger or an untouched vista is romantic. She mostly shoots on the street—spotting unusual moments and catching people unawares is something she enjoys doing. From cityscapes to urban grunge, her body of work is probably as hard to pin down and describe as a city that is as large and dynamic as Mumbai.]
“It was because of Prabuddha Dasgupta that I fell so hopelessly in love with photography. I remember buying a DSLR in our first semester of college because we were instructed to. On my way back from Croma, I thought I should pick up a magazine or two on photography and so I picked up the August 2010 issue of Better Photography, it happened to be the B&W special.
In their Great Masters section, they had featured Prabuddha. I knew absolutely nothing about photography then, and yet I was pulled into the photographs with so much force that my breath was taken away. This one in particular, has stayed with me ever since. For me, this photograph stands for Prabuddha’s unfathomable command over light. The sunlight filtering in from the window to grace that mosquito net in that dreamlike fashion, while also ever so slightly highlighting that silhouette laying in bed - sigh!”
This photograph is from his series ‘Longing.’ Prabuddha left us while his work on the series was still ongoing, leaving the viewers too in longing.”
[Anurag Banerjee is a photographer based in Bombay. Schooled in Shillong and Pune, he worked as a photographer for TimeOut magazine for a year and a half. He worked on an arts festival in Goa, Sensorium, as production assistant, working closely with Prashant Panjiar, while also working on social media and documentation. His work has been published or featured in Indian Quarterly, Verve magazine, Platform online, Homegrown, amongst others. He is a volunteer for the upcoming Delhi Photo Festival and is also working on his first photobook project “I’m not here”, which is about documenting his absence back in his home in Shillong.]
“The one photograph that has really influenced me and moved me is of ‘the vulture and the little girl’ made by the photojournalist Kevin Carter in Sudan, while he was on an assignment. I came across this picture while I was working as a software engineer in a company. During my free time, I used to always look up articles about photography and, in particular, photojournalism. When I first saw this picture, I actually thought it was fake and I was shocked. Later, I read more about the story, about how Kevin Carter made the picture, what happened to the girl and it really moved me. This picture helped me decide that I wanted to take up photojournalism.
Yes, the whole idea of photojournalism is exciting. It’s also about asking yourself - can you handle the pressure, the responsibilities that comes along with it? Kevin Carter was left distraught after people started asking him questions about the girl. I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation, but one needs to know that photojournalism is about telling stories, showing reality. This picture tells you a lot - a story about a country, malnutrition, the food chain hierarchy etc. - but it also teaches you that this medium is a responsibility, and over time, I have learned that. I am still learning, and I have a long way to go.”
[Anushree Fadnavis a photojournalist working with a News Agency called Indus Images based in Mumbai for the past year. She has worked with DNA before, and you can find some of her work here (anushreefadnavis.weebly.com). Her personal story ‘#traindiaries’ has been published in newspapers like Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day and the Mint lounge. The Katha Collective and Scroll have also published this story.]
“Truth be told, I also had to delve deep to come up with one photograph that I could pinpoint as having influenced my work. I found, over the days of mulling, that it had to be this image, by Michael “Nick” Nichols. It is an image of a forest elephant, charging, in response to the photographer’s scent.
It was taken in 1993, in deep forests, in a place called Dzanga Bai, Central African Republic. I remember the day I first saw this photo on the pages of the National Geographic. It was the exact moment that kindled my desire to be an environmental photojournalist. Being innately drawn to elephants, this image had a particular effect on me: one of awe, curiosity, and a longing to watch these creatures in their own world.
Over the years, Nichols has photographed African elephants with such sensitivity and sense of drama, that my regard for his brand of photography has only grown. We live in a day and age when these creatures are under assault and in danger of obliteration. Such photographs work in their own way to increase our awareness of the dire straits they are in, and to heighten empathy. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, before it is too late, this empathy will halt the irreversible slide of the species to extinction.”
[Arati Kumar-Rao is an environmental photographer & journalist documenting effects of land-use change on lives, livelihoods, species, and landscapes. She is currently working on a series of Freshwater issues for peepli.org]
“The Charles Jourdan advertisement, Spring 1975 by Guy Bourdin. I first came across it 7 years ago in a bookstore.
