In November, investment banker-turned-photographer Kaushal Parikh, 36, realised that he was not the only one obsessively capturing life in the streets of Mumbai. “When I quit my job five years ago to pursue photography, the streets were my first subject. The more I shot, the more I realised that it was the most honest way of documenting urban history,” says Parikh.
Many photographers he spoke to or met at photography exhibitions had also taken to the streets, documenting city life and its constantly changing demographics. “I realised that we could wield more power and gain more exposure as a collective,” he adds.
So seven enthusiasts got together to set up That’s Life, a website where street photographers can post images from across India’s metropolitan cities. Set up in January, the collective was inspired by such initiatives in the West, where this art form has however been in a decline since the 9/11 terror attacks in New York in 2001.
Concerns about privacy and terrorism made locals apprehensive of strangers taking pictures on the street.
“In the big cities of the West, people are less open to being photographed by strangers,” says Susan Hapgood, a New Yorker who is now a Mumbai-based curator. “In India, the concept of privacy is very different and people don’t mind as much.”
In India, in fact, there is a growing interest in the genre, driven by three factors — street photography is now accepted as a fine art, with exhibitions held at leading art galleries; shooting equipment is easily available; and the constantly changing demographics of India’s cities make an engaging canvas.
The That’s Life collective, accordingly, is among a slew of street photography initiatives and events launched over the past six months.
In October, the first-ever Delhi Photography Festival had a section dedicated to street photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In December, Hapgood curated a street photography exhibition at Mumbai Art Room that showcased photographs taken over the past three decades by renowned photographers such as Ram Rahman, Shahid Datawala and Sooni Taraporevala.
And in February, Kashish Parpiani and his sister Maansi released See! Shoot! Showcase!, a book about street photography featuring photographs by their father, senior photojournalist Mukesh.
“Photographs taken in the street give a palpable sense of the density of the urban population, showing the way cities throughout the country are impacted by waves of newcomers,” says Hapgood. “Artists are taking a hard look at the urban environment, working with politically and socially charged subject matter. At the same time, street photography is also an easily available subject.”
Though many amateur photographers start by shooting on the street, since it is a subject that is easily available, experts say it is also one of the toughest genres. “The trick is to find the unusual in the ordinary,” says master photographer and photojournalist Raghu Rai, who has also participated in several street photography exhibitions.
Photographer Kaushik Chakravorty too has been stressing this at his street photography workshops, which have seen the number of participants triple over the past four years.
“Every time you shoot in the street, you get a different composition. That makes it very exciting,” says Chakravorty, who now conducts workshops every Sunday, up from one every three or four months when he began in 2009. “But if not done well, street photography can be a letdown.”