Navin Vatsa started his journey in photography with a simple point and shoot camera with the sole intention to capture family moments almost 16 years back. But life has its own plans while you are busy with your own. After his wife’s accidental death in 2009, the loneliness and responsibilities towards his Son as a single parent completely consumed him and the love for photography lingered on. One day while flipping through old family albums, he realized his calling. He didn’t think twice before leaving his 16 years long teaching and administrative career in a reputed University to turn a full-time photographer. His life as an educator and administrator helped him find the maturity to visualize and develop ideas and implement them through his photography. In his own words “Photography is my meditation, my stress buster.”
1. How you got involved in street photography in the first place?
Frankly saying I have yet not fixed my genre only to street photography. I am involved in Travel and Documentary as well. But yes! Going near real and natural moments of the surroundings are completely a transforming experience to me. Street photography is altogether a different journey. I feel a great connectivity with self when I shoot in street where capturing decisive moments from daily life activities in their natural environment gives me a new insight about life. I believe that street photography makes you more human than any other genre of photography. By going near that simplicity I realised a deep connectivity to real world and with time it has enlightened my thought process.
2. When did you know street photography could be your field of expertise?
“Expertise”- I believe that this word is not good for any Artist. Rather imperfection gives you more energy and thought to practice new things every day. Imperfection keeps you going till infinity. I love to shoot what I connect most and street is one of that workspace for me. Street Photography is all about giving voices to unspoken words.
3. What is street photography for you?
Street photography is all about moments which are not going to happen again and finding self in all those moments that I encounter in a storytelling form. It’s a spontaneous and 4th dimensional approach that is even not defined and restricted by rules and regulations. It doesn’t have any boundary, and I love to break all those stereotype rules that restrict my mind and heart to experiment. So it’s an incomplete journey towards daily learning.
I don’t believe in thought that “A photograph speaks thousands words” always. Rather I love to find silent words or silent stories those are hidden in that fraction of moment that I frame in four coordinates. Various moments we encounter are so introvert that we need to interact with them very closely to get the story behind. Such moments has its own essence. They carry “Silent Voices” that we have to hear and feel with our own senses. They don’t make noises. So Street Photography is a journey of new experiences. It’s a journey to the new dimension. In short “Street Photography is an open domain of self-exploration” to me.
4. What's the most unusual feature of street photography?
As I said, “Moments” are the priority that are not in our control. So capturing those uncontrolled moments by visualizing them in a fraction of seconds is the most unusual feature and an exciting experience to me. Street photography is not at all equipment dependent. You don’t need to buy high end camera for that. Even with your mobile phone you can write fantastic stories, only you need a right vision to tell stories by making yourself invisible to the surroundings.
5. How important is the originality of work in street photography?
Originality is important in all kinds of Art. Only originality can be remembered for years, rest have very less life and are forgotten in a short interval of time. It’s hardly important that how many people understand your original art. A crowd likes eye-pleasing things. So you have to understand that crowd is not your goal. Your goal is to create eye-opening things that can generate some impact intellectually.
6. How can artists find their independent styles?
It’s an honest and continuous approach. Lot of study and mindful practice without any preconceived works of other photographers is the only way to develop a fresh thought. And with time all your efforts and experiments, may be lot of failures become your style. It’s a process of listening self. It’s a process of exploring own knowledge. It’s a process of imagine unimaginable.
I have a Master’s degree in Computer Application and before opting my passion of photography professionally, I served a well-known institution as Computer teacher and a National University as Joint Registrar for more than 16 years. I was very close to all kinds of human interaction and behavioural reading. So all those 16 years of carrier within the intellectual surroundings makes me mature enough to understand my own personality. So 6 years back when I opted photography as my next journey for rest of my life, my own personality and inner instincts opened a path of originality for me.
7. What are the clichés in street photography that you don’t appreciate?
Street photography is not for public entertainment. It’s not a process of clicking anything funny from road side. And probably all serious photographers know it very well. On the other side in the beginning and learning phase people may copy unknowingly because somewhere in their unconscious mind some best images are saved. Even when you read the work of some masters you will find that their initial days of work were very much influenced from other master photographers of that time. But with time they have done lot of hard work, restless practices to tell their own voices to the world through photography.
8. What is your take on social media influence on street photography?
On social media everyone is a street photographer. But a true street photographer knows the importance of his/her work. The word influence is only for the fans not for the serious photographers. So as per my understanding Social media hardly influences the basics of Street photography. On a positive side it gives the budding and committed ones a new eye to think by reading the best new researches in the field of Street photography and available articles through these platforms. But the searching of that best is like finding a Pearl from the ocean.
9. What is the most underrated feature of street photography you wish everyone discussed more about?
“ART” – Many people talk about this but hardly 2 to 3% know its actual meaning. Art is the thought of mind and implementation of heart and when both mind and heart sense something unusual in a particular situation, a hidden story comes in the form of a Photograph. It’s always different from common thinking. Sometimes it’s beyond the imagination of common eyes. You can’t buy Art from anyone. No workshops or degrees can give you Art. It’s your inner instinct that you have to evolve with time. In Street Photography this Art is known as “Art of Seeing”. To understand someone’s Art you have to reach to the vision of that artist who has produced that art.
10. What differentiates a professional street photographer from the rest?
In simple language today’s serious beginners can become the professional of tomorrow. Only they have to first develop the “Art of Seeing.”
11. Who are the street photographers whom you look up to and why?
There is big list of great street photographers from 1920 till now (nationally and internationally). But I am going to share something unusual about this. Besides reading their artwork, I love to read and understand failure stories of many ordinary people who have finally done some great job and have inspired many people. I personally prefer to read or hear the stories of people other than photography and my own failures are my best teachers.
12. Do you believe readings and studies on this genre does help? Which work you recommend and why?
I can’t take few big names of this genre. It all depends upon your own intellectual ability to understand the work of many great photographers. But yes it is 100% true that reading and studies have no alternative. It prepares your mind for basic understanding about a particular genre.
I would like to put some light on the thought of reading and studies. "There are four quadrants of your consciousness. Upper left is what you know and what people know about you. Upper right is what you know about yourself but nobody knows. Lower left is what other people know about you that you don't know. And lower right is what you don't know and what nobody knows. Whims come from there. Impulses come from there. And that's where art comes from (...)" - Nicholas Nixon.
13. Most of your work is with Natural elements. Why so? Is there a particular thought process while creating a picture or is it just the decisive moments you wait for?
As I said earlier that photography is finding self to me. I am very much connected with nature and natural elements and they are my source of inspiration from childhood. Reading bird behaviour, cloud movements, changing colours of sky during sunrise and sunset all are my connecting moments. So the birds, clouds, sky, water, trees come in my frame naturally. I don’t try to find them, rather these elements find me and a composition takes its shape. Probably all my images are the reflection of my own personality. Significantly or insignificantly you can say, those are the silent words of my journey. I believe that Art and Philosophy are directly interrelated with each other. Philosophy is a self-thought that brings reality in your artwork.
14. What message would you like to give other practicing street photographers?
I don’t feel enough competent to give message at this stage of my journey. I consider myself just a drop in the ocean of this field of Art. If anyone finds something useful and inspiring in above shared notes and my views, I will be very happy.