Trying to be an invisible photographer in Mumbai is like Gisele Bundchen trying to go unnoticed in San Quentin.” This is a cheeky observation that Mumbai-based street photographer,Kaushal Parikh,made in his recent essay on shooting on the city streets.
Over the past few years,a debate has been raging worldwide whether street photography should be restricted to protect individual privacy. For many years,Britain has struggled to curtail police action against public photographers,and even today,tripod-photography is frowned upon in many European countries.
However,in this vast landscape of skepticism,India has remained a glorious exception. Street photography in the country has thrived,especially in the hands of talented amateurs. Multiple blogs and websites brim over with candid,everyday shots of Indian streets and people thereon. “As it stands today,India,for the most part,is a haven for street photography. People are friendlier and more open to being photographed, affirms Parikh.
For decades,street photography has remained a potent way of documenting the everyday fabric of a place,and Indian street scenes have long fascinated photographers from around the world. India today is not how India will be tomorrow. The streets here change everyday, says Gopal M S,a full-time photographer based in Mumbai. The doors are always open on the Indian streets and life spills out,” he adds. Consequently,amateur photographers are afforded an almost unbridled freedom in capturing images.
‘Road Romeos and Juliets’,an online group that Gopal started over a year ago,regularly updates its webpage with links to collections of photographers from around the country. “In other countries,if there is a lawsuit against the use/misuse of a photograph,it attracts a hefty fine. But in India,the resistance to street photography is usually in upper-middle class areas. Otherwise,privacy is not really the primary issue with people, says Gopal.
Even in a relatively freer space like India,photographers feel some precautions should be kept in mind. It’s more about how you approach a certain subject or an idea, says Dhiraj Singh,a well-travelled photo-journalist,who is the co-founder of the Udaan School of Photography. Sit with people,have tea or coffee with them. It all depends on how you ask,how you talk to them,” he adds.
Photographer Jyotika Jain shot to fame,quite literally,when her photos were used for the film,Dhobi Ghat. For her,street photography is an important medium of documentation and is essentially not a debatable topic at all. “India being one of the most photographed countries in the world,people here,including those in small towns and villages,are used to having the camera zoom in on their faces, she says. While I was photographing in the local trains for one of my projects,barring a couple of exceptions,no one really cared. In fact,they were ready to pose,and some were very encouraging.”.
Gopal feels the fear among people that photos may be misused to cause trouble is rather unfounded. There are thousands of good photographs on the Internet,and 99.9 percent of them won’t ever be used in any mass media form,” he says. Jain seconds his thought. It would be a shame if we had to get permissions every time we wanted to photograph in a public place, she says.