Tania Chatterjee is a photographer, humanitarian worker and educator based in Kolkata, India. After completing her masters in environment management, she started her career as a humanitarian professional. Since 2010 she has been practicing photography as her full time profession.
She always find it interesting to observe people, their daily life, and interaction with others; I am keen to capture a brief image of their lives. She have realised and learned how street images unfold the endless drama of the daily life of people in the public sphere & throughout the years, in a gradual process, have started loving the dynamism of life that can only be found on the street.
How you got involved in street photography in the first place?
I like to define myself as a travel and documentary photographer or a human interest photographer, rather than a street photographer. While travelling, I always find it interesting to observe people, their daily life, and interaction with others; I am keen to capture a brief image of their lives. I have realised and learned how street images unfold the endless drama of the daily life of people in the public sphere. Throughout the years, in a gradual process, I started loving the dynamism of life that can only be found on the street.
When did you know street photography could be your field of expertise?
If you consider yourself an expert in any genre of photography; learning process gets stuck or becomes slower. Rather than calling myself as an expert I would love to use the word practitioner; I feel there is lot more to learn and explore. As a human interest photographer, I enjoy the beauty and importance of capturing moment of people on their natural environment on street. There is no particular moment when I start loving street photography; but it is a slow and gradual process of enjoying taking street images.
What is street photography for you?
I love those uncertain situations and moments that connects a number of elements of life together to create an imaginary story for the viewers. In street photography, the daily life of people, the hustle and bustle of cities, unpredictable moments, play of light and shadow, cultural diversity of the place and its interaction amongst people inspires me the most. A street image can sometimes bring an unknown story alive.
What's the most unusual feature of street photography?
As a human interest photographer, it’s a tremendous honour to photograph people on street, as they go through their daily lives and reveal themselves in various interesting ways. For me, street images gives a glimpse of natural environment where people belong to their usual self; it represents their cultural orientation and most importantly how they are interconnected with the environment.
How important is the originality of work in street photography?
If photography is your lifetime goal, then originality is the key to survive and make your identity in this competitive market. Viewers recognise and remember an artist only through his/her works and originality in works, helps to mark an impression in viewers’ mind.
How can artists find their independent styles?
Accumulation of inspiration, experience and developing your own concept lead to building your own style. No one can give an artist an independent style. This is something an artist has to generate on his/her own. I feel a large part of style development takes place without a camera; it is generated when you analyse your as well as others’ images, ready books/articles, discussion with likeminded people and spend time with your photography thoughts etc. Photographic inspirations and personal preferences definitely play an important role to build ones style. Over time while practicing photography own style takes shape.
What are the clichés in street photography that you don’t appreciate?
Everyone consciously or unconsciously at any point of their photographic career have done clichés. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid influence of some favourite images from the subconscious mind. I feel copying some ideas and trying to reproduce them in your own way is a part of the learning process. The moment, a photographer start adding his/her perspective in that imagination, gives a new dimension to see the picture.
What is your take on social media influence on street photography?
Social media is a good platform to showcase your work. It’s important to handle social media wisely, because it is part of your portfolio and personality. Unfortunately, it has its own side effects. Focus should be on building your own independent style rather than blindly following some social media trends to attract followers.
What is the most underrated feature of street photography you wish everyone discussed more about?
There is a greater need to discuss a picture especially for non-photographers who will able to appreciate the image and grasp the inner meaning. A photograph is usually posted without any explanation or message associated with it. It may be easy for a photographer to get the inner meaning of the image but a non-photographer finds it difficult to comprehend. Therefore, to have a wider appreciation of an image it is important to discuss the story and message behind the image.
What differentiates a professional street photographer from the rest?
Street photographers don’t have luxury to control light, movement of people, their moods, background and many other aspects. Street photographers do not have the scope to recreate the settings. I often have limited time in the places I visit; I have to shoot regardless of the weather or light condition. Originality of concept and candidness of a shot is the biggest challenge. All these uncertainty and challenges make this genre different and interesting.
Who are the street photographers whom you look up to and why?
For me inspiration is the photograph itself, not that photographer that stirs you to learn and do better. It is not just the legends that inspire me; I even derive inspiration from hundreds of young aspiring photographers.
But it would be unfair if I don’t mention names of master photographers like Henri Cartan Bresson, Raghu Rai, Raghubir Singh, Alex Webb, Sebastiao Salgado, Vineet Vohra ; they are my all-time favorites. I love their different images for different reasons, may be sometimes for human emotions associated with the image, the decisive moments, layers placed in an image, the dynamism of colours, light and shadow play and many more.
Do you believe readings and studies on this genre does help? Which work you recommend and why?
Reading and studying about various genres is like feeding your creative mind. I am a self-taught photographer and I have learned photography by reading books, magazines and online tutorials. Still now, I spent a good amount of time observing and analysing images (in various books/magazines/different social media platforms) of various photographers. I believe it helps me in better understanding of images.
There are lots of works to recommend, but the best reference for aspiring street photographer is “Magnum Contact Sheets” book.
Do you take photos for yourself or for others?
Capturing human stories with right emotion satisfies my creative soul. I always aspire to capture the spirit of human effort to overcome the vagaries of life. My style is not just clicking a picture, for me it is far more important to know and understand the people and be sensitive about their culture and environment. I guess my images represent my vision and my belief towards people and society. Definitely I appreciate the fact to reach larger audience with my images and the inner messages.
What message would you like to give other practicing street photographers?
I like to suggest the practicing street photographers not to rush to take picture, but first get a feel of the place, know about the people, their culture and its associated emotions. Train your thoughts to convert the feeling into an image and then take a picture. Treat the local people with dignity and empathy; it is far more important to be humane. It is just not the image that you are taking; respect the photograph as it has the spirit of the person and the place.
Never be afraid to make mistakes in photography, learning and unlearning from your mistakes are just part of the journey. Practice and practice more, it is the only way to train your mind and eyes, there is no quick fix technique of improvement.