At first I thought it was a still from a horror film and then I realised it was an ad for the shoes. At the time, I was really into horror films, serial killers, and schizophrenics. The could-be dead woman on the bed, the horror film playing on the TV, and then the small boy peering in the door was almost intriguing. I think it made me realise the immense scope and freedom of creativity that lies in fashion photography.”
I don’t think my reaction to the picture has changed over time, but it is easy to get swayed and influenced by what other people think is a ‘good image’. It is no doubt harder to appeal to a larger audience with voyeurism and violence, but at the end of the day, it is important that the person who likes your picture best is yourself. “
[Gina Narang is a Mumbai based filmmaker and photographer. Growing up in a family of artists, filmmakers, writers, and the splendid wit of her grandfather Dev Anand, Gina found herself within a imaginative pool of experience to draw from. Her studies took her from Mussoorie to Boston and New York where she finished with a degree in Filmmaking. Her style of work can be well described as whimsical yet extremely clean. She believes in empowering her characters and lives her vision through them at the same time glorifying their personality with ease. Never too afraid to experiment, she constantly works on polishing her skills through several personal projects. You can view more of her work here.]
“One afternoon, I was reading a special issue of the TIME magazine devoted to the great artists of the 20th century when I came across Robert Frank’s photograph titled Parade Hoboken, New Jersey. Frank had shot it on the Fourth of July Independence Day parade in 1955 during a two-year road trip he undertook criss-crossing America. After an uncertain period in my life spent poring over Beat literature, I was chasing shots which Cartier-Bresson, an inspiration called the decisive moments. These were singular moments when your heart, mind and geometry fall in a line, which to me felt closer to a sport than art. Every day I would shoot a couple of rolls of black and white film and rush to the darkroom in the evening to develop the rolls and print them. Always a magical experience no matter how good or bad the pictures were. I would later worry endlessly about the technical aspects like composition, focus and graininess of the photographs.
But Frank’s Parade photograph I saw that afternoon was something else. It was a strangely composed picture with one partially visible face in the shadows and another face completely hidden under a fluttering flag. The photograph looked blurry and grainy. I could not see what the photographer was trying to focus on and it seemed to lack a visual centre where the eye could be directed. So many things about this photograph looked like a mistake. And yet, there was a something mysterious about it. Stark, understated and layered with metaphors, to me this photograph felt like a poem.
Looking at this photograph felt like listening to a sad song on radio late at night. What Kerouac and Ginsberg did with writing and Charlie Parker with jazz, Frank did with photography. In a single frame Frank exposed the great violence, alienation and sadness that lay beneath the optimism of the 1950’s American power and prosperity.”
“It was the moment when I understood the power of subtext and that changed my approach to photography. Even now, everytime I see the Parade photograph, I can still hear a sad song - heartfelt, tragic and true.”
[Harikrishna Katragadda is a photographer based in Mumbai and the contributing photo editor of Fountain Ink magazine. After his graduate studies in photography from the University of Texas at Austin, he interned with Steve McCurry in New York. He was a staff photographer with Mint newspaper in New Delhi between 2006-2009. His photographs have appeared in many Indian and International publications including Geo, Stern and Vanity Fair. He won the National Foundation for India grant in 2012 and the Media Foundation of India award for his long term documentary project on Malana.]
“It’s hard to pin down only one photographer (much less one photograph) who has influenced me. However, a photographer whose work that I keep coming back to over the years is Larry Sultan. I came across his work in 2008, whilst watching a documentary on photography and was fascinated by the imagery... His project ‘Pictures from Home’ is deeply personal and enlightening. Fascinating photographs taken over a decade (1982-95) ago, of his parents who clearly are well-to-do retirees living in Southern California. The photographs speak volumes on aging and familial relationships (with each other, and with their photographer son).
Larry Sultan doesn’t hide his family behind the veneer of smiling family portraits but scratches away at the surface to show us discord (arguing through the kitchen window), frustration, success, fiction and truth (the photographer repeatedly directs his parents and asks them to repeat poses much to the father’s chagrin) all against a backdrop of cliches of post-retirement age in America in the 80’s and 90’s (A gated community, swimming pool, the family cadillac, golf, wall paper etc). Bodies of work, such as this one, in my opinion, are great starting points for photographers searching for and starting personal projects on Identity and Family, and also a fantastic example of not having to travel too far to make great photographs.”
