The unrelenting summer heat sweeps across Sohrab Hura’s frames. It becomes the sun-bleached parched earth of the tropical imagination, whipped up by dust storms, before it settles down into the somnolence of afternoons in which a lone black dog wanders down an empty lane. It’s part of a familiar subconscious, which plays out every year across India. Shot in a tiny village in Madhya Pradesh, the images from The Song of Sparrows in a Hundred Days of Summer (2013-ongoing) reminds the photographer of Macondo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s landscape in One Hundred Years of Solitude. “It was 50 degrees Celsius and I was trying to look for some magic in summer, in its oppressive hold over the land. It reminded me of the book, a favourite of mine, and the project spun off from there,” says Hura.
The black-and-white frames, with their grainy texture, appear like a book one has read several times. Hura, 32, a recent nominee of Magnum Photos, the international photographic co-operative co-founded by Henri Cartier Bresson, prefers his images to be raw and pulsing with emotion. “Sometimes, you can destroy a photograph by being a photographer, because you tend to sanitise your vision. For me, it is important not to be clinical, to feel doubtful about my work,” he says.
Hura’s approach involves a steady chipping away at an idea till it begins to take form. The camera becomes a mere implement, a tool that can change with projects. As with the plants that he grows in the garden of his Gurgaon house or the books that he finds “very difficult” to read because of his “inability to look beyond the details”, this wait for his work to evolve is a period of great vulnerability. “What importance do photographs have in today’s world? And can I say a little more with my photographs — become a poet, a novelist, or a short story writer, perhaps?” he asks.
The answer leads him away from the conventions of Indian photography, whose mainstay has been a political narrative. “I don’t care about photo-journalism, simply because its role has changed from the 1960s. Then, it was the prime source of documentation. With the arrival of television, there’s too much information and documentation all around; photographs die a daily death. From the way I look at it, photographs need to hit you hard in the gut. They need to be personal, because in the end, it is a question of, if you were to construct an universe, how would you do it.”
The thought has taken him from Raghu Rai’s lush frames to Raghubir Singh’s gypsy trails — “Raghu Rai made us love photography and once we became intellectuals, we turned to Raghubir Singh,” he says — to halt at unlikely continued…