“My work is more issue-based, more conceptual. I define my photography as focusing more on the humanitarian aspects than on technicalities.”
Arindam Mukherjee (born in 1974) is a self-taught documentary photographer from India, currently based in Kolkata.
Arindam Mukherjee started his career in 1996 as an advertising photographer and worked with reputed advertising agencies, fashion designers, graphic designers and NGOs. However, since beginning, Arindam Mukherjee was more interested in street photography; which later brought him to photojournalism.
He started his career in photojournalism as a freelance in “The Times of India”. Arindam Mukherjee has also worked as the chief photographer and assignment director for “EyePress” photo agency based in Hong Kong. Presently he works as a freelance photojournalist for newspapers, magazines and NGOs.
Arindam Mukherjee, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
My father’s Pentax K1000. He was a geologist and used to take pictures of the stones’ cross structure. I used to click photos of my parents with the leftover films. I was four or five years old then. However, my dad wouldn’t usually let me touch his camera. He thought cameras were expensive stuff, not meant for kids. He died when I was 21 years old. After that I started clicking around with that camera.
Why did you become a photographer?
I always liked visuals. I liked to paint, watch movies, have my parents buy me picture books. In short, anything visually appealing has had me interested since I was a kid. I was born in a middle class Bengali family, typically into books and studies. But I didn’t like studying very much. Though, pictures caught my interest in an instant. When I grew up, I followed my heart and photography seemed like a natural progression.
What does photography mean to you?
It is everything to me. I know that’s a big thing to say. The truth is I spend most of my time with photography. Either I am taking photos or reading about photo-projects, checking out other photographers’ work, or re-searching on my next project. So, even though, it sounds big, I cannot imagine living a life not being a photographer. Without this I have no existence.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
I’m most inspired by Sebastiao Salgado. I just admire his photographic technique, use of space, use of moments etc. One can really learn from him how to handle a big photographic project. I was overwhelmed by his “Workers”. The way it’s been edited is tremendous. It’s a wonderful collection of pictures taken at different places at different times. However, these different pictures tell one single story in a beautiful way. All his work has eternal value. The world cannot function without the workers.
“Migrations” – is the other work that really inspires me. It is continuing since the dawn of human civilization. So this issue will never go out-of-fashion, to put it very bluntly. At present, he is working on genesis – the beginning of the world. Can you imagine the tremendous impact this work is going to have for us and generations to come! I have rarely seen anybody thinking so deeply, as him. He is unique in his ideas.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
I have got two favorite quotes. One is by Steve McCurry.
“To become a photographer leave your house first.”
Another is by Robert Capa:
“If your picture isn’t good enough that means you aren’t close enough.”
The last one is very much true for my photographic style. I can really identify with this quote.
“The definition of a great picture is one that stays with you, one that you can’t forget. It doesn’t have to be technically good at all.”
How would you describe your photographic language?
I am purely a documentary photographer inspired and influenced by many photographers. I have learnt bit by bit from a lot of people. It’s very important to have a style. My style, I would say, is about intimacy with the subject, layers of information and emotion.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Since my early career, people have commented that I have a “style”. Neil Bergess was first to mention, then it was photographer Dr. Shahidul Alam who said the same. I did a workshop held by these them organized by the “British Council, India”. I still have that style.
In order to develop a style it is very important to know what you want to say as a photographer. Once you know that, the pictures speak for themselves.
And to understand what you want to say it is imperative to know. So, I research a lot. And even more, I think about it. I always keep into consideration how to reach people the best way possible. I always aim at doing work that may be able to appeal to people beyond my country or time. There are things that are important to people of my country. And there are things that people from any corner of the world might be able to identify with. I try to find topics of the second category. I never work on something which will be dated in a short while. I don’t do “news” so to speak. I work on issues persisting for a long time that have a broad impact on people’s lives. I work fast as I have to fund my own projects. The longer it takes the more expensive it gets. Since the thought process goes on for a while (sometimes even for two or three years), even if it’s a short-term project, it still credits depth. I usually can strike the chord on the very first day of the shoot.
When I work I focus on one subject. Even if something very interesting passes me by I don’t get distracted. So, at any given point in time I am working on a single project. I can never do two stories at once.
I like to work in a planned way. And I keep a well structured map in my head. I want to be sure what I want to say. More than the photographs I labour at story telling. More than a photographer I am a storyteller.
I do small projects and quite a few ones, because I cannot always self-fund the big projects. After all, I am a professional and I need to earn a living through my photography. I work at the depth of the projects. The deeper I can get to the subject the better. I don’t just aim at clicking beautiful photographs.
I believe in copy book style photography. If I just follow the trend I am losing my style. These days, lots of people are making use of shake and blur, holga lens, elaborate processing etc. without realizing it may be actually taking the pictures’ quality down. If you are just following a trend, it’s not you, it’s just the fad you are following. It needs to be you at the end of the day. If I just follow someone that means I am losing my unique style. Your style is your identity.
Also I am not a very technical person. I use normal lenses. I have a 35 mm lens, and sometimes I use a tele lens. My work is more issue-based, more conceptual. I define my photography as focusing more on the humanitarian aspects than on technicalities.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
In one word: patience. You won’t get recognitions or accolades for your work easily. So, one just has to keep on doing the work. If you are patient you will be seen and noted. Another very important aspect is one has to be ethical enough as a person. This is a profession where you work with people, often times from the most vulnerable sections of society. So as a photographer you have to be sensitive as to how you use the information your subjects have allowed you to gather. Also, one should not be lying to one’s self. If you don’t like an image be honest to edit it out. Don’t just use it because you find it easier that way.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes, Arindam Mukherjee?
Very simple! It should connect to people. It should capture the full concentration of the viewer. It will take the viewer to the place of the photograph, convey the emotions felt by the subject and make the reader feel it. It’s a love at first sight. Either you like it or don’t like it. At the same time, you need to be a visually literate person. Many people do not find anything beautiful than the picture of a flower or bird. Usually a good photograph is appreciated by everybody. The emotional aspect is more important than the technical parts. A photograph should engage its viewers.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Inspiration comes from your inside. Things that are affecting you, things you react to, and so on. I get inspiration from what I see, read, experience and observe.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Nikon D800 and D300 camera. Lenses: 17 – 50 f/2.8 tamron, 35mm f/2, 50 mm f/1.8 and 80 – 200 f/2.8 last three lenses are Nikon lenses and Nikon SB800 flash.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
What photography book would you recommend?
Arindam Mukherjee, which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
Don’t come into this profession for the sake of glamour or money. Follow your passion. Try to build up a good body of work. Listen to your heart, enjoy photography – and money and recognition will follow.