Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Soumyendra Saha is a street photographer from Kolkata, India and an erstwhile software engineer. After an erratic 12-years career crunching C code for companies making network equipment, he was toying with the idea of freelancing and finally left his job in early 2014.
Interview of Soumyendra Saha
by Muhammad Imam Hasan
Would you please introduce yourself for our viewers?
Hello everyone !
Thank you for inviting me for the interview. I am honored and privileged.
My name is Soumyendra Saha. I am 47 and live in Kolkata, India. I practice street photography mainly in Kolkata and Varanasi,India. I was once a software engineer when one fine day I quit my job partly out of disillusionment and partly because I was bored of crunching 0s and 1s. So with a lot of time to spare I decided to shoot the streets one day and that was it. It became an instant passion.
You are a master of juxtaposition. Would you please say something about your following viral images:
Everyone is scared of viruses these days, be it H1N1 or Coronavirus. So, it is better that I do not mention anything about the viral part. Juxtaposition , well , I would call it storytelling. Juxtaposition is a tool. You need to select or find a frame with various elements and frame and time the same to spin a story, convey a feeling or allude to an idea. At least that is what street photography is all about, to me.
I was walking pretty tired around the famous clay artisans locality, Kumortuli, in Kolkata when I noticed this potter just catching enough sun on his belly and found a similarity with the pots kept just beside him. I ran across the street and framed but there was a lot of traffic. So this is a very lucky frame indeed in terms of light and timing. And the story is there for all to see. The person was totally unaware of what was going on in my head or camera and kept asking me if I was a journalist. That is what amused me more than the frame. I quickly apologized if I was annoying him and smiled and chatted about the pots he makes. So I would say if there is anything that made the frame, it is visualization and choice of POV( point of view ). I was walking past the frame you see, from left to right, when I noticed the pots and chose the POV on the right across the street. That was totally intuitive and a result of practice with a fixed focal length and many failed images in the past, I guess.
This image is more a developing story. I found the cockerel wandering is a very congested area and was taking some images. The empty water cans on sale gave me an eerie feeling and an odd similarity, as if the cockerel was somehow related to the cans. I waited a long time, maybe 15 minutes, for it to finally fill in the gap ,as it were, amongst the cans. I used the on-camera flash as fill flash to illuminate the cans.
How would you describe your photographic style? What draws you to a subject? Is it anything specific?
I think what I try to capture is either abstract geometrical, abstract informal , human figure or ideas. I am not drawn to anything specific but when I see something interesting on the streets, either people or things, it conveys a secret message to me. It says “Take my photo !” (Laughs !)
Can you describe a typical day for you when you go out shooting? From your routine before shooting, (for example, are there specific clothes you wear, food you eat) to your day on the street (do you plan to go to specific places, or do you just wander).
There was a phase when I was pretty religious when it came to going out. I would wake up around 5am, be out by 6, and be at a selected spot, by 6:30. Then I would get some lovely morning slating yellowish sun, perfect for the Canon camera I carried and walk for around 2-3 hours and be back by noon. Or I would leave by 3pm and walk to get the afternoon sun and be back by 7pm. I generally wore normal casuals and chappals, which turned out to be bad idea, as after 5 years on the streets, now I am developing bursitis, a painful inflammation of the heels. So now I wear sneakers. But chappals are a great way to mix with the crowd. The moment you wear costly shoes, people classify you. I try to walk empty stomach till the walk is over but street food is very tempting in Kolkata and I often myself too full to walk and shoot. (Laughs !) I would say 80% of the walk is on empty stomach.
You love to get very close to your subjects. Has this ever caused any problems for you?
Yes and no. Sometimes people are so stunned by the camera so near to their ear that they are at a loss of a reaction. That is where I get my shot. I don’t wander around too much with a camera dangling from my shoulder and then find something interesting and get close. While walking I see something interesting and choose the frame and distance from subject in my mind, quickly move in , take the photograph , and move out with the shot. So most of time I get away without any problems. Rarely people would raise an objection. If I feel my subject is a bit uneasy about it, I ask for permission “after” the photo is taken, which is sort of a contradiction but genre demands candidness. I try to explain the same. Calcutta people are very understanding. I ask if they want me to delete. If they want me to delete the photo, I go ahead and delete it. If someone is angered by the invasion of privacy I offer to delete. Once I had to dodge a potential visit to the police station but these are preventable and rare ( it happened just once in 5 years but yes, talking about rights and laws, you are on the wrong foot taking photos without permission),if you sense the mood of your subject right. Better to stay away from getting too close to edgy people.
For the gear heads out there, can you tell us what camera/lens you prefer to shoot with?
Gear is not important and I have no preference but I would say if you own a camera,any camera, use the camera and lens for a year constantly without changing. It is then that it becomes the famed “extension of your eye” as Henri-Cartier Bresson had said. If there is any gear head, they should learn just this one thing - Any gear can give you great photos.
Inspiration. Where do you personally find it and how important is it to you as a photographer?
Photo books are a great source of inspiration. Also reading literature, poetry, listening to music, watching good movies – they all go into enhancing your creativity.
What you most like and dislike in street photography?
I like the fact that it is a great medium to explore your inner self and express your thoughts and emotions through light, shade and people and places. We are constantly observing things and they are becoming observed and being left behind. How about carrying the observation for posterity ? I don’t really dislike anything about street photography. Street photographers are a small closed group of people who live in a different world totally disjoint from the world where the subjects that are photographed lay. I just wish people understood street photography more.
Any Suggestions for young photographers?
Street photography is an all-consuming passion. If you let the flames engulf you, you will come out shining. If you chose to use it for ulterior motives –fame, money, Likes – you won’t get anything.
This Interview was taken by Muhammad Imam Hasan
All Photos are Copy Righted by (C) Soumyendra Saha