“For me, photography is a language of visual story-telling. It helps me tell a tale that I want to share with the world. My purpose through photography is to be able to tell a story of an individual or a group or a lifestyle. To bring the unnoticed existence and realities of life to the eyes of everyone.”
Dipayan Bhattacharjee (born in 1988) is a street photographer from India, currently based in Shillong, India. He studied photography at St. Anthony’s College, Shillong.
“Life is a movie. Every individual is an artist. And I am the storyteller!”
Interview with Dipayan Bhattacharjee
Dipayan Bhattacharjee, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
The reason why this simple photograph I’m sharing with you all makes me so happy is because after taking the shot and when I looked at my LCD screen, I was about to delete it. Glad I didn’t.
“Something within me made me to stop there.”
It so happened that after college, I was walking to my favorite spot (market) in my small town where I do most of my street photography. One the way, there was this house that had the gates open. My eyes just scanned around the compound randomly, when I spotted a kennel, with a dog sitting right outside it. Usually, I’m very scared of unknown dogs, but I noticed that this dog was chained. Something within me made me to stop there and I continued to stare at the dog and the kennel. Usually, I wouldn’t dare approach a chained dog either, but at that moment, somehow, the only thing I was worried about was the owner.
I was thinking to myself if I should go in and ask permission from the owner to take the shot. But then again, I knew that if I did so, something which was so natural about the scene would disappear. I started taking very short steps towards the kennel which was right next to the house.
As I kept walking, my eyes fell on an old man who was strolling around near the kennel. From his looks, I could say that this man was probably a laborer or something of that kind who was working in the compound. The man turned towards me, saw me entering the compound, and moved his eyes away, almost as though he never saw me, almost as if I was invisible. I kept walking. I was carrying my 50mm prime, so there was no question of zooming. I knew exactly at what distance I had to be to get the shot I wanted. When I was at that distance, the man was standing just next to the dog. I could see an even more beautiful story added to the composition.
I bent on my knee, bought my camera in front, and looked right into the eyes of the man one last time to see if he would object. Nope, no reactions. I bought the viewfinder to my eye, and took exactly two shots, got up, and walked away. The dog never barked, the man never spoke. Weird, eh!
Anyways, once I was out, I looked at my viewfinder and somehow I didn’t like the shot at all. I have no idea as to why I felt that way, but I immediately deleted one of the two shots. I decided to keep the other one for the time being. When I got back home, on a bigger computer screen, I opened up the pic and knew exactly what I had to do. It was almost instinctive. Firstly, I did the usual (converting the color RAW into black and white), and then the magic “square crop”. It’s very rare that I do a square cropping, but for this shot, it was just perfect (according to me). The story I wanted to tell through the photo came out better than I had expected.
Why did you become a photographer?
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t a very thought out decision. It just happened. What I always liked and enjoyed was observing life, framing it, and of course, capturing it. Since childhood days, I loved framing moments of everyday or not-so-everyday life. I was never really a very landscape and nature person. I still am not. Though I hold high respect for every amazing landscape photographer, and their work. Just that it’s not my cup of tea.
Anyways, until recently, I wasn’t even aware of the terms “street photographer” or “documentary photographer”. For me, it was just a journey that began in my days of childhood with an analog Canon point-and-shoot camera, which grew up to my cell-phone camera, and I finally own a DSLR now. I became a photographer only to capture and show the world, people and the moments (good or bad, happy or sad, all that is a different issue) of life which shall probably never repeat itself again.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say and transmit with your pictures?
For me, photography is a language of visual story-telling. It helps me tell a tale that I want to share with the world. My purpose through photography is to be able to tell a story of an individual or a group or a lifestyle, etc. To bring the unnoticed existence and realities of life to the eyes of everyone.
Which photographer has inspired you most, Dipayan Bhattacharjee?
Oh, it would really be unfair if I would name just one photographer to have inspired me. There are several names in this, and every day I come across new photographers who completely astound me with their work.
Yet, if I had to name one, I would like to say Steve McCurry. His sense of composition, light and colors, which seem to be just perfect in every frame that he creates, is really mind-blowing. Besides the technical and artistic part, his dedication towards photography which makes him travel all around the world; from the most comfortable of cities to the most life-threatening war zones, is also one major inspiration for me. He is like the perfect photographic icon/idol.
