One isn’t too far off the mark, especially after online searches yield very little, in presuming that Sohrab Hura is an elusive and exclusive photographer. But the Delhi-based lensman, 32, doesn’t think of himself or his body of work as either.
Only the second Indian after the celebrated Raghu Rai to be made a nominee of Magnum Photos – the global photography collective co-founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson – Hura tends to shun the limelight, for reasons you cannot really argue with.
“I just want to concentrate on work,” he says. “I think attention takes away a certain creative energy. The more attention you get, the more comfortable you get, and the more you die inside in some ways. So it’s not that I have an aversion to the media or to people. It’s just my own protective mechanism. I need to keep going back to my own bubble every now and then.”
Born in Chinsurah, West Bengal, Hura travelled around quite a bit in his childhood, as his father was in the merchant navy. Stability arrived when he joined The Doon School in Dehradun. School was a beautiful experience for him, but Hura avoids its very active alumni network. “These things just make you so comfortable. They offer a safety net of sorts,” he says. “I need to feel a bit of instability in life. That’s the only thing that brings out a certain degree of rawness in whatever I do.”
But shouldn’t “rawness” be a more natural process? Given the way the world is today, says Hura, it has become important for people to create the space which can drive them to do better work. Even if that means consciously inducing instability into one’s circumstances. “Then again, the moment one’s work gains some recognition, that raw instability diminishes to some effect,” he says ruefully. “It’s like the creative process goes down a notch.”
Hura’s earliest photographic project was deeply personal and stemmed from an ‘unstable’ aspect of his life. His mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was still in school. Eventually he built a photographic series around this phase of his life, and his mother’s. Called Sweet Life (2005 to 2014), the first set of images, Life Is Elsewhere (2005 to 2011), focused on his relationship with his mother. The second set, Look, it’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! (2008 to 2014), features images from when her health started to improve.
Life Is Elsewhere, says Hura, helped him develop a voice of his own, gave him a platform, and most significantly, made him feel secure as a creative person. In a way, he craves the “instability” to ensure there is no burn-out in his creative process. So that it remains as raw as it did when, during college, he first began shooting with his Nikon FM10, a gift from his father.
Though Sweet Life brought Hura recognition, his work is conspicuously absent in the public domain. Although he has conducted some workshops where participants have had a glimpse of his work, he has consciously stayed away from group/solo shows. Is this an attempt to stand out (or stay away?) from the crowd? To be exclusive? No, says Hura. “I don’t like the idea of exclusivity anyway.”
So why doesn’t he show more of his work?
“I think in trying to keep away from the system, I got so comfortable in my own world that now I’m just happy there. Now I just don’t feel like putting much work out,” he says. “Also, for me the process of creating something has an innocence about it. And once I’ve put out my work, it’s part of the big, bad, dirty world of photos, art, whatever you want to call it, and then it doesn’t belong to me anymore.”
The cliché doesn’t click
Even when he submitted photographs for the Magnum selection, Hura didn’t show them all. Some he was still working on; others he just didn’t want to show because he didn’t want other people’s opinions of those images to affect his own. He sent about 60 photographs to Magnum in May this year after Olivia Arthur, a British documentary photographer and Magnum member, nominated him.
And Hura is still in the process of submitting his work. One of his recent projects is called The Song of Sparrows in a Hundred Days of Summer (2013 to ongoing). Shot in the village of Pati in Madhya Pradesh, the project explores the idea of summer heat in a rural setting.
Among contemporary photographers, Hura appreciates American lensman Daniel Gordon and South Africa’s Mikhael Subotzky. In fact, he says he’s jealous of them. “They do very unique, striking work,” he says. And in India, he admires Asmita Parelkar, Sumit Dayal and the veteran photographer Swapan Parekh. It was Parekh who reminded Hura, then 25, who had just returned from photographing the Kumbh Mela, that creativity can sometimes become a cliché. “Swapan had just come back from the World Press Photo contest,” recalls Hura. “He said, ‘F**k, it was so embarrassing. Everyone from India sent photos of the Kumbh Mela. Even in the sports section!’ I felt really embarrassed as well.”
That memory has stayed with him still, but he is glad he’s been through such phases, trying to push creative boundaries, even if the results seem trite. The point is to keep pushing. That’s what Hura has done. And that’s what he promises to keep doing.
From HT Brunch, August 17
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