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Karan Vaid, a photographer from India, won 1st place in the inaugural IPA Street Photography Contest. The contest received over 3,000 entries from all corners of Asia. In this invisible interview, we catch up with Karan, talk to him about his win, and find out more about his photography craft and journey.
Invisible Ph t grapher Asia: Firstly, congratulations – how do you feel about winning 1ST Prize at the Inaugural IPA Street Photography Contest?
Karan Vaid: Thank you, I am very happy to be a finalist and in the company of such talented photographers. To win is always a great feeling. Having said that I have a long way to go and have a lot more to learn.
You are a self-taught photographer; tell us about your journey.
I started in 2007 and soon photography was all I wanted to do. So, in 2009, I quit my advertising job and sold my car and used the money to invest in photography. I looked towards the internet for all my technical knowledge, but I think my biggest learning was and continues to be from looking at the work of other photographers. I was lucky enough to attend a few workshops including the Foundry workshop in Turkey and the Angkor Photo workshop in Cambodia, last year. I taught myself studio lighting and since then I have been able to get few odd commercial gigs here and there to help with the money (at this stage I take all commercial projects that come my way… this helps me to keep my personal projects going). I have worked on a number of different photographic assignments including travel, advertising, industrial and even weddings. I love photography and each assignment teaches me something new. I am very fortunate to be able to do something I love. I have no complaints.
Can you tell us more about the way you work – your photography technique or philosophy perhaps?
For my personal and documentary work, I use only prime lenses. I like getting in as close as I can to my subjects and work all the angles. I enjoy working with multiple elements and will, sometimes, sacrifice accepted “photographic aesthetics” to accommodate these elements in my frame. I rely on my instincts and usually wait for the right moments. I never edit in camera (for fear of missing a good moment) but try not to shoot too much. Consequently, I use a low capacity memory card or 2 rolls of film at any given time; this forces me to look and work harder… In the end it’s about capturing the perfect moment, everything else comes second.
What tools do you use in your photography?
I don’t like carrying a lot of gear; never more then one body and a lens. I photograph exclusively with prime lenses (a 35 mm or a 50 mm). Lately, I have started shooting a lot of film (HP5 +) that I develop myself. I don’t use zoom lenses, tripods or camera bags, when I am working.
There are diverse opinions, but what does Street Photography mean to you?
I think it’s a lot about capturing those fleeting moments that people witness everyday… About searching for and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and of course having the skills (patience, timing and anticipation) to capture this in a frame aesthetically. I believe, that any good street photograph should stir up an emotion. This could be anything; excitement, fear, sadness and happiness etc.
We were asked this recently – Is Street Photography any different in Asia to the west, if it is so what are the differences?
I am probably not the right person to answer this question considering my limited experience. However I believe, that there is a difference in the way photographers approach their subjects. At least, In India people are more reserved and take lesser chances… they like shooting from afar and with longer lenses. Of course, there are exceptions and there is an opportunity here to give a whole new meaning to the term street photography; In Asia, everything happens on the streets… unabashed and unapologetic – its fantastic.
What are your thoughts on the documentary photography scene in India?
India has produced some really great documentary photographers and photojournalists these include Raghubir Singh, N. Thiagarajan, Homai Vyarawalla, Kishore Parekh, Dayanita Singh, S Paul and of course Raghu Rai. They are all well-known industry stalwarts and have produced exceptional work. I know a very talented group of young Indian documentary photographers who are producing very fresh work and most if not all are working on long-term projects of their own. It’s a great time to be a documentary photographer in India.
You previously assisted Gary Knight (VII Photo) and Philip Blenkinsop (Noor Images). Can you share your experience working with them.
I was very fortunate to work with Gary and Philip. Considering all they have achieved, I was very surprised to find out how humble and down to earth they both are. They were especially generous in sharing their experiences and knowledge with everyone. Assisting them taught me a lot about being a good photographer. I say this a lot but a workshop with either Philip or Gary will change your life.
What photographs are you taking now or projects are you working on?
I am currently working on a long-term project on Delhi’s youth culture… it’s about partying, money, independence, expectations, marriage, and malcontent. It’s a bit out there and dark, but I really enjoy shooting it.
What is your personal favorite of the photographs you’ve taken, and why is it special to you?
I don’t know if I have a favourite yet, I am quite fond of a photograph I took in Kashmir in early 2010 of worshipers being blessed with holy water in a mosque. I am also quite partial to my winning entry The colt attacks: I had spent about 15 minutes photographing the horseman trying to get his horse under control. There was a lot of dust flying around and this guy walks into the top left of the frame oblivious to the situation. I got 2 frames before the man, trying to get away from the horse, pushed me to the ground. I knew I had captured a good moment.
Are there any other place or people you would like to photograph?
I am planning on returning to Srinagar, Kashmir. But only after a few more assignments and after I have worked more on my long-term project in Delhi. Besides that I would love to spend a year or two abroad, but India has a lot to offer and I would rather work here given that I am a local. It is very tempting to go to exotic destinations (and just start shooting)… In my opinion one should do adequate research beforehand and should really know what she/he wants to do in these places.
Are there any photographers that inspire you, or whose work you admire?
My favourite photographer is Paolo Pellegrin; I love his style and approach. Another of my favourites is Larry Sultan – I love the mood he captured in his photographs (especially in Pictures from home).
Some others, who I admire, include Josef Koudelka, W. Eugene Smith, Yuri Kozyrev, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Jason Eskenazi, Antoine d Agata, Gary Knight, Philip Blenkinsop, Raghubir Singh, Trent Park, and Marcus Bleasedale.
Your camera has one shot left. What will you photograph with that last ever frame?
That’s a tough question… it will probably be a snapshot of the a family member.
If you could travel in time, what year in the past or future would you travel to with your camera?
I’m a big history buff and I would love to be present in the time of the Mughals in India… anytime during the reign of Akbar would be fantastic.
More of Karan’s work at: www.karanvaid.com