[Karan Vaid is a self-taught documentary photographer based out of New Delhi, India. His primary focus is on long-term projects including ongoing projects on Kashmir and Dog Shows in India. His work has been exhibited at various festivals including the Angkor Photo Festival and Photoquai (2015) as well as in international websites and magazines. He was also part of the core team that organized the Delhi Photo Festival in 2011 and 2013.]
“Political portraits and candids have come a long way since Yousef Karsh and Yoichi Okamoto, to the likes of Pete Souza and Barbara Kinney today. If Karsh and Okamoto unmasked Churchill and Lyndon B. Johnson respectively, Souza and Kinney are busy masking Obama and Hillary Clinton today. Modern-day political photography finds itself highly enmeshed in PR exercises, orchestrated photo-ops and perception-handling. In my opinion, this image shot by Mr Mukesh Parpiani sometime after the Bhiwandi Riots of 1970 in a riot relief camp in Bhiwandi, Bombay toes the line.
I have always believed that for an informed reader to read between the lines, the writer must subtly leave traces of two and two’s to be added together. This particular photograph of Mrs. Gandhi’s visit to Bombay substantiates the above in case of photojournalism. At first glance, this image is often passed off as one that reflects the Souza-Kinney clique of photography. Portraying Indira caving into her emotional instincts at the sight of a wailing baby certainly scores positively on the ‘perception’ scales.
However, notice the left-hand of the distressed child’s mother. The mother is seen pinching her child’s arm in order for its cries to attract Mrs. Gandhi’s attention. The choice of the angle by which the image has been shot, is the photographer’s giveaway. It crops a dichotomy analogous to that between Karsh-Okamoto and Souza-Kinney brands of political photography. So did Mrs Gandhi engage with the toddler owing to its cries, out of pure motherly-instincts? or Mrs. Gandhi only did so after noticing the photographer’s position and thus cashed-in on an unplanned humane photo-op? Irrespective of what the truth may be, the photographer offers both, 4 and 22 as probable answers to the two and two’s left behind.”
[Kashish Parpiani is an documentary photographer from Bombay. ‘Sons in Exile’ and ‘Tales from Merwans’ are some of his most notable bodies of work. As a freelancer, he has been associated with companies such as Percept Pictures, MTV India, Nokia India. At 17, he bagged the prestigious Nikon - Better Photography Young Photographer of the Year award. He recently wrapped up a Masters’ in International Relations, in Singapore.]
“The one photo that really made me see things better, is a photo made by my senior at Indian Express, Vikas Khot. Khot was sent by the paper to Andaman and Nicobar Islands to photograph the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami. Unlike the wire service photographers, Khot had a bare-boned kit consisting of a 16-35mm wide angle lens fitted onto a Nikon d2x, one of the fastest cameras at that time. And a few memory cards. 1gb was the maximum available back then, and Khot had one or two of those and a laptop.
For a few days, Khot was either out of reach, or unable to access the islands. In a newspaper, there is a premium on exclusivity, and the stress and desire to get an exclusive image, and image that only you shot, no TV, no print, no blogger saw, is very high. The exclusive image is it’s own reward, it’s like a drug, followed by an intense adrenaline rush, and the onset of baldness, backaches, ulcers and in a few cases, alcoholism.”
“Within a few days of the tsunami, Arko Datta’s deeply disturbing photograph from Nagapattinam was doing the rounds of several publications. It went on to win the World Press Photo of The Year in the year that followed and is more or the less the one image that people recall when they think of the unfortunate event in which thousands perished, and many were injured and displaced from their homes.”
Khot finally managed to send across an image, a day before the year ended. An image, that gives me goosebumps on the back of my head as I type this and everytime I see it. A man standing on the edge of a tiny island, with suitcases in both his hands, yelling out to his relatives, ‘Come, help has arrived, we must leave.’
I have very little memory of seeing the photo once it arrived in the photo department’s inbox. But I recall distinctly, of seeing it first thing on the dinner table at my home, the morning on the first day of the new year of 2005. Eight columns, half page, it began just under the mast head and ended skirting the centre fold. The finest, subtlest, image of hope, and survival, yet dramatic in it’s own right. To me, any visual coverage of the Asian tsunami, begins and ends with this photo.
