Little Box conversation
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am an autodidactic hodophile fine art street photographer and I love to capture street poetry in motion. You can call me a street poet. I travel the globe cutting across hills, deserts and seas shooting with my phone. My craft is built out of frames from the streets of the world. I have won more than 15 awards and have exhibited in more than 9 countries. I was named as the best street photographer of 2019 according to the Phoblographer and I have been featured more than 400 times across print and digital media. I believe the universe is a piece of art and so is every soul and street. It is this inspiration that makes photography my 'fitoor' (passionate obsession).
What drew you to street photography and why is it special to you?
I am not afraid of the unknown and very curious to explore and discover, which is what made me want to travel the world. Finding art in the extraordinary details of the seemingly ordinary life on the streets is my fitoor. Understanding the law and theory of light, shadow, reflection, movement and moments is what made me more curious to explore the streets of the world. The artist soul burning in me couldn't resist and I started shooting. To me, street photography is my visual lexicon which has no smokescreen. It's the utmost truth of what is happening around us that I love capturing with staggering intellect in black and white which is the most de-cluttered version of my world. And the best thing about street photography is that you don't have to sit for hours to understand a photo like you have to for a book or a movie, just one look and a storm of emotions runs through you within seconds. Photography doesn't have any pronunciations or accents and that's the best thing about it. The emotions it emits from it vibrates the same in all of us. That's the beauty of street photography and that's how powerful photography is.
Tell us a little about your photographic ‘style’ and what you want to convey to the viewer through your style?
I have a natural predilection to capture the unpredictable, larger than life movements, lending visual and emotional excitement to my photographs. The intentionality of being present in the moment is a core component of street photography that resonates strongly for me. I strive to make that state of mind contagious for my viewers, encouraging people to step back from technology to appreciate their lived experience and spread the message of hope, love, energy and freedom through my photographs. For me, photography is something that I have manifested so that my viewer can feel the storms of emotions in them. My main motto is to make my viewers go through storms of emotions. My photographs are very peaceful visually but packed with a lot of action and motion. I make photos consciously and I really get into the moment so much that I feel I am the boy running or the birds flying in the photo. I think I have built a trust in my audience that what I will deliver will bring them emotions of emancipation and confound them.
You seem to have a preference for black and white photography. Why is this? Do you ever shoot in colour?
Black and white is the most de-cluttered version of my world. It’s how I see. My mind renders in monochrome. I prefer less clutter and no irrelevant distraction in my photographs. And I am highly attracted to shapes and forms, light and shadows. I find black and white are colours of boldness with shyness, and agile with a calmness which I believe is my personality. I feel it resonates with me. Also, I feel there is more realism in black and white as visually we don’t get distracted by colours. A photo in black and white means that shapes, forms and moments are defined more boldly and there is the potential to capture pure soul and movement. Colour is fine too and I do shoot in colour for assignments, but then it gets hard for the viewer to tell if they like the photo because of the colour in it, or because of what has been captured in it. In black and white, there is no colour to distract the viewer. It’s all about the moment that has been captured. And that is very important to me. Moments and movements are what I believe in more than colours. Reading a black and white photo and coloured photo are two different worlds. I think if one understands that, they will know the power of black and white. Also, black and white eliminates the question of the who’s and the where’s and the what’s and the when’s. And that's the beauty of it.
Most of your photos are taken on the iPhone. What do you like about using the phone as your primary camera? Do you use the native iPhone app or a third-party app?
Yes, I shoot only with iPhone. I don't own any other camera. All my photos are shot on iPhone only. I have been shooting with the iPhone for more than 9 years now and I have shot with almost all the generations. It's a lightweight touchscreen butter slice always in my hand which has the whole world in it. I use the native iPhone app only. No third party. The native app itself is highly advanced. The best thing about using an iPhone is it's quick and instant. It's like having no gear in your hand. It feels like I'm shooting with my palm.
Do you have any projects you are currently working on and if so, can you tell us a little about them?
I just finished a project I was doing for a brand covering the north of India. Before I could start working on my other assignments and projects, the lockdown happened and now everything has come to a standstill. There is definitely something coming up but due to the contract rules, I can't disclose them for now.
Do you have any favourite situations or subjects you like to photograph?
