I have personally known Debrani for a few years now. Even before I was introduced to her, I had a chance to look at some of her wonderful photographs.
It was hard not to be awestruck by watching the composition of her work which was a little different from the contemporary photographers of the same genre.
Perhaps that fascination made me ask the question even during our first introduction, ‘Debrani, are you a painter, by any chance’? She smiled and quietly said, ‘no’.
At the same time, she apprised me of her love for painting & drawing as some of her close family members were into this form of art which she used to keenly observe since her childhood.
I noticed Debrani is a little poised and pretty self-contained. But on that day, I could not realize that she had also adopted the ‘language of tranquillity’, till the time I saw her series of work-‘voice of silence’.
I instantly got engrossed and started fathoming out on the depth of the ‘absence of noise’ which is a new experience to me as well!
I noticed, there is something idiosyncratic in her images; they’re apparently simple, but somehow they’ll manage to grab your attention for quite some time.
These pictures featured in this post have been taken by her in Milwaukee in the U.S. and in India. This is the time for me to also realize that in spite of these two countries being diametrically contrasting, the silence speaks a universal language. I thought I would talk to Debrani to understand this language in detail. Especially what fascinated her.
“Can you imagine staying at a place where you can literally hear the sound of time passing by”?
In conversation with Debrani Das, a well-known name in street photography now, a curator in World Photographic Forum, and many more laurels preceding her identity as a photographer, I was bound to ponder over the aspect of ‘pin-drop silence’. She introduced me to her unique journey of how the silence brought out the inner photographer in her.
Debrani is also a member of Street Eye Collective, a well-known street photography group. She was the guest curator of “women in street”, “Unexposed Collective” and “Hardcore Street Collective” for thematic contests.
Her works have been published in Eyeshot magazine, Chiiz Magazine, National Geographic, IPA magazine, 121clicks.com, streetphotographersfoundation.com, among others.
Her works were also chosen as one of the winners of prestigious womenstreetphotographers.com and were exhibited in New York City and Kuala Lumpur.
She was also one of the finalists of the “StreetFotoSanfrancisco” festival in the single image category in 2019 and exhibited in San Francisco.
Recently, her photographs also got selected for “Double Trouble” of “Womeninstreet” under full scholarship, which is a part of the Head On Photo Festival in Australia.
In India, Debrani’s works have been exhibited several times including the prestigious Kolkata International Photography Festival (KIPF).
As she narrated her experience, I could feel that unknowingly how she created a situation, which eventually persuaded her to go beyond the known.
Photography was not her passion initially, not her skill too. It was all unknown to her. And any leap to the unknown is a risk.
“I have spent a few important years of my life there,” Debrani says in an emailed statement to WeTheWorld Magazine.
While some people would want a respite from the cacophony of life, others would give everything to enjoy the humdrum of common life. Such is the striking contrast that silence has to offer.
In the words of Debrani, her journey as a passionate photographer was initiated when she shifted to Milwaukee after marriage.
Hailing from Kolkata, an extremely ‘loud’ city in India, when she started living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she could actually hear the ‘sound of silence’.
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I am from Kolkata, India, an overcrowded place which I am very much comfortable with,” she said, adding: “but when I started living in Milwaukee I felt almost lost in silence. I have never experienced a city in that quietness. The roads were always empty. It was very difficult for me as a person to cope with such stillness.”
Milwaukee has a predominating winter. Winter is always associated with stillness. The natural world goes into winter sleep. People slow down in harsh chills.
Winter is also the harbinger of spring. Metaphorically, it is winter that prepares the world for spring. For Debrani also it was this winter that resonated with her inner silence and initiated her new journey- capturing life.
“Somehow I was managing with the new normals of new life and oneday I have started to love the silence,” Debrani told.
When she bought her own camera while enduring the ‘silent winters’, her physical journey as a photographer began. The first few clicks reverberated the echoes of silence in the streets of Milwaukee.
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The essence of the silence created a longing to go deeper into its enigma. She could feel the ecstasy in her heart that came with silence. It pulsated with a new passion. She could feel a new life in her breath.
There was no sound of words. Far from the hustle. Such a contrast from her hometown where people are lost in the jungles of words, the very existence of the silence was like a temple. It seems so sacred that you too would feel like bowing down.
“I have experienced many unknown unseen things which I have never thought of before,” Debrani said about that time she was recognizing her urge for photography.
“Photography happened with me in that phase. It was like a blessing to me in disguise. It gave me the power to hear the voice of silence.”
Standing alone – seems like becoming a seeker and admiring the self with each revelation.
Generally, the coming of winter is beautiful and even when it goes to let the spring play its role, it is still alluring. The mind is no more caged.
As is clearly expressed, the photos above are reminiscence of the silence of Milwaukee winters. Hardly any people to be seen, the entire area seems to be a slice of another world dominated by ‘silence’.
Over the next few years when Debrani would travel to Kolkata, she delved into street photography to capture the colors of the vibrant cityscapes of her hometown. She attended a few workshops to learn more about art.
Though street photos are anything but silent, her experience in Milwaukee opened a different dimension of sense in her through which she was experiencing the extraordinary in the mundane.
I can rightly assume that her initiation into the world of silence in Milwaukee was the phase that honed her skills in photography.
The next phase of her journey as a photographer, thus, took place in the streets of Kolkata. But a very different one. Her new found love for silence was reflected in the unusual shots of a silent Kolkata and other places in India.
Who could have imagined that such beauty of silence dotted even ‘the city of joy’, if not for the mesmerizing shots captured by Debrani?
The voice of the silence – all events, incidents, relationships arises from the heart and flows like the water. There is no single moment that is similar to the previous one. Each is unique for us to observe and let go of. Leaving behind for us to learn the law of the unknown.
Some feelings are beyond expression. Let it remain with the seer. Words may confuse the mind.
The silence of the night seemed to be like prayers of the heart. If only we could have clouds of prayers instead of hatred, vengeance, belligerence, and retaliation, the world could have been a place for our everlasting joy and freedom. Doesn’t Debrani’s photos show that stance?
Each photo represents the beauty of silence. Interestingly ‘silence’ denoted a lot of things in different cultures. To state in a gist, in America, ‘silence’ in a conversation often denoted displeasure or even indifference. While in Asian culture, ‘silence’ often denotes a certain maturity often required in the process of enlightenment.
Whatever the interpretation, ‘silence’ is a beautiful thing and Debrani’s captured art surely reinstates the fact that ‘silence’ is powerful and can lead one to a very enthralling journey.
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