Swapnil Jedhe was last year’s winner at the Miami Street Photography Festival, which was held just a few months ago in December 2015. His street style is certainly unique and he’s become an expert at turning the chaos and clutter of city life in India into art.
This month we are proud to present you with Swapnil’s written and visual perspective on street photography in the following interview combined with a selection of his photographs.
Ashley: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you become interested in photography in general and what drew you to street photography?
Swapnil: I was born and brought up in the lovely city of Pune, India, which is known for a distinct laid-back and cosmopolitan culture. I completed my education in applied arts. I have always been fond of creating things, making art. Currently, I am working as an Art Director in an advertising agency. With this academic and professional background, I have always been close to art. Getting into photography happened in 2012, when I started clicking pictures just to break my routine, by doing something different. It was then that I discovered my liking for photography, which over time, turned into my passion. One fine day, I accidentally came across “That’s Life,” an Indian Street photography collective. It excited the budding street photographer in me. Exploring the hidden art within mundane life that we live has driven my passion for street photography. It is challenging and at the same time refreshing as well. The idea of capturing that ‘magical unseen moment’ from a very ordinary-looking scene is a thrilling prospect for me. Hunting such moments is what keeps me going.
Ashley: How would you describe your style of street photography?
Swapnil: Ah! That’s a difficult question for me. People say my work is poetic, humorous and quirky. Though my images have simple compositions, you can differentiate my body of work in two types with images. Some images have strong, clean graphical composition while the others have an ‘organised clutter’ in them. Also, in many of these images I have managed to capture the decisive moment, which I would like to turn into my signature.
Ashley: One thing I really admire about your street photography is your ability to take a scene with dozens of moving people, objects, animals, etc. and find the perfect composition at the perfect moment. I’d call it a combination of being a composition master and a “decisive moment” expert. What do you think? Is composition something that is a natural ability for you or is it something you work on?
Swapnil: Normally, I shoot only when something pleases me the most, which is either a story or a scene. In fact, as I look at it, every scene lets our imagination craft a story behind it. I want my viewer to spend some time looking at the picture and observing it in his/her own way. For that, I try and organise the visual clutter (which is and will always be an integral part of India and its landscape) in my compositions, so that eyes flow swiftly all over the frame. At other times, I click a special moment, which might evoke the viewer’s imagination. The results thus differ with the elements present in the frame. Eventually, my compositions are not deliberate efforts but natural instinct. I don’t over-think the composition while shooting :), rather I see a story or a moment, and capture it as I see it.
Ashley: Speaking of all these moving parts in your photos, where is your favorite place to shoot? Where do you go to capture your scenes of perfectly composed chaos?
Swapnil: I have been shooting for last 4 years now but almost every picture in my portfolio was clicked in my hometown that is Pune. I normally wander in the market area or explore the narrow lanes of old city.
Apart from this, I love shooting at a ground near my home where I used to go and play during my childhood. I’ve been documenting it for the last two years. While photographing, I have found and captured a lot of stories there, and made a lot of friends during this period. One can witness grins and grief, gossiping and solitude, faces, expressions, kids, parents, senior citizens… in a shorter word, life, etc. This place never disappoints me.
Ashley: How do you determine what shots are best in color and what shots are best in black and white?
Swapnil: Most of the time while clicking, I visualise whether the scene will look good in black and white or colour. If there is no sign of a colour scheme or no vibrant colours unnecessarily dragging attention, I convert that picture in B&W. Recently, all my pictures have turned out to be in colour. I hardly see in B&W nowadays.
Ashley: Who is your biggest influence in terms of your photography?
Swapnil: There are many photographers I admire. I really get inspired by Magnum photographers’ work. More specifically, I look up to HCB, Raghu Rai, Trent Parke, Alex Webb and Gueorgui Pinkhassov. These masters gave me the vision to look at the world around me with a different perspective altogether and made me believe that pictures can be made anywhere, anytime. They fuel my passion towards capturing mundane life in an extraordinary way.
Also, there are fellow “That’s Life” photographers and “in-public”, who I think are a huge source of inspiration for me.
Ashley: What is the creative process you go through to create your work and what tools do you use (camera, post-processing applications, film, etc.)?
Swapnil: I’m a street photographer at heart who loves to capture a moment and tell a story in a single image. I don’t plan anything before leaving for a shoot. Without thinking much, I shoot whatever comes to me. I think editing is a crucial factor as it shapes up the body of work.
I have produced most of my work on Nikon D610 with Nikkor 24-85mm. Recently, I have been shooting with a sweet Leica Q which I won at the Miami Street Photography Festival 2015. I don’t process my images heavily. I do whatever little is needed, in image processing software like Adobe Lightroom.
Ashley: We loved your winning shot in the MSPF. Can you tell us a little more about that image? Although it features an everyday scene, it’s a pretty complex shot with a lot of elements.
Swapnil: When I clicked this image I was so sure that I have managed to capture something magical. I was so thrilled while clicking that I actually got goose bumps at that very moment.
The shot was taken at my favourite place, a ground near my house. On that day, the light was golden and was forming beautiful long shadows. The old architectural structure on the ground with yellow walls along with a subtle blue sky made a nice colour scheme. But the actual hook was the strong shadow of a kid in the foreground and the boy playing with a ball. I clicked few shots with the same setup but suddenly two kids entered the frame from left. I clicked vigorously and somehow I got the shot. The best part of the picture for me is the action packed moments spread over three parts with a twist of a shadow and the alignment of subjects within a frame.
I consider myself very lucky as I was present at the right spot at the right time to witness the magical moment. That’s the best part of a street photography for me.
The Winning Image
Ashley: I noticed on your website that you are a part of the Indian street collective “That’s Life.” Tell us a little about the collective and the benefits of being in a collective.
Swapnil: “That’s Life” inspired me to get into photography and now, for the last couple of years I’ve been a part of it. It’s really a proud feeling. I must say that, whatever little I have achieved, is due to “That’s Life” and I would like to thank every member of it; especially Kaushal Parikh for being very co-operative and supportive.
TL is probably the only street photography collective from India. Every TL member has his own style and is always keen on taking Indian street photography to the next level, which makes it a really great platform.
Ashley: Finally, what advice would you give to anyone who is just starting out in street photography?
Swapnil: In this era of digital photography, Henri Cartier Bresson’s quote is still relevant which reads, “We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.”