A genius of the advertising world, Mr. Prashant Godbole is also a prominent photographer who works with well-known brands. His work as a photographer has been awarded on many occasions and he is also a guest lecturer at various art and photography schools across India. His years of experience reflects in his noteworthy outlook on originality in photography. Today, he talks about his journey as a street photographer.
How you got involved in street photography in the first place?
I am not a trained photographer. I’m an art director working in the advertising industry. Photography happened to me by chance. I was in the middle of an advertising campaign when the photographer I was to work with suddenly became unavailable. With no other option, I hired a camera myself. The manager at the camera rental store realised I was an amateur and did me a great favour by setting the camera on autofocus. I just aimed and shot the entire campaign. That campaign went on to win several awards and from that day onwards, the camera has always been with me. During my early advertising days, I worked with Swapan Parekh, Raghu Rai, Farookh Chotia, Prabhudo Dasgupta, Prasad Naik, Atul Kasbekar, Tejal Patni, Shantanu Sheory and Ajit Patel on a number of assignments. I developed a rapport with them. I used to talk and learn photography with them, this inspired me to a large extent. I would go on the ad shoots with my camera and take interesting pictures of the surrounding area. I started uploading those images on Facebook and Instagram. A lot of people started appreciating my work and assignments started pouring in. Suddenly, my journey as a photographer began.
When did you know street photography could be your field of expertise?
For me, photography is like homework for advertising. In advertising, you have to come up with visual ideas first, and then you try to create those images. To create the reality you need to have tremendous observation skills. Street Photography helped me to observe life much better.
What is street photography for you?
Street photography is like holding up a mirror to society, a reflection of life, capturing the life of a moment on film or should I say, chip, making room for instinct, documenting, telling a story, making you smile. It tends to be ironic and often surprises you. And in today’s global village, photography is the only thing that crosses barriers of language and happily transports viewers to different cultures.
What's the most unusual feature of street photography?
Every citizen has become a street photographer today with their cell phones. Chances are that they may take better photographs than a professional or pro street photographer. They are documenting life. They are standing there at the right time and at the right place to capture the right moment. While they may still be experimenting with photography as a form of expression, they sometimes stumble upon an awesome photograph. Their unique angles, beautiful compositions and fresh palette of colours are there for all to see, and to learn from. Street photography is an art form, the aim is to transform ordinary mundane moments into an art image that will endure. It is unique in the way it looks at life.
How important is the originality of work in street photography?
There’s no such thing as originality, as photography is present from over 100 years, everything has already been done. To be original you have to do RIYAZ, shoot around 100 photographs every day, for 30 to 40 years if you are lucky you will get 4 to 5 good images that you can call unique. It is the practice one should do continuously and if you get some great pictures, you should call yourself lucky.
How can artists find their independent styles?
Independent style happens when people do Riyaz for many years. When you practice for years and then you get bored of doing the same thing over and over again. Then you start experimenting. It is this experiment that generates original outcomes. Until you’ve mastered the craft, you can’t create anything entirely original.
What are the clichés in street photography that you don’t appreciate?
Everyone does cliches. That is also learning. When we learn the alphabets, first we learn ABCD, then learn to make words, then understand grammar, then we learn how to construct sentences, then we learn to tell a story. Slowly, we learn the craft, and only after learning it, we put our own thoughts in it. Years later people start recognizing you as a good writer. Like that every photographer also goes through the same process.
If you see cliches happening in street photography, there’s nothing wrong with that. It means people are learning. When you learn, you try to copy images you like, you start creating images better than yesterday and you keep improving, learning your craft every day. The moment you add your way of looking, your point of view, you start producing better images.
What is your take on social media influence on street photography?
Social media is a good platform to showcase your work where you don’t need to hide anything. Sometimes you get appreciated, sometimes people troll you. Earlier, people used to do exhibitions and go to galleries and spend a lot of money to demonstrate their art. But now they have a free gallery. Everyone can present their talent and thousands of people look at it every day. It is much nicer.
What is the most underrated feature of street photography you wish everyone discussed more about?
Your point of view and what you are trying to communicate from your images are the only things people should discuss.
What differentiates a professional street photographer from the rest?
Professionals make money, street photographers don’t. A street photographer does work for himself. Professionals do work for a purpose in exchange for money. Earlier they used to call me a street photographer. Some art directors liked my street work, they started giving me commercial work so I became a professional photographer.
Who are the street photographers whom you look up to and why?
I look up to everybody. Here’s the thing, when you study you need to see the whole world because now everyone holds a camera in their hands, they have a capacity to produce a better image, better angle, better perspective, better color. You have to learn from everybody. I can name hundreds of photographers. I go on Facebook and Instagram to see how not-so-known people are experimenting and creating their own images, their own voice, and their own way of looking at life. I try to learn from them.
Do you believe readings and studies on this genre of help? Which work you recommend and why?
Any study is good but learning the technical aspect of photography is not rocket science. You can learn Photography in two days. Learn about the camera and exposure triangle. That’s it, Then you go out, start shooting and experimenting. You experiment with the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. And voila! you are a photographer. In a photography course, they’ll teach you history, how it started, who are the great masters, why their work is great, why your photograph is not great. It is good to learn all this, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you can learn that on the net. I never went to a photography school, I went to art school. I apply my knowledge of art in photography.
Do you take photos for yourself or for others?
I do it for myself.
You have a special interest in black and white photography. What is the reason for it?
You’ve to shoot colors at a specific time, like early morning or late evening. In the afternoon, thanks to harsh light, colours look bad. There are people who take photographs in the afternoon intentionally. Good soothing light is in the morning or evening. In black and white, you can walk around anytime and take the images. Also, controlling color on the street is difficult. For example, people wearing different colors of clothes and suddenly pink, blue, green and orange start jarring. Black and white remove the clutter of colour and it lets you concentrate on the moment/story.
What message would you like to give other practicing street photographers?
You have to learn till you die because that’s how it is.
You have to do Riyaz every day to master any craft.
For those who don’t have the patience or think they can become photographers overnight, they should just quit right away.
Forget about money and focus on improving your work. To become an artist, you must work hard.