I like capturing a good photograph which gives you a complete answer. And what I mean by that is capturing that one single frame which defines the whole moment of that situation. I never have any preconceived vision in my head when I hit the streets. Street photography is capturing what you experience then and there. You don't have time to think, it’s spot on, quick like a bolt of lightning, in a fraction of a second. One can never have a pre-visualisation or mood boards or sketchbooks. Because how can one know what situation or living elements they will come across on the street? No one can predict or assume that. Having prenotions and preparing mentally to shoot something, in particular, will always disappoint you because you will miss out on what is actually happening around you because you are busy chasing your visualisation and it's rare for that to occur in reality. I am highly attracted to light. All I do is I follow the light and that's how I discover streets. Light is my guide.
Have you ever had any negative encounters or scary situations happen while out photographing?
Oh yes! Day in day out, so much, that I can write a book on it. But I think it is part and parcel of the whole process of street photography. I have been travelling for more than two decades now and I think all these experiences is what makes you strong. Being a female solivagant is of course not easy but I take these as challenges and I have learnt so much from it.
Is there a particular photographer who has influenced your work or the way you see?
Radiation and capturing the purity of life, and the radiation of self-understanding reflected in my work is very important to me and if I want to achieve that I won't be able to do so if I am influenced by another photographer. It's like borrowing their vision. Having said that, influence is the most squandered and heavily exploited word in the photography world. Photographers have heavily misused this term. This word has become a good way to mask their duplication and mimicry. I call them lazy photographers doing lazy and tired photography. This has to stop. That’s why I don’t and I always say don't read only photography books. It's very important to explore the different medium of arts and science.
What gives me a kick to go out and shoot is good music, a scene from a movie, reading books and especially some lines that give me goosebumps, good food and all my photographs are an interpretation of how that music or book or that line made me feel. My photos are just the interpretation of my current feeling of the day and that comes from the things I have read, heard or eaten. From listening to Zakir Hussain playing the tabla to watching Buster Keaton's sense of crafting comedy, to Roger Deakin’s cinematography to watching waves crashing rocks and so much more. I am a fanatic about many things - from Audrey Hepburn's enchanting grace, to Jon Hamm's personality in Mad Men and Adrien Brody's intense character he played in the movie The Pianist, as well as the process behind the making of A.R. Rahman's music. All this gives me a kick and makes me want to go out and explore and shoot.
Photographer’s chasing each other’s style, to me, is like everyone borrowing each other’s vision. Everyone starts to have parallel thinking and just end up making the same photographs. Photos won’t look organic if you want to create frames from what has already been done. You will be just another walking clone on earth. Another person's vision and perspective will only suppress us and the vision we have inside us gets overpowered. I don't understand the concept of being influenced by other photographers.
There are brilliant photographers out there but that's their craft and vision. I don't want to shrink my vision and perspective based on what others are doing. You can learn the different types of strokes. Brushstrokes on paper with colours or strokes with your fingers on your lover but nobody can inspire or influence you in the art of touching and brushing. It has to come from within. Similarly, for photography. Breaking the limits of imagination will only come when one discovers and experiences what is happening on the street by themselves. I don’t need a mood board, a sketchbook, or reference material for it. Don't be trapped by that drama as too many options make you a tyrant and getting rid of the excess information is the most important process in order to find your individual voice.
The source of inspiration should always be something which doesn’t come from your profession. Inspiration has to be original and from your own experiences and your personality. I always tell writers not to read books, dancers to watch birds fly and not look at other dancers, painters to create their own colour from nature and not study other painters and instead study colours of animal skins and nature.
Tell us the most important thing you have learned from being a street photographer?
Knowledge is very important but it's not what you know, it's what you do with what you know. In this hyper-competitive age definition of success is different for all. Don't let that drive you. Instead, focus on finding out what you love and keep doing it. In life, sometimes you will win and sometimes you will lose but what is important is what you have learnt from it. Use your own brain and stop looking for validation. Practice a lot but please give yourself a break too. You really don’t have to go out every single day to shoot to become a photographer. I don't buy it. There are weeks where I don't shoot at all. And it's the best thing because it helps to rest the tones in my eyes. And when I hit the streets it’s a new world to me again. And to be a street photographer you don't need a mentor either. A mentor will only teach and guide you with what s/he knows. Instead, listen to yourself and walk the streets and find your style. Nobody can do that for you. You have to do it yourself.