Indian Street photography: the shutter in the clutter

With a camera, a fleeting moment transforms into a permanent memory of life, captured like a butterfly in a net. The streets, particularly in India offer enormous opportunities for candid photography. The diversity and plethora of cultures and subcultures can leave you wobbly, never mind the crowds. I believe, street photography is far more challenging here. It’s not easy to get a great minimalistic shot unless you are more than a keen and creative observer. For me its hard to get those clean, graphic images I see in the entries at the London street photography shows: minimalistic, quirky and sometimes theatrical ones that look like very cleverly choreographed compositions.

Indian streets are crowded, finding a moment that tells a story that’s different, unique, unposed plus unusual is tough. Our poverty, street kids and colorful expressions of daily life have been documented, exported to the world besides being done to death. I feel no one ever tires of such imagery no matter how over exposed since there is such a massive crowd with so many untold stories. I’m hoping to stumble upon mine someday.

I feel, it helps to be familiar with a street and know the ideal time of day to shoot it. Like a tennis player you should be able to predict a situation that may present itself in the spot you wish to shoot. This of course is not possible if you travel to unknown places and don’t have the luxury of time or familiarity on your side. I respond with athletic zeal applying the same predictive sensibility even if the lighting conditions may not be ideal, focussing more on the composition or ambience. In some such cases I get closer to the subject and do portraits after a brief conversation with the subject. There’s so much going on that I allow for my instinct to guide me to the moment.

Some of the most inspiring and classical approaches in this genre can be seen in the works of photo journalists like Raghu Rai who manage to live in the moment with their characters invisibly. Then there is the mesmerizing work of Steve Mc Curry. With so much already documented on the days in the life of Indian streets, my photographic exploration is more about finding my voice in the crowd.

There are many versions to this genre, conflict reportage is the other space where I find some great work and inspiration. Ami Vitale is my recent favorite. Her work is brave, heart warming and revealing. Her photo essays are poignant and speak louder than any news report you may read on human issues that shock and stun. Like the Godhra riots in Gujarat and the plight of the average Indian in a riot prone Kashmir.

When it comes to the more day-to-day expressions, no one compares to the romantic aesthetic of Henri Cartier Bresson. His work is truly ingenious. The play of light and shadow, the exquisite monochrome palate and brilliant compositions are a source of eternal inspiration for me. The grandfather of street photography, I never tire of his sensitive and beautiful yet graphic expressions of life in small towns of France. Here are my interpretations, I wish I was Henri! πŸ™‚

Eye Candy: Sadly a college girl was raped by a drunken cop in the marine drive police station in 2009.

Itching to have some fun: These boys were either excited or anxious about having lost their bearings on Marine Drive on a very rainy day.

Superhero: Every city has its superheroes, this one is from amchi Mumbai watching over the revelers in Nariman Point.

Help I need some lovin: The man in the centre seemed to be pretending waiting for someone after getting wet in a downpour minutes before this capture.

Mumbai mates: In a conservative society such as ours, I’m always wondering why I see so many male couples walking hand in hand.

The walls that speak: In Fatehpur Sikri, the walls are built to carry voices from one space to the other, ghostly and mysterious.

Will I make history: A production assistant walks back to the crew after ensuring the street is clear of all passers by in preparation for the frame in a film they are shooting.

Who wants to go to school: A bunch of kids are teasing their friend as they take time out from school in a small town in Tamilnadu

Will I be rich, will I be famous: A lil kid in a small town seeks some answers from the city slicker visiting his home in Jodhpur.

The great spectators: A crowd gathers on the rooftop to watch a film shooting, everyone is star struck hoping to see a Bollywood actor.

The wolf in sheepskin: The older boy is actually plucking a shaky tooth on his younger sibling’s mouth.

The tailor and the old men: A tailor mends the blouse of the starlet minutes before a shoot


About shabnamphoto

I'm a graphic artist with a passion for photography. I like to tell a story with my pictures. Sometimes a picture may speak on its own and at other times it may need an explanation. I'm intrigued by the ordinariness of life and enjoy documenting my life in the light and shadow of what surrounds me. Be it people, landscape, flowers, architecture or birds, the camera helps me see what I wouldn't with my naked eye.
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16 Responses to Indian Street photography: the shutter in the clutter

  1. Geo Parkin says:

    Some lovely compositions here – well done. Fatehpur Sikri was one of many highlights from our recent tour of North India – such an interesting back-story and, like the rest of India, incredibly photogenic.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      hey thanks, its a privilege to have you commenting, I have a whole separate story on Fathehpur Sikri and Agra in case you get nostalgic…you can always take a look at that πŸ™‚


  2. frizztext says:

    impressive gallery!


  3. Bob Othman says:

    Great street shots and the B&Ws are fabulous!


  4. PalomaSharma says:


    Nice to see another Mumbaikar on the prowl and as we Mumbaikars go, you are amazing!


    PS: I can’t understand the male couples either, especially the ones with their little fingers intertwined and their hands swinging. Heterosexual couples, on the other hand get chants of “hai, hai”.


  5. Very good photography, Shabnam. My favorites are the coloured one with mother, son and daughter (I guess), and the dog.


  6. i love these shots, great work


  7. You’ve done ok:) Shabna – they’re great shots, and very enjoyable to look at, and wonder about.


    • shabnamphoto says:

      Thank you wanderlust, am sure you would enjoy a trip to the neighboring subcontinent, India a boat trip away from exotic Srilanka πŸ™‚


      • I’d love to take the ferry – it’s been reintroduced, I believe, from Jaffna to Chennai, I think the ports were.

        In the old days, before I got this you beaut visa, I used to pop across the Palk Straits every three or four months for a week or so. That was then. I’m ashamed to say it’s been too long since I last did it and the India I knew will be a thing of the past.

        You’re right – a trip to India should be on the list before I go back home to Oz. πŸ™‚


      • shabnamphoto says:

        Lemme know when, would be great to meet up someplace :-))


      • Would be fun, Shabnam. Will do:)


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