An Interview with Travel & Street photographer – Deb Lahiri
August 19 is celebrated as World Photography Day and so to celebrate, extraordinary and versatile world and culture of photography, we shall celebrate the whole month of August with articles dedicated to Photographers. WeekendTrivia exclusive interviews with as well as a photography contest shall be running on as well as all other social media platforms. So dive into the fest!
Juggling career as well as his passion for street and Travel photography led Deb Lahiri to explore many places and capture them with his lenses. Read on to know more about him.
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P. S. – Copyright of all the captures in the article lies with ©Deb Lahiri
Q1: Would you kindly introduce yourself to our reader? Along with the genre of your photography and on which projects are you currently working? What do you consider your greatest achievement?
A: I am a travel and street photographer based out of Kolkata.
I work in Insurance Industry and I had to spend 3-4 years in Mumbai recently for professional purposes. I had the opportunity to photograph and explore both Kolkata and Mumbai extensively. What I discovered is, in spite of diametrically opposite apparent characteristics, these two cities share some common interests, values and emotions, which cannot be measured in the first go. You can call it as ‘unity in diversity’ in a wider sense. I am trying to map these similarities through the photographs I captured in last few years and I’m still continuing with this as a project.
I think my greatest achievement is yet to come in photography… but so far, I consider one thing as the biggest achievement in my photography life where I had an opportunity to teach basics of photography to the poorest of the poor enthusiasts in a remote tribal village in Jhargram District in West Bengal a few months back. Nobody had a camera barring two/three very basic smart phones, that too in very bad conditions. I taught about basics of light, composition and framing. The energy and enthusiasm I noticed in them are unforgettable. The program ended with the traditional tribal dance.
Q2: What attracts you to your genre? Whose work has influenced you most?
A: Like each and every form of art, most of the artists go through a process of evolution. For most of the new photographers, the first subject usually becomes his or her family members, friends and near and dear ones. Next comes the nature, and landscape which people lovingly call “scenery”. And in any travel, be it long or short, camera becomes a must companion. That’s how travel photography came to me naturally. It took a considerable amount of time to understand that travel photography is not all about capturing “scenery” or taking pictures of the tour-mates keeping the “signature” spots in the background, but it is an unfathomable opportunity for a travel photographer to explore so many things around him, the nature, the culture, the people, the heritage, the festivals, the architectures, the characteristics… It’s a treasure trove. No matter whether I travel or not, the thing which attracts me the most is the behaviour of people in street, in nature or in their own surroundings. The story that is created with the emotion of people in the fraction of a second becomes eternal. That’s how I became interested in travel and street photography; I would rather say “people photography” in my own terms.
I am influenced by Innumerable photographers, including legends and commoners, even newcomers inside and outside of our country…. the list is also increasing by the days. It will be unfair on my part if I mention the names selectively. However, for all practical purposes, I shall mention the names of a few famous and stalwart photographers, so that everyone can follow: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Raghu Rai and Raghubir Singh.
Q3: Is it important to have any professional training to be a photographer? Did you have any at the time you set of your journey?
A: I did not attend any professional training program in any phase of my photographic life. But still, I believe, quality workshop, conducted by a competent photo-artist can change the mind-set of the participant and help him get his thoughts tweaked in a meaningful way.
Q4: When you go in one of your photo-shoot which one is your favorite lens and why do you prefer it?
A: I carry a 16mm-50 mm zoom lens for cropped sensor camera, as it covers the kind of photography I generally do.
Q5: How do you as a photographer to make sure that the thing, person or landscape you want to shoot looks the way you want it to?
A: When I take a photo, the orders of priority I emphasize on are – a) placement of subject in the frame & angle, b) nature & direction of light c) right moment and d) exposure, to capture it in my own way.
Q6: Can you explain to the budding photographer what makes the good picture stand out from the average?
A: A ‘good’ photograph is the one which will help most of its viewers to relate with it in their own way of interpretation. The viewer will feel or imagine something ‘more’ with their inner eyes than what he or she sees with his or her biological eyes in the photograph. I have seen in extremely good photographs that the physical photo lies in front of your eyes, while the actual ‘photo’ is taking a new shape in your subconscious imagination, taking your mind millions of miles away. Here, light, composition, action, moment can jointly or individually play a major role to achieve that.
Q7: What is so important in documenting something or in street photography? How important it is to have a story in street photography?
