‘Life is Elsewhere’ is the first of the two books from the work ‘Sweet Life’ by Magnum nominee Sohrab Hura. In conversation with NT BUZZ, the photographer speaks about his book, why he took up photography and about ‘The Summer Heat’, the project he is currently working on
By Padmavati Prabhu | NT BUZZ
You trained as an economist at Delhi University and at the Delhi School of Economics. Then why did you take up photography? Has at any point economics been a part of your photography?
Even while I was studying economics, a part of me knew that eventually I just wanted to make photographs and nothing else. I continued to study economics because I was interested in development/environmental economics. However, during the course of my masters, I realised that I didn’t want to study any further. For me this shift to photography was natural and in fact one of the first works that I did was connected to my studies in economics. I had accompanied one of the professors and other academics, students and activists when they were rallying for the enactment of the MGNREGA and so in my early years my work was connected to employment and livelihood in rural India. I would say my early work was very much connected to my background in economics.
You are the second Indian after the celebrated Raghu Rai to be made a nominee of Magnum Photos. Comment.
Not much to comment actually. As photographers, all of us grew up loving and being inspired by Raghu Rai’s work. Whether one is inclined towards that kind of photography or not, one cannot deny the sheer expanse of his work done over the years. I think there are many of us who may be able to make just one work in our lifetime but his endurance and stamina apart from a beautiful vision have played a big part in carving out a very important place in the history of photography. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just a nominee at the moment. The work done over the next four to six years will decide whether I’m accepted as a member or not. So it’s quite early for me to say anything about myself really.
‘Life is Elsewhere’ project is related to your life and has been very personal for you. Tell us about the project.
Around 2005-06 when I had just about begun my journey as a photographer, I had started feeling uncomfortable with the idea of going out and photographing someone else’s problems (unemployment and livelihood struggles in rural India). It felt a bit hypocritical to be doing that while I had my own problems at home. At the same time I was also making photographs just for the love of making photographs that had no agenda or anything like that. There was an inkling then (and when I look back in retrospect I’m quite sure of it) that those photographs seemed to allow me to escape. They would allow me to get lost in my own world. I had also started to make a few photos at home. Over time, photos from home and the ones from outside that were being made by me just for myself came together to make ‘Life is elsewhere’. The process was organic and I don’t have a more defined explanation for the existence of this work. I think also of my realisations and reasoning that came about after a time lag. And I remember that a slightly cocky younger version of me had even felt that was being formed was a sort of a set of clues that I was leaving for the future. I think in some places I did end up leaving clues to explain what I’m going to do later in the future but the work wasn’t done consciously for that purpose. So yeah, this work is not really about my mother like how it is very commonly understood or misunderstood. It’s more about me, I guess, coming of age and my questions and so on, but where my mother, friends and other important parts of my world are an important part of it.
Who is your role model? Why?
I think I would like to say that as a photographer, Bruce Lee is very important because of him having talked about his state of being, being like water. I think in a similar way, modern photographers should not restrict themselves by staying within one space. I think a lot has happened in the history of photography for us to enjoy the luxury of complete freedom within this medium. Unlike earlier where debates and opinions regarding the role of photography (like photojournalism or art) or even the form of the medium (like black and white or colour) are not really relevant (even though they still exist in certain spaces), today one can use this medium of photography (or any other) far more aptly and with a lot more purpose. And the clash between the different domains of photography (art/journalism/documentary/commercial/others) has thrown open a space for us where one can shift from one kind of photography to another. It’s in that regard that Bruce Lee’s vision funnily seems far more relatable than the vision of any photographer. Maybe we can also try and create our own ‘Jeet Kune Do’ in photography.
What interests you as a photographer?
Everything. There is material everywhere around us. I think I am more a person who reacts than one who starts off with a predetermined plan. Even when I start off from a particular place, it helps me to leave enough room to find new unexpected detours and this will only happen if I am interested in everything. I do have certain leanings at the moment like my work in rural India and at the same time my ‘personal’ work. But I know that there are many more things I want to do which are entirely different from what I’ve done till now. Also I think I hold on to an idea at times and then work my way around it in an organic way for which I need to look around everywhere.
You are being looked upon as a role model by young photographers. Your piece of advice to them?
It’s a bit awkward to respond to this, but I’d say ‘Don’t listen to me, make mistakes and find your own special way’.
Any projects that you are currently working on?
‘The Summer Heat’ is one of the projects I am working on currently in a small village panchayat in Madhya Pradesh. Initially, my work in rural India took a position but I realised that I was also showing my work to a predetermined audience. Sitting there for days, I’d have to blank my mind out very often because of the heat; it’s one of the hottest places in the country. And somehow the idea of heat and summer stayed with me. It gave me a way to show the villages through something that was intangible and not so confrontational as compared to an ‘issue’. I think it’s all about digging into yourself and your work in the long run and new ways come out for me from the same space or subject.
What can the viewers expect at Sensorium?
I’ll be talking about how the book came about and for that I’ll have to take the viewers through my beginnings till the book.
(Sohrab Hura’s book ‘Life is Elsewhere’ will be launched on February 3 at 7 p.m. at Sunaparanta – Goa Centre for the Arts, Altinho, Panaji)