A few other names that I have to mention here will be Vivian Mayer, Raghu Rai, Thomas Leuthard and Paul Swee.
“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.”
Your favorite photography quote?
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
How would you describe your photographic voice and creative process?
Being a predator of those precious candid moments of life, I would describe my photographic voice or creative process to be more or less instinct guided. Sure, I do work on photo projects and photo essays, but when I go out to shoot, it’s barely on my mind. My preparation includes making sure that my memory card is empty and battery is fully charged. Besides that, it all comes in the moment. I see a frame take form in front of my eyes and immediately know that I have to capture it, and then it all happens on the spur of the moment.
But to define my style more accurately, I have to move a little further away from the typical definition of a street photographer. I could be called more of a people photographer rather. I like getting close – really close. For me, the “decisive moment” is more in that priceless expression of an individual, rather than combining several elements and creating a unique juxtaposition to form a picture. Most of my photographs are usually simple and do not have too many elements. I like to keep my frame clean and focus on one thing at a time.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
From my experience, what I feel is most important in order to develop your own photographic voice is to go out and shoot. That’s the only way. And while doing so, never try to copy somebody else’s style. See what you are good at, what kind of frames interest you, what kind of subjects come to your notice more easily, and shoot. Those who try to copy, are barely able to do so appropriately and end up messing up things completely. And besides, if there was an exhibition by Robert Capa, and another by a copycat of his works, we all know where we would want to be. Take inspiration from everyone, but never try to copy anyone.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
Technically, the axis of my work is the element of black and white. That’s like my identity. Now and then I do try to keep a few of my frames in color, but most of the time they don’t really work well for the viewers. And playing with high contrasts is also an intimate part of my image making. High contrast, black and white, crystal clear, and sharp is what I really love my final products look like.
Conceptually, as I mentioned earlier, simplicity is what identifies my work. No chaos, no disturbance. I am more of a peace-loving person, and I like the idea of people identifying me with my frames, and also getting the feel of an emotional attachment with the picture.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photojournalist need?
According to me, a good photojournalist needs to be passionate about his work. That is the most important quality. If that comes in place, everything else eventually will. He must absolutely love his work and be ready at all times to take things to the next level.
Another thing which is equally important is to have an eye for justice and be fearless. I’d like to point out that I’m not talking about ethics here. Eye for justice is something very different. Ethics depend on person to person, and they have their own ways of dealing with it.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
For me, a great photo, firstly, must create an emotional attachment with the viewer. It should arouse certain feelings within me that’ll make me keep stare at it. And secondly, it must be well composed. Somehow, even good story-telling images with a bad composition immediately get on my nerves.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
As a matter of fact, most of the inspiration I get for newer photographic projects is from the net. I look at photo projects by other photographers and photojournalists and they push me to create my own ones.
For the theme, I let my surroundings drive me.
If I’m allowed to, here, I would like to suggest a few websites for all the readers to have a look at and draw inspiration for amazing photographic projects:
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I am a minimum gear person, and currently all that I have is a Canon EOS 550D with the 18-55mm kit lens and a 50mm prime lens.
Though, as soon as I can afford a purchase, I’d love to get myself a Fuji X100.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I would have to start by saying that I spend a whole lot of time on the internet, browsing across hundreds of photography websites. And hence, it would almost be impossible to name just one and say that it is my favorite.
So, apart from the sites that I have mentioned in an earlier question, a few other would be:
“On Being A Photographer” by David Hurn
What photography book would you recommend?
For a more mature reading, “On Being A Photographer” by David Hurn (Magnum Photographer) is an excellent choice. This book has nothing to do with the technicalities of the medium, but on things that are more important in photography.
And to see some amazing photographs and get some inspiration, “A Day in the Life of India” by Raghu Rai and Micheal Tobias would be an excellent choice.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
- Go for it only and only if you are absolutely passionate about it.
- Browse the net, read books, visit exhibitions, and do whatever it takes, but see works of great photographers who have already made a mark in the field. And remember, there is no end to this step, ever.
- Go out on the streets yourself and shoot. Only looking at others’ works won’t help.
- Challenge yourself to new projects, set deadlines for yourself, push your limits further each time and give all that it takes to have a decent output.
- And if possible, go out with a professional and shoot with him. Get your work reviewed by someone who knows this art well. And by reviewed I mean detailed feedback on what is good and what is bad in a picture.
- And lastly, never give up!