D-Photo Magazine Issue.82 Interview
Can you tell me a little about yourself and how long you’ve been into photography?
Growing up, I was always fascinated by the cinematic experiences in movies - use of lighting, colour grading and frame compositions. Initially, visual arts was something that interested me most - tried to paint, illustrate movie stills, draw caricatures from magazine cutouts; but all these processes seemed very tedious and time consuming. I wanted to showcase multiple forms of art without spending too much time having to do it. This is when I picked up my first camera.
I studied Graphic Design at AUT University and that is when and where I was formally introduced into the world of Photography. Around 2010 - which is now 7 years ago! A creative, an avid cricket, football lover and a born traveller would be a fair introduction.
How did your trip to South America come about?
I was looking through the Maptia stories and came across a few blog posts on Peru that looked incredible (I am an absolute sucker for anything that is designed and presented well). It is very strange how the human brain works from there on. I noticed South American travel posters on bus stops, turned on the tele and there were Machu Picchu documentaries being played on Nat Geo, switched to Sky Sports and highlight reels from Rio Olympics were on - literally everywhere I looked, there were signs pointing towards a South American holiday! Next step was just to keep an eye out on the flight specials!
Last year (2016) I visited the United States - LA, New York, San Fran and Vegas with two of my best mates. Previously, we did a family trip across 15 countries in Europe and Egypt when I was 14 or 15. Earlier this year, I went on a trip with my cousins to Rajasthan, India and few months back I visited the Great Barrier Reef during the long weekend.
To best utilise my annual leaves I try and do two trips a year for 2 weeks each and somehow it just made sense to pair up India with South America for 2017.
What were you looking to achieve through your photography on the trip?
For me it is all about living in the moment. I promised myself not to get overwhelmed by the amazing photography that is already out there about the continent and its landscapes. The moment you mention "South America", people think about the famous landmarks such as Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer statue or even Lionel Messi. I wanted to strip it right down to the basics and showcase the real South America - real people.
First impressions - I'm always drawn towards the landscapes and scenery, but ultimately it is down to the real essence - interaction with the locals, the language, their culture; these are the things that make me fall in love with the environment. If the people weren't easy to communicate with or unhelpful, that'd be the biggest turn off for me no matter how beautiful the scenery may be.
I can definitely confirm that South America ticks both those boxes - amazing landscapes, scenery and the people are even better!
Did you do much research into the cultural and social elements of the places you visited before your trip?
Enough research to know about all the places to avoid, eat, party, explore, hike but most importantly, I wanted to learn from the locals. And it was absolutely essential for me to have my own perspective about the culture and people I met first-hand rather than to go and be influenced by a generalisation that is already out there for everyone else to see.
Were there some cultural practices or characteristics that struck you most on your trip?
Nobody spoke English! For some reason I always thought that the people there would be Bilingual or at least have some basic English understanding, but literally everyone from the Taxi driver through to our favourite local restaurant owner only spoke Spanish. Though Machu Picchu and Cusco had a few English speakers due to them being tourist towns.
Llamas in Cusco would be the Peruvian equivalent of what sheep are to us Kiwis - they are everywhere. Alpaca meat is one of the most popular choices in Cusco! Despite not knowing the language, we didn't have any communication breakdowns throughout our trip. It was the perseverance and patience of the locals trying to interpret our hand gestures, sounds, that fascinated me the most. There were times when I had to revert back to my mother tongue, Bengali to better explain situations and they perfectly understood that also.
How do you conduct yourself when you are out in public, shooting people of another culture?
I actually blended in quite well with the locals both in Chile and Peru - being brown skinned definitely has its own perks. The easiest and also the most important factor for me is to be my natural self around them. Easiest because that is the real me. And for strangers, a camera may be the most intimidating tool, thus it is extremely important to do all the basics right - smile, wave and say Ola!
How much do you interact with your subjects — do you ask for permission before shooting?
Yes and no. Some of the photographs were shot discretely at first to get the most natural looks. I then went up to the people to show them the results.
Handy tip - if you notice people smiling, or sporting a relaxed face despite knowing about your camera, go up and say hello! The smiles captured, end up looking more natural and warm.
What kind of communication tricks do you have up your sleeve when you don’t speak the language?
Smile! It provides an absolute stranger with a sense of comfort when language becomes a barrier.
I always take multiple shots when shooting portraits and pick out the best one to show the subject. This then results with an instant smile - both for them and me.
It is very important to trust your own creative flair and brush away any external factors when approaching people for the shots. Throughout my 2 week trip I photographed numerous police men, women, security guards, street artists, graffiti artists, road workers and I'd put all of this down to two very simple things - trusting in my own photographic abilities to produce something that would be appreciated by the people photographed and at the same time having the confidence to make the initial approach.
Do you spend time immersing yourself in a region before you begin shooting, or do you start the photography once boots are on the ground?
Spend time before shooting.
Firstly, I'd have to fall in love with the place before I begin documenting the people or its surroundings. I carry my camera around at all times but wouldn't begin shooting until I completely immerse myself there.
It is quite a romantic process really - take it slow at the very beginning (location scouting and researching) then get to know one another a bit better (begin photographing the surroundings/landscapes) and finally gather the courage to say the magic words - "Would you like to be photographed?" Then you smile when it's a "yes".
Do you ever give your subjects anything in return for having their photo taken, or perhaps develop deeper relationships with them?
I would love to give each of them a copy of this edition with a framed photograph!
In the world of social media today, it is definitely a lot easier to share moments with people overseas. I've sent through the final photographs to a few of the people whom I photographed through Whatsapp, as Instagram direct messages and tagged four of them on photos from my personal Facebook account - yes we are friends on Facebook too!
Treating them as any other friend is the best way to go about it I feel and it definitely makes me very happy looking through my Instagram followers and seeing a few of those names pop up.
Have you ever stopped yourself from shooting something that would have made a great image because you didn’t feel it was appropriate to photograph?
I'm usually a good people judger and can tell when someone wouldn't want their photos taken. You tend to notice a few movements that giveaway clues.
There have been many instances where the composition, lighting and everything looked perfect at the time but I was within two minds after noticing a few eyebrow twitches, face turns and firm jaws.
What do you hope viewers take away from your imagery from South America?
At the start of the trip I said to myself that I'd be happy to walk away with a series of photographs that portray a fresh new look but at the same time remain authentic.
Through these photographs I wish to convey my personal experiences and feelings about the places I visited. I want viewers to be able to connect and see the real South American people - their everyday struggle to climb up Rainbow Mountain at 17,060 ft.; tour guides coping with heavy rainfalls at Machu Picchu; their extremely humble and friendly nature; and the warm smiles.
Ultimately I'd like the viewers to get a visual taste of all the emotions that I went through during my trip there.