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A person who has bagged numerous prestigious accolades from all over the world for outstanding photography says no materialistic honors but “to be associated with photography itself is an award,” in conversation with me.
This idea might raise a few eyebrows. But if you happen to know a little bit of Raj Sarkar’s philosophy towards photography and life per se, you will not be surprised by his comments.
I smiled upon hearing his unusual take on photography, Raj noticed that and added, “Every like, comment, critics may work as an award if one can take it positively. It is your choice how you will grow as a photographer”.
This is one approach that probably has made Raj a little different from the other co-runners if you talk about contemporary street photography in India in today’s context. Raj Sarkar is one of the finest Street & Travel photographers of our time and of course a coveted photography educator as well.
I believe, it will be an injustice on my part, if I do not highlight his other achievements too, apart from the numerous awards he received so far.
He is the co-founder of the World’s biggest multi-genre Facebook group World Photographic Forum (with 3.5 lacs members as of today) and Senior Mentor of APF Magazine street Photography group.
He was the executive committee member of the Kolkata International Photography Festival (KIPF) 2019 and also a profile reviewer in KIPF. He is a consulting editor of Indian Photo Art Magazine, curator at 121clicks.com.
Presently he is also the X-Mentor of Fujifilm India. Even with so many accomplishments, perhaps with his humbleness, he considers just his association with photography as the greatest achievement of his life.
It was a matter of enormous pleasure for me like any other photography enthusiast to discuss photography with Raj over a hot cup of coffee.
Although, I mentioned that it was a discussion but it was nothing but an informal chat, which we Bengalis fondly call a pure ADDA. Here’s presenting my conversation with Raj. It has been slightly re-arranged for clarity –
Raj, you often say “the beginning is always NOW” yet, I would ask how did you start your photographic journey, and since when? What inspired you to take up this form of art?
Raj: I clicked my first photograph in 1981 with an Agfa Click 3 (BW) 12-reel camera. There was a huge gap and then started clicking with a prosumer camera in 1997. The beautiful world around inspired me to take up this form of art.
Did you take any formal training in photography or are you a self-taught photographer?
Raj: Deb, in my opinion, there is nothing called a self-taught photographer. One has to learn from something, the entire universe is a teacher and helps you to learn and grow. But I have not taken any formal training from any photography institute.
It was a bouncer from you Raj. But jokes apart, this would help any aspiring photographer to understand the basic meaning of education: that the entire universe could be our greatest teacher.
Well, whom do you consider to be your inspiration in photography? Name a few photographers who have left a long-standing impression on you through their work.
Raj: The work of great photographers like Henry Cartier Bresson, Ernst Haas, Raghu Rai, Sebastian Salgado are the prime inspiration. Recently one name added to this list is Mr.Jayanta Saha, from our Kolkata, though the entire world is my source of inspiration.
I also have a copy of Jayanta Da’s book in my collection; It’s a gem of a photo book. Well, do you think that photographers can also get inspired by any other form of art, like painting, watching movie scenes, or even by reading favorite books or listening to music?
Raj: Yes, everything you mentioned Deb, are beautifully tuned in a single thread. Even your own house is the most potential place to explore possibilities as a photographer but sadly we often ignore it.
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Raj, I found you many times shooting in the street as in you are a hungry tiger in the forest. What is your general approach to compositional aspects when you are on the street with your camera? According to you, how do light, moment, content, visuals, lines & patterns impact your photos, story in an order of priority?
Raj: I go out on the street without any expectation, without any preconceived ideas, and wait for a decisive moment to occur. Everything that is impromptu interests me a lot as a street photographer.
How do you find exceptional frames from an otherwise normal set up? Does it only come by practice, or some other factors also have an influence on this?
Raj: The word ‘exceptional’ is a relative word in art Deb, for me every moment, every frame is exceptional but may not be the decisive one. As a photographer, you should decide what your desired or decisive frame is, and you are the creator of your own reality you’re your imagination, although there is no reality as such in art; it’s all about perceptions.
