Vipin Singh, a Delhi based street photographer, commercial DP, cinematographer, and colorist, from the very first shot he clicked, the world started to make more sense through the lens and photography became an inseparable part of his life. His photographs are widely recognized for the depth they capture. Today, he narrates the tale of his journey as a photographer and reminds us that it is never too late to begin again.
How you got involved in street photography in the first place?
I didn’t know anything about photography until my schooling was over and I moved to Kota to prepare for entrance exams. I was away from home for the first time and I had a phone with quite a responsive camera compared to other phones of that time. I started taking candid photos of my hostel mates to surprise them with their own moments. The idea of candid photos was exciting for me. During college, I started researching more about it and got to know about Henri Cartier-Bresson and what's street photography. As I got to know about it, I started practicing it.
When did you know street photography could be your field of expertise?
It started as a fascination during college and then I was intrigued by the lights and techniques of a camera. Somehow, I got into film making also, meanwhile, street photography was left behind. I dropped out of college and became a commercial photographer. For 3-4 years my focus moved from street photography, I neglected what originally attracted me towards photography. Around 2017, I was at a low point in life when I realized how I was not doing anything new and repeating the same thing, what I was missing and that I should practice what I started. This made me serious for street photography and I started practicing it on a regular basis.
What is street photography for you?
Street photography is more about the approach. It has the rule of ethics of being candid, what lies more than going out on the streets, it's an approach that can be done anywhere. Capturing photos that can communicate not only on the surface but the inside also. By inside, I refer to whatever you are interpreting indirectly. So, it’s the approach that’s magical.
What's the most unusual feature of street photography?
You don’t plan on what shot you’ll get on the streets. It’s all very unplanned. It's like meditation, not everything around is in your control, you are only placing yourself in the randomness trying to make harmony out of it.
How important is the originality of work in street photography?
It is important to have an identity, to find a voice that is unique and stands out. Nowadays, there are so many photographers that it is not easy to be different. Originality doesn’t come easy, it is an ever-evolving process. You start with basics, learn from masters and over the years you build new stepping stones over the old stepping stones. It is sometimes impossible to say somebody is completely original, as there's one or the other threads attached to old works without completely changing the medium. For example, adding photoshopped characters or graphics. It’s the combination of different shooting styles, preferred subjects, light, locations, colors, textures, focal lengths, post-processing, etc through which that somebody cooks a new style. I believe I’m still in the process of searching that voice.
How can artists find their independent styles?
A lot of practice while following your instincts and one needs to get closer to self to find a more truthful way of expression. You need to see the work of the masters, which has already been tried and done. Yes, you can think of something new that can be done, but you only stumble upon it while practicing regularly. Inspirations should also come from other works of art than only photography like music, paintings or maybe from old stories.
What are the clichés in street photography that you don’t appreciate?
It changes over time, what was considered unique in the past has become a cliché today, and what is not a cliché at this point can become one in the future. Don't be afraid of clichés while shooting, you never know what you think of as ordinary can come out as a surprise also. For instance, there's too much juxtaposition, graphics, or relating shot. But who knows in future new things grow out of these.
What is your take on social media influence on street photography?
After neglecting photography for several years, I was not active on social media until 2017. Before that, I was only aware of the masters, but through Instagram, I got to know the present generation of street photographers like Swapnil Jedhe, Matt Stuart, Jabaz Nayeem, Suresh Naganathan. Instagram made it very easy to recognize special work and helped in learning quickly. There is a negative influence too but we can always look up to positivity.
What is the most underrated feature of street photography you wish everyone discussed more about?
The failures and the patience required in street photography. Beginners do not realize it and are impatient in the beginning. There is a luck factor involved but that comes in play also, after a lot of practice, when you master the gamble of placing yourself in the right position at the right time. That’s part of your style also.
What differentiates a professional street photographer from the rest?
It’s an unheard term for me. Professionals make a living out of it but very few are able to do that through only street photography. You can call people who are selling prints, books, or conducting workshops as professionals. But street photography is more about the labor of passionate artists and it doesn't matter to be professional in it. If your work is honest and close to your soul, your work will be known sometime or the other.
Who are the street photographers whom you look up to and why?
From masters, I started to look up to Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raghu Rai, Alex Webb & David Alan Harvey. HCB’s work was varied and he had most of the styles done that time when nobody was doing it and Alex Webb for his way of taking beautifully layered shots. Recently, I’ve been inspired or motivated by the works of Vineet Vohra, Swapnil Jedhe, Saumalya Ghosh, Vidhuthalai, Matt Stuart, Dirty Harry. Each of them has different and unique styles which will become another article if I go on elaborating. There are also so many young photographers who are very fantastic like Sachin Sawansiya, Sydul Islam, Tasawar Islam, Sachin Chauhan, Anindya Pal. I also learn more on the field, for example, by watching a good photographer reacting to a situation.
Do you believe readings and studies on this genre of help? Which work you recommend and why?
I’m not a reader, very few times I read, but definitely it helps to look at the old photo books that artists have made. It makes us learn about how the body of work is made or long term projects come alive. I would like to become a good reader.
What elements do you feel makes a good street photo?
If a photo has some mystery or story that can hold the viewer on it for a moment, that is a very beautiful photo for me. Besides this, there are a lot of secondary elements like patterns, illusions, juxtapositions. But most important is the storytelling and the mystery which is also very difficult to have in a photo.
Which street photography tool/technique is your favorite that you use it the most?
Firstly, I prefer using a smaller sized sensor camera like APS-C or MFT because of the greater depth of field it gives. Also the smaller the camera size, the more invisible you get. It is very important to learn zone focusing, as you should not be missing a moment because of autofocusing. Secondly, many times I use program mode or shutter priority mode because it works for me. You can’t miss a shot. I use manual mode when needed as well as program mode and there’s no shame in it. I think every feature and tool of a camera can be used for a purpose like using a flash and fast shutter sync speeds. There are a lot of techniques but you should use whatever way you find comfortable and remember that these things come secondary to finding a good subject or a moment.
What message would you like to give other practicing street photographers?
First of all, don't worry about getting a good shot. It is more important to be on the streets and take shots because eventually, you will start improving if you have a passion for it. It's Okay if you have roamed for 4 to 6 hrs and nothing happened. Don't make a normal shot a good one forcefully. Study the masters and while you look at their pictures, think about how a picture was taken.
At last, don't take social media heavily, numbers are just an illusion.
To know more about his photography, visit svarasa.art/