Soumya Shankar Ghosal is a Kolkata based Street and Documentary Photographer. His journey as a photographer started as a hobby in the year 2002 with a 2 mp digital camera and that developed into a serious passion with every passing day. At different times, Soumya has received numerous accolades in India and abroad. He is also the founder of one of the largest Street Photography movement – Streets of Calcutta. It is a place for the like-minded photographers who love to capture the essence of Kolkata. In about one and a half years since inception, Streets of Calcutta has grown into a successful forum with a follower base of more than 8000 photographers. Soumya was the Curator for the first official Instagram exhibition in India. He has been associated with photography projects across several brands and industry domains including Facebook, IBM, Idea Cellular, Amazon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Sigma, Tamron, Indus Towers, Asian Photography Magazine, Apeejay Group, ITC Hotels, Turtle etc. Till date, his works has been published in many leading international and national magazines and newspapers.
He received the Special Mention Award from CGAP – World Bank in 2013, Grand Winner of Red Frames FOMC 2013 and has won several other Photography Contests held by Nikon, Fujifilm, Olympus etc. India 5 Senses, 1X Year Book Mono and World Street Photography Coffee Table Books featured his work. He is regularly invited as a Speaker at Photography Seminars and conducts intensive task-oriented Photography Workshops and Blogs on Photography.
Today, in this session, Soumya Shankar Ghosal is here with us to tell us his story.
Hi Soumya, glad to have you with us today. Please tell us a few lines about you.
I am an amateur photographer from Kolkata. I enjoy Street Photography. Street photography helps me learn and appreciate life better. Although I was born and brought up in Kolkata, I am a lifelong traveller, exploring a new Kolkata each and every day. Professionally, I am a Management Consultant and by education a MBA in Finance, GNIIT in Systems Management, MCP and an ISO 9000 Internal Auditor.
Tell us about your early days of photography.
Early days of photography was chaotic just like any beginner. I got my first digital camera in 2002. The 2 mp digital camera ushered me into a new world. The best part was I got my own desktop wallpapers. Internet was still nascent those days, and downloading files was a cumbersome affair. While I tried to photograph everything that caught my imagination, I hated photographing people. However, when photography slowly graduated from being a hobby to a way of life, observing and photographing people became more interesting. From being a hated subject now my body of work primarily focuses on people.
As we all know street photography is your favourite genre, tell us what excites you the most in streets.
Street photography is probably the easiest genre yet a difficult one to pursue. Easiest because you don’t need a specialized gear, a particular time of the day and neither travel long distances. I would say it’s rather difficult at the same time, since for me Street Photography is a way where I’m documenting the period of my existence. So, I need to be brutally honest in recording the reality in the truest form rather than indulging fictional stories (read staged). As a photographer (even not being a professional), I have the responsibility to share the unaltered stories to the world. I find people to be very interesting especially because of the unpredictable nature. Every photograph should try and convey a story. A photograph should be understandable by the content devoid of a caption.
Who are your inspirations in the field of photography? How did they influence you?
I have never been formally trained in photography. However, not being formally trained by a single master has been a boon, as I have been able to appreciate the works of the greatest masters across genres. At the same time, I am equally fascinated by wonderful contemporary photographers around me. I draw inspiration from different genres but always try to build upon my own style.
Do you take up any project or plans and then go out and shoot accordingly, or just simply go out, without any such plan, and shoot?
I never plan for a day’s shoot for the fact, I would definitely miss other moments as I would be more focused on a particular subject. I do have long term projects, and such photographs come from these unplanned shoots.
What are some of the major challenges in street photography? How do you get rid of them?
My subject “People” poses the greater challenges. Yes, it’s not uncommon for an individual to question a stranger pointing a camera towards him, out of inquisitiveness. Mostly a photographer is mistaken as a Press photographer. However, the best way to photograph truth is speaking the truth. Never pretend to be a professional photographer on assignment. People will be more relaxed. Although, I never take permission to shoot, rarely I have come across any serious problem barring one or two stray situations. More than being a photographer one must rely more on the communication skills to avert any untoured situation.
Tell us about Streets of Calcutta.
Streets of Calcutta was born out of love and passion for the city of Kolkata. Founded in January 2015, the project has grown from a single individual to over 8,000+. Along with documenting Kolkata through the lenses, Streets of Calcutta has conducted numerous knowledge enhancing programs including several Photo Walks, Photography Review Session (both online and offline), Street Photography Competitions and Workshops. Streets of Calcutta is not a Photography group instead it’s a forum for like-minded photographers who love documenting Kolkata. To further enhance the experience, Streets of Calcutta will be hosting its first Exhibition in the month of July at ITC Sonar, WelcomArt Gallery. The exhibits are sourced through an open competition, which received a record 4,608 entries in 7 days. The Exhibition will be done as a Fundraiser for a small NGO working towards Education for the underprivileged.
Share with us your best photograph till date.
The best photograph is the one you had missed photographing or the one you will photograph in the future. Honestly, I’m my biggest critic and don’t think I have a best photograph till date. Each photograph is a small story and the best at it’s time which makes it worthwhile. My inner critic would be able to answer this rather difficult question only on the last day of my photography.
Do you believe in breaking the technical rules of photography?
Breaking the rules is welcome only when one knows the grammar. Photography is an art form which doesn’t have any fixed set of rules. So flaunting them will not hamper as long as your viewer gets the intended message.
What are your views on post-processing of photographs? To what extent post-processing should be done?
Post processing plays an undeniable role in the photography workflow. A Camera can never equal the human eye. It’s just a tool to record the thoughts and the vision of a moment. The objective of post-processing is to relive the magical moment once again in the truest form and present the same to the viewer. Recreating the exact scene (e.g. light) would be impossible but we must try to adhere to reality as much as possible.
Your tips for aspiring photographers.
Be extremely honest to Photography. Give your best efforts. Each day is a learning day. Photography is for self-satisfaction. You lose nothing but gain a lot. Winning prizes are the by-products and should never be a motivating factor. Never be disheartened if you don’t get a good photograph on a particular day. Remember, you respect your greatest photographer for a “few” photographs out of the thousands taken by him over a lifetime. Enjoy the short and wonderful moments of a story called – Life!
And, one last question of this session Soumya, if you have had one wish…
I wish my Grandfather, who was a brilliant photographer was with me today.