When we say “Kolkata”, the first thing that comes to our minds is a set of images comprising heritage buildings, ancient rituals, people and cuisines. Considered as every street photographer’s paradise, Kolkata has much more to offer! The city is also blessed to have some of the most talented street photographers in the world. Arka Dutta is one such photographer from the City of Joy. He has an inclination for socio-documentary works focussing on environment, culture and people. The young photographer believes in addressing the problems of our society and raise awareness for the same with his photography works!
Arka Dutta works as a Mechanical Engineer in a private company in Kolkata. For him, travel and photography are two integral parts of his life. Today, Arka joins us in this interview session with conflatingVisions to share his story!
Hi Arka, welcome to this interview session of conflatingVisions. To begin with, we would like to know a few lines about yourself.
Hello, my name is Arka Dutta and I live in Kolkata, India. I started to take photographs since 2007, but till 2013, the exercise was random and without a proper vision. These days, apart from street photography, I am keen on doing socio-documentary works on environment, culture and people. Two of my great passions in life is travel and photography. Travel broadens one’s view of the world and photography is my continuous lesson of living in the moment. I love to experience other cultures, meet different people from diverse communities. On the other hand, I wish to use photography as a visual medium to address problems and awareness.
Are you a full-time photographer?
On educational papers, I am a mechanical engineer and I work in a private firm in Kolkata. However, while working on projects I do it in completeness just like a full-time photographer would do. I do photographic assignments on freelance basis just as I work on engineering also. Up till now, I have been able to balance this two and wish to do so in future.
What inspired you to get into photography?
I have myself pondered over this more than once. There were many – but I have sedimented the query to two answers – an old family album and the portability of photography. The old album had photographs shot by my grandfather – of families and his time in India, Europe and America. There were candid photos of family members, photos of beautiful landscapes, photos of urban cities and more. From a young age, I used to see them all the time on a slider and I may be unknowingly sowing the seeds of inspiration in this childhood exercise. My father too loved to photograph things. It was his camera – a Pentax Asahi sporting a 50mm block lens gave me the first hands-on experience on taking photographs. I remember it to be exciting to see your own over exposed, shaky photographs being handed over to you for the first time. I guess that excitement was never lost and found its way back to me after I graduated.
Secondly, knowing myself, I would have never enjoyed something which I had to do in static. I love to wander, travel, go places – and that nature of mine perfectly blended with the portability that photography provided.
Arka, tell us what attracts you to photograph in the streets.
Well, I love the un-predictableness that comes calling in street photography. I am keen on doing documentary works on social issues, environment, people and culture. Though sometimes these works take me, location-wise, off the street – but every time the candidness of street photography plays an important role. The look-out for that special shot does create a unique thrill – sometimes it is there waiting for you and sometimes you really have to look and go places before it reveals itself.
As a street photographer, what are some of the challenges you face while photographing in the streets? How do you overcome them?
I guess, as long as you do not become impatient, you will be worry free. The tricky challenge is to blend in, to be inconspicuous. Also, on the streets, you must be quick with your vision and your camera actions. Also, it is very important that a photographer give proper respect to the subject and the place. Lastly, do not think about the outcome constantly – that does not do any good.
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?
When working on projects or stories, I plan or study about them but I do not premeditate the frames that I do on spot. In other times when I just go out for an impromptu walk with my camera, I keep my mind free and shoot anything that looks interesting to me down the viewfinder.
Arka, you also have a travel blog with the name Mustard Feet. Please tell us something about that. Why such name?
I love to travel. The love of travelling started much earlier and it continues to be an important part of my life. In our native Bengali language, there is a term “paayer tolay sorshe” which translates to “mustard seed under your foot”. The term applies to those persons who have a small dot, much like a mustard seed, on the skin under their foot. It is said that these people are bound to get bitten by the wanderlust bug and travelling will become an important part of their life. Well for me – such prophecy holds true.
Mustard Feet is a blog where I share all the travel stories in a simple story like narratives but not excluding important travel information. I prefer to write them as first-hand travel stories and not just a list of facts and figures.
Who are your favourite photographers? Did their works had any influence on your style of photography?
Well, it keeps changing – but for some considerable time, it has been Sebastian Salgado, Kitra Cahana, Lynsey Addario, James Natchwey, Hiroji Kubota, etc.
“For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity.” – James Natchwey.
“I try with my pictures to raise a question, to provoke a debate so that we can discuss problems together and come up with solutions.” – Sebastiao Salgado.
The above two quotes do inspire me in my role as a photographer and thus influence me in the kind of work I want to do.
However, I come across many incredible images on a daily basis and they all, sometimes individually, sometimes cumulatively keep on inspiring me.
Which one is your best photograph till date? Why do you consider it to be your best?
To be honest, I cannot really pick one. I guess I will leave this part to the viewers. To me, each of the images is associated with me in more than one ways – the experience I had, the memory of that time while photographing a particular image and involvement with the image itself. It is very difficult and conflicting if I try to compare and identify one particular image that I can declare to be the best.
What are the photography equipments that you presently use? What are you planning to purchase next?
These days I carry with me, the Sony a6300 – the small camera that helps me to be inconspicuous. In other time, if needed, I rent out few gears – mostly a Canon full frame.
Right now, there are no plans to buy anything new.
Arka, what are your views on post processing of photographs?
It depends on what your image is all about. In the case of classic street, documentary or reportage, post processing should not destroy the integrity of the image. However, in other cases, post processing can bring a whole new dimension into your image and in an art field, one has the liberty to do so but the intention must be honest. Like any art, photography can be the signature of our era, our civilization or it can also be something that enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Post processing is a mode of expression but should not be manipulative in nature to deceive someone or something.
When do you usually convert a photograph into black & white?
Well, it depends on the photograph and the story that it is part of. It also depends on how I want the image to be presented to the viewers. We see the world in colour and an interpretation of the world in black and white makes the viewer look closely and helps the viewer to focus on a subject’s emotional state. Also, black and white is useful to add the timeless quotient to the image – it rises above the reality and transforms an image into a realm that isn’t abstract but isn’t reality either. It basically helps to deconstruct a scene from distracting colours and shades and enriches it to its forms and tones through subtle or strong shades of black and white. So, keeping in mind the above points, I decide when to convert a photograph or a series into black and white.
Anything else you want to share.
I would like to share a thought. In times when photography has become so accessible, be it with camera or mobile, we all should exercise responsible photography. There are conflicting theories about getting emotionally attached to the subject(s) of your photography while some say that as a photographer, one should act as a witness and never get attached emotionally. I myself on the other hand (sure there are others too) believe if you don’t get that emotional connection with the subject(s) or topic, it becomes difficult to portray the same emotion in your works.
And one last question of this session Arka, if you have had one wish…
This would be a cliché answer – take a year out and travel the world with my camera. When it comes to photography, this would be the only one!
To see more photography works of Arka Dutta, check his website.