Thank you Suresh Naganathan for being the honourable Guest Mentor of In-Street Monthly Thematic Contest, October 2018.
We are very happy to publish an exclusive interview with Suresh Naganathan to know his view and approach to Street Photography.
– Please tell us a bit about yourself and How did you start in photography?
[Suresh] First of all, thank you In-Street for the opportunity! I really enjoyed going through the submissions and provide a bit of my feedback on them!
For those who don’t know me, my name is Suresh Naganathan. I was born and raised in serene Switzerland in 1980 where I spent my childhood and early adulthood. In 2008, I did the opposite of what any sane person of Indian origin does, I moved back to India. My parents still wonder why. What was supposed to be a 1-year stint turned into a decade of living and working in Mumbai.
As I was regularly on the move for work to countries I had never visited, I bought a camera to document my travels and experiences. But I was never happy with what I was getting. What I was seeing and what I was capturing were 2 very different things, so I took a couple of online classes to get better shots. Along the way, I stumbled upon pictures by Cartier-Bresson and other masters and it changed my life. I had no idea one could take such pictures! I wanted to do the same and over the last 4 and half years, this is what I have been striving for.
– What makes street photography so special for you and what according to you makes a good street shot?
[Suresh] Street photography is special for me because it is both the easiest and the hardest form of photography. The easiest because all you need is one camera and a good pair of shoes to do it. The hardest because you need to keep honing your observations skills to create meaningful & unique work. There is an infinite number of scenes waiting to be shot but only if you can see them, that’s the magic in it.
To me, a good street shot is something that gives me a feeling of wonder. Something magical. There is no set formula, as long as it arrests me and makes me ask questions, I am happy.
– These days we are so much bombarded with information and have masters images we look at on the internet for reference. So how does it affect when we are on the streets, how can we try to be original in our approach?
[Suresh] Every image you see gets stored in our memory and impacts the way we see in the streets, no doubt about that. But so does every film you have watched, every book you have read, your interests, your likes your dislikes. As there is only one person with your life experience, if you put more of yourself, your uniqueness in your images, they will become original.
– Tell us about your approach on the streets.
[Suresh] I don’t think I have any specific approach on the streets. I walk around & usually shoot a lot. Some days, things connect, some days I don’t see anything. I always try to find something a little bit “off” in the streets. Something strange or weird. One thing that helps is that I look like a tourist wherever I go: in India, people think that I am a foreigner, and abroad, people think that I am in Indian tourist, so it helps me get close haha.
At the end, there is no set formula, I just try to focus on content that appeals to me and shoot it as best as I can.
– Projects or single images?
[Suresh] I started with single images and while I still love taking them, I am slowly starting to see themes or projects arising from my shots. More and more, I am trying to work in series. I feel that you can convey more in a series of images.
I have also started working on a long-term project called “Chasing the Festivals” where I am documenting religious festivals and other fairs in India from a street photography angle. The more I research on it, the more festivals I find ! This is something I am planning to work on in the next few years.
– The important lesson you’ve learned being a street photographer.
[Suresh] Street photography is a way of life. There are so many things I have learned from shooting on the streets. I’ve learned to pay attention to my surroundings and observe things around me. I’ve learned patience; there are periods when you just won’t get shots, you need to be patient and wait for the gods of photography to smile back at you. Above all, it taught me empathy for the people I am shooting. Without them, there would be no me.
– What advice would you offer any aspiring street photographers?
[Suresh] Be curious, be interested in your surroundings and in your subject and most of all enjoy yourself. Shooting strangers in a public setting is a weird activity so you might as well have fun doing it :-).
– Your favourite photographers and any reference books?
[Suresh] There are so many out there! My list keeps shifting as I learn more about photography and as my taste changes but I would say that right now, my major sources of inspiration are: Jason Eskenazi (if you can your hands on his book “Wonderland”, you can count yourself lucky!), Harry Gruyaert for his use of color (get his red book to see his greatest shots!) and Larry Towell for the empathy in his shots (His book “The Mennonites” is a masterpiece!).