You are an avid traveler and have traveled in so many places in India & abroad. Do you take any special preparation or study before shooting at any particular place or event?
Raj: In my leisure time I like to see YouTube travel videos, read books, search websites, etc., and when a place instigates me a lot, I go there if my pocket permits. As a photographer, I always look for unique things to explore.
I don’t like repeating the same thing. I don’t find any value in clicking the same frame, which has already been done by our past generation. We should take inspiration from good work but should not copy otherwise you will become a machine, which is programmed to perform certain tasks repeatedly.
I have noticed you visiting a particular place time and again, for example, Varanasi, Pushkar, etc. What actually drives you to explore a particular place for more than one occasion?
Raj: Frankly speaking Deb, I feel a great connection with these places. I can feel myself and can hear my own breathing every time I visit these places. It has got a certain ‘rawness of life’, which attracts me to go there repeatedly.
Raj, youngsters often ask about the difference between travel and street photography. What is your take on this? Do you believe there is a way to effectively combine the genres of street and travel photography?
Raj: When a photograph offers topographical presence in it or it shows the culture and tells a story about their people residing there or when a photograph invokes someone to travel to that place it can be considered a travel photograph.
A travel photograph can be ‘staged’ but in street photography, you must not ‘arrange’ a photograph and it has to be candid.
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A street photograph may not offer the details of the places where it was taken. It may be based on -moment, light-shadow play, a mood, humor, emotion, storytelling, etc.
A travel portrait can be staged and may or may not include the environment but a street portrait has to be candid with the environment, in my opinion.
Is there any genre of photography that you have not explored much but would like to take up in future, given the opportunity?
Raj: Yes, I have not tried my luck with Astro photography seriously. You never know, there is always a possibility.
How do you think a photographer can use the presence of social media nowadays and digitally available contents?
Raj: Using various social media platforms, one can reach out to a huge number of audiences throughout the world within a moment. Reaching a huge audience always enhances your chances of getting an opportunity.
Nowadays, there is a huge source of information available in various platforms like youtube, Instagram, Facebook. So one can always learn from it or sometimes wrong learning may also help you understand which one is right for them.
Can you please share an interesting story with us, which you will never forget, or a challenge that you successfully overcame while shooting?
Raj: My new XT2 camera along with a 14mm prime lens got drowned in Neil Island which costs above Rs.2 Lakhs on the 3rd day of my Andaman Trip. So I had to shoot the rest of the journey with other low version cameras.
Oh ho, it must be a great loss Raj; I can understand a photographer’s agony. Well, now a totally different question: Colour or Black and white?
Raj: I like both but considering the mood of an image as various colors offer various moods and BW is also a part of the colour, Deb.
Very well said Raj, I did not think that Black and white are also colors. What according to you should be the ethical practice in photography?
Raj: Ethics is a very personal choice for any individual. It varies man to man yet, I would say offering respect to your subjects should be your first priority.
A personal question Raj, how will you describe yourself apart from being a photographer?
Raj: I have been describing myself through my photographs. I am just a general person like you all.
Well, I understand that you would like yourself to be discovered through your creations only and that is your identity. Lastly, what would be your advice to young and upcoming photographers?
Raj: Just click for two years without thinking too much about the final product and try everything then, If possible attend a good workshop on photography to progress further.
We should remember that it is always you who is behind the viewfinder and content is the king of any photograph. Through deep observation you can learn so many things and never stop learning.
Thank you, Raj, personally and from the entire We the World Magazine Team for sparing your time and sharing your insight with us. This would help our readers understand photography or any form of visual art for that matter in a great way. Keep inspiring as always.
Every beginning has an end. So, we had to call it a day at some point or the other, no matter how interesting the conversation was. I bid good-bye to Raj hoping that, once the present situation de-escalates Raj will be back on streets with his camera. Nevertheless, we shall again be prepared to be surprised by his striking creations.
We The World Magazine obtained permission for featuring the images.