A: Visual documentation plays a major role in photography. It is very important for us to record the essence of time as we are passing through, perhaps artistically with some aesthetic value attaching to it. Recently, I was watching a photo of the famous Indian Museum in Kolkata (possibly taken 15 years back) from a particular view point which can never be captured again due to the newly constructed Park Street Flyover. Today also, if we see the posters of Mobile Net or Hutch in any photo, instantly they take us back to the 90s. Here Art, History and Sociology get mixed easily.
Story-telling pictures, be it prominent or subdued, have its permanent place in the timeline of photographic history. If you see, most of the eternally famous pictures captured by the great masters are story-telling in some form or the other and that has gone beyond mere documentation. The story that is created with the emotion of people in the fraction of a second becomes eternal.
Q8: A “Good Camera can make a Picture perfect” do you believe this myth?
A: Of course not. It’s the mind beyond viewfinder that takes the photo, not the camera. But sometimes, the camera can also play a role when the photographer feels that ‘compromised’ technology has become a barrier between his ability and creation. But of course, he must reach to that level of maturity where he will be able to understand that how exactly the better technology is going to help him. I am not at all a believer of the notion that a state-of the-art camera body and super-sensitive lens would produce a fantastic photograph. I will give you an example… if I have to opt between a sturdy stick and a modern AK47 rifle to destroy my enemies in the battlefield, I would definitely prefer the Stick, simply because I do not know how to operate the machinegun, no matter how powerful it can be. With the stick, at least I will be able to protect myself to some extent.
Q9: People usually think without money and exposure they can never be a “travel photographer” what do you think? Does travel means traveling in abroad only or anyone can start by exploring their own city?
A: Of course one can start by exploring his own city. Travel photography does not necessarily mean visiting and shooting in expensive & exotic places all across the globe or to take only stunning landscape photos, but rather to start observing and studying the characteristics, nature, culture & people of a particular location in order to capture this aesthetically in a meaningful way.
Q10: What do you think of B&W versus Colour with street photography?
A: Colour and B&W both have their own merits and demerits in terms of artistic impact in a photograph. We saw numerous great creations of Raghubir Singh in colour while Raghu Rai produced plenty of unbelievable shots in B&W (of course in colour also). At times I found in several street photos, a patch of one striking colour or mixture of random colours, draw the entire attention meaninglessly, and thereby deviates the viewer’s focus from the main story. In my humble opinion, if the colour is not handled with utmost care in a street photo, it can ruin an ‘otherwise good’ image. But, definitely colour is essential for those images where it plays and important role in defining the story both in terms of form and content.
Q11: Which post processing software you use for your pictures?
A: I do only basic processing through PS CS6
Q12: Many of the photographers ask us where they find out about the salon news or exhibition news. Can you please give them some idea?
A: I do not personally participate in salons… but there are several ways to get connected. There is a FB group named ‘FIAP PSA GPU Acceptance, Awards and Salon News’ that can be followed. There are plenty of websites available which gives updated news regularly. There is a fantastic site called ‘Photo Contest Information’ which gives contest and exhibitions news worldwide and sends daily e- mail also. Apart from this there are several Photography groups in Facebook like Word Photographic Forum (Incidentally, I am an admin also in this group), APF Magazine Street Photography Group, In-street, 121 Clicks, FOTOJAJS, FOTORBIT India, etc where everyone can participate in photo competitions and take part in exhibitions.
Q13: Name the last photography book/journal that you read.
A: The last book I read is a fantastic one- “Our Kolkata” by Jayanta Saha which I feel is must read for all photographers and non-photographers as well.
Q14: Nowadays almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take pictures. What do you think is the difference between a professional photographer and any other amateur photographer?
A: The ‘mind’ is the differentiator, not the device. The difference is in the way they “see”, believe, & perceive. . I watched a video where I saw legendary Magnum photographer Mr. Alex Webb, happily and relentlessly shooting with his mobile phone in the streets of USA. He expressed utter joy of shooting with the small ‘animal’ in his hand. Another Legend, Mr. Raghu Rai has recently authored a huge coffee table book using a mobile phone camera.
Q15: Any quick message for our blog? Wish you a very happy world photography day! Thanks for your time!
A: Awesome initiative…. All the best!!! Wish you a very happy world photography day too!!! Happy clicking!!!
Thank you Deb da, for taking out time for us and letting our readers know about your wonderful journey so far. We look forward to seeing more of your wonderful work…!