It altered my perception and understanding of a tragedy, and gave me several pointers on what to do if faced with the daunting task of photographing something of a similar magnitude.”
“This is an image called “Dance in Brooklyn” shot by William Klein, in 1955.
I was first introduced to Klein’s work when I was researching various street photographers, back at photography school in Vancouver. I was instantly fascinated with him and his subjects.
What I love about Klein, is how he revolutionised street photography with his unusual approach to his work. He broke all the contemporary rules of photography at the time, and wasn’t afraid to get up close and personal with his subjects; getting right into their comfort zones, to capture reactions and moments which were in your face, as though they were unfolding right in front of you.
This image in particular stood out to me, because it captures a feeling that is so raw and unadulterated, it makes me want to get in there and dance with them, no matter how many times I look at it. His work has deeply influenced mine and how I approach my subjects in fashion. I want my subject’s personality to reflect in my images, while incorporating a sense of realism and mood simultaneously. It is never just about the clothes, it’s also about the person and the surroundings and how they all come together to become an image.”
[Porus Vimadalal is a fashion photographer based in Mumbai, India.]
“I was not completely new to photography when I saw this photograph but I remember quite clearly the impact it had on me.
Much later, I realised that this body of work was probably the most important work attempted and done by any Indian photographer. I wish I had words to make you understand what I mean. I can talk so much about why I like this particular photograph. I think this woman is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I think it’s not only about beauty. Then what is it? I don’t know. I remember Pablo having a talk in Bombay two years back and he said Pooh was there.”
I left the place instantly as I didn’t want to know how she looks now. Again, I am being stupid. I don’t make sense at all. But, maybe it’s all because of a few things we carry in our memory which stays for a very long time. It then becomes an affinity towards a certain time, certain kind of people. It’s real as if they are moving with you. That’s the power of the medium. When I look at these photographs, it almost makes me touch this time. Things you can’t let go of your mind like Siddhartha’s job interview in Pratidwandi, 1970, like the young boy Ashoke in Kanchenjungha refusing a job offer. But I am not talking about merely knowing, I am talking about feeling something which is much more than mere attraction. It’s difficult to explain. I think I have failed to explain why I like this. Maybe some other day I’ll try again.
[Ronny Sen is an independent photographer based in Calcutta. He made his first artist book ‘Khmer Din’ in 2012. He is working on his next book and upcoming exhibitions include Noorderlicht Festival in Netherlands and Delhi Photo Festival. He is also showing his work done during his artist residency in Poland with the Polish Institute in Delhi in October, 2015.]
XII Raj Lalwani
“In the summer of 2010, I was atrociously late for a meeting with a photographer called Swapan Parekh. In the midst of my frantic apology, he gave me a catalogue of his work ‘Between Me and I’. I could not connect with the photos. What were these seemingly random moments about? But in the awareness that this was an important photographer whose work had been validated by a lot of significant voices, I kept aside the catalogue and tried to revisit it, every few days.
Over time, I started to appreciate the vision behind the photographs, now to a point where his way of seeing, especially in the journey that it has traversed (and is still wandering) has been a huge personal inspiration. There was this one photograph that would make me stop almost every time. It was almost apologetic in its tentative quietude, but was inherently playful in suggestion. Who was hiding behind the curtain? Why were there two cigarettes in front of him?
Oh wait, are those cigarettes at all? Or just light? Is the picture that ordinary? That’s extraordinary!
‘Between Me and I’ is an ongoing series of musings that Swapan has with his daily existence. They may be perceived by the impatient, untrained eye as snapshots, but look closer and you will see a measured and intuitive set of responses to the visual arrangements around him, a celebration of the mundane. Sometimes, photography can just be about the photograph—no information, no contextualisation, just the sheer joy of the visual. That a photograph is not about the moment, but about the moments that have led to the moment, the years of brewing one’s vision. And that the best way to swim through the sea of imagery that surrounds us today, is to see.”
[Raj is a photographic practitioner, who also writes for Better Photography. According to him, inspiration lies in the fantastic, the ordinary and in love. Raj lives in Bombay, not Mumbai.]