I was born an only child to my parents in Delhi, into a family torn apart by the aftermath that followed the Partition of India and Pakistan. The exodus from our ancestral land in Pakistan was so sudden and hurried that my family had no choice but to flee overnight, leaving behind everything.
The only possessions they carried were the clothes which they wore on their bodies. And they weren’t the only ones, as millions of others were rendered homeless and massacred on their way to India. Trains packed with men, women and children were being mercilessly hacked to death by Muslim rioters all along the way.
Luckily all my family managed to escape alive and we were able to reach Delhi.
We were now rendered homeless, penniless and completely shattered, struggling for our very survival in the Walled City (Shahjahanabad) of Delhi.
My father never really recovered from the wounds that Partition inflicted upon his psyche. Though I was born much later in Delhi, I too inherited or shall I say “made to inherit” those very insecurities from my parents and grandparents, and these remain with me till date, later to reflect back in my life and photography.
These inherited insecurities left a deep ‘never to be filled’ void on my psyche. Emptiness and restlessness have become an integral part of me. I have always found myself in a dilemma, trying out different ways to fill this emptiness.
Photography became the outcome of this void. I enrolled myself into photography classes being held at Triveni Kala Sangam, a prestigious art Centre in Delhi. As time passed and I found myself skilled in this medium, I was soon shooting products for most of the leading advertising agencies in Delhi. But this too was not to last. The same old restlessness set back in me again.
I needed to expresses the real me. Spiritual by nature, I set out on a personal journey now armed with a camera in hand. A journey where I searched for answers to some fundamental questions about life, its meaning and purpose, and then later, my understanding about the nature of ‘Reality’. This quest took me to every nook and corner of India, meeting sadhus, monks, philosophers, scientists and charlatans alike.
Constant interaction with brilliant scholars made me understand that the concept of a ‘Creator God’ proposed by organized religions was a childish one. It had failed to fully comprehend that unconditioned, non-dual, eternal omnipresent force. God is not a glorified ‘personality’ sitting somewhere in the universe, directing lives of its people or attending to minute details of its day-to-day operations. We need to understand that the Universal Mind (God) does not exist separately along the universe but in it and as it. The universe was not arbitrarily created by any outside intervention but is self- born and is governed by the eternal Law of Cause and Effect or Karma. The impressions of all objects in the universe lie dormant within the inner depths of the Universal Mind, until they become active by the working of Karma. They are then projected in our familiar space-time dimension which we know as the material world.
Discovering My Personal Street Photography Style
Shooting random people on the streets has always fascinated me. Those unknown faces with their uncharted expressions and emotions enthrall me to my very core. Going closer and closer to chaos in the Indian streets, till I myself become a part of very chaos I want to shoot, has lead me to capture my most memorable images.
Moreover, never are any of my pictures random. Each picture needs to tell a story on its own and also be a part of a larger story to make them all coherent. I have never had any interest in singular images no matter how good they might be.
I love spontaneously created moments and real emotions. I use them to create strong artistic images and then weave them into a strong storyline. Words and images then become a formidable pair in conveying what I need to say.
The stark realism of street photography soon started losing its charm for me. I started having a feeling that realism was not fully justifying what I really needed to convey through my images. This could again have been the consequence of the same inherited void which I have never been able to fill. I still needed to go a step further. I now needed to search for a style which I could call purely my own.
I started drifting from realism of ‘the decisive moment’ towards impressionism and abstraction in street photography. I now liked to blur out images, faces, expressions and create movement in my own way. This I achieved in two ways, depending on the image in question and the mood I want to create. The two techniques I use at the shooting stage are (1) shoot at a normal exposure and keep the image sharp (2) ICM -Intentional Camera Movement where I experiment with shutter speeds varying from 1/10s to 1/30s with a horizontal/vertical movement of the camera.
I then process the images keeping in mind the mood and aesthetics of that particular image, using brushes, smudges, lighting and painterly effects to reach my visualized image. The lighting effect is mostly taken into consideration at the shooting stage depending on what mood I want to create. Going very close to the subject remains an integral part of my style. I can never ever forget the saying of Robert Capa, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
I have no preconceived ideas on how I will end up editing a particular image. Each image is different and my treatment to that image goes accordingly. I am very intuitive in this process and simply follow my heart. It is something like playing with a jigsaw puzzle. Somewhere in my mind I have a rough image and then I start playing with the tools till there comes a time when something in me says, “Stop…this is it”. I then leave that edited image for some days without looking at it. After some days when I relook at that very image and I find that I invariably need to make finer adjustments. This process takes place 2-3 times till I am finally done.
Street photography for me is my complete being. It is through this medium I show to the world my thoughts, feelings and my understanding of Reality as such. What more can I say!