I was born into a photography family. My father is a photographer, so I became aware of all the gadgets from a young age. At first, I was just intrigued by them. I still have my first clicked photos, which were from a rural area called Shantiniketan near our city. It was a Mela, and many folk artists were a part of it. I was four years old and had clicked these photos from my father's DSLR. I soon realised that I had a deep interest in photography. I started learning from my father, and studying the works of great maestros of the field, and am still gaining knowledge and learning more about the world of visual arts every day.
Observing my interest towards photography, my high-school teacher called me and asked me to click photos on sports day. It was my first-ever assignment! That event opened doors to many more learnings, and the first thing I learned about photography was to click a decisive moment in time.
A lot of trees and nature surround our house. One of the best parts about the place is that the migratory birds visit our area in their season. That got me interested in clicking bird pictures and eventually learning about the practice of birding. I got to learn the unique calls of different birds and how to differentiate the genders of birds. This knowledge has helped me immensely while chasing different species and capturing them in their natural habitat.
When I was 15, I got my father's permission to use his DSLR outdoors, and I started exploring the city and experimenting with the camera as much as possible. It got me interested in documenting everyday life and, as we call it, Street Photography as a genre.
I started photography at a young age, and whenever I used to tell people that I was an aspiring photographer, their response was, "Oh! That's a great hobby, what do you want to become?" It used to bother me a little, but my family never let me feel any pressure, and their support helped me pursue the art with utmost sincerity.
I have completed my graduation in English literature. I chose to do so because I wanted to hone my writing and thinking skills. I want to create stories of people and their culture through my photographs and literary narrative. I also did a minor in Film Studies, which helped me develop a multimedia approach in my projects. I have done some photography courses from the Museum of Modern Arts, National Geographic, and The Photographer’s Gallery.
One of the most significant milestones in my photography journey was when I won the Youth Photographer of the Year in the Sony World Photography Awards. The competition was initiated in 2020, and the results were announced in April 2021. Each month had a unique theme of submission, and I won the one in July 2020. The theme was "Composition and Design," and since it was during lockdown we couldn't go outside and shoot, I knew that I had to find an unfamiliar perspective of a familiar place. I had to shoot inside the peripheries of my own house. So I made my mom stand behind the curtain with her hands stretched out, and titled the picture "No Escape From Reality," reflecting the feeling of entrapment we all experienced back then. After six months, they chose from those six monthly winners for the title. And when I learnt that I had won, I was delighted and more so because I was the first Indian to win that title.
Another recognition that is very close to my heart is when I got featured in Forbes 30 Under 30. The way it happened was surreal, and I was exuberant to meet my fellow change-makers from around the continent.
One of the things photographers have to do, particularly the ones practising the documentative style, is to make everyone in their surroundings feel comfortable and respected. For example, I was in Meghalaya in 2021 shooting a festival. We went to the village where it was happening, and people were very uncomfortable around us; I had never encountered such a situation but had to start somewhere. So we kept our cameras in the bag and began making conversations. We learned that one week before we arrived, there was another festival; during that, many photographers from across the country came to visit the village and exploited the locals. They went inside their homes, clicked photos without permission, and made them pose for the camera, which went on for hours. So when we reached there, they were infuriated by our presence. And usually, I play around with the children to break this kind of barrier, but when the kids of the village saw us with cameras, they started spitting at us out of hatred.It required a lot of patience and humility on my part to overcome the misunderstanding. Hence, people must understand that clicking a great picture is never as important as respecting a person's dignity.
After spending a good few years in this industry, I believe that creativity thrives in the presence of an open mind. If young people explore all avenues before settling on one, they might find their unique voice of expression that makes them stand out from the rest. With the thought of exploring the diverse creativity of the youth cohort, I have created the “Soil Society” - a global community of young artists working together towards the preservation of the planet and its people. I have curated a series of educational ventures and nature retreats that help young people find their innate connection to nature and work towards its protection. I take immense pride in the sheer talent hosted by our generation, and believe that together, we can overcome any challenge with unity in diversity.
- Pubarun Basu
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Written by: Vinay Matre & Harshita Sharma
Interview by : Harshita Sharma