I’ve spent 13 years of my life as a photographer. In this experience-filled journey, I unlearn as an artist on every step to evolve into something better. When I started with my sister’s point and shoot camera, I was drawn to wildlife and nature. I finally found a place to express myself. I found my solace in photography. I formed a group with photographers, which helped me a lot to learn a few basics of photography. Luckily, I got a job as a freelance photographer in the Times of India in 2013 and also bought my first camera.
My small projects as a photojournalist made me want to explore more of the photography industry. I decided to enter the long dark tunnel without knowing what it would fetch me in the end, but I’m glad that I gathered up the courage to make the decision that day. I joined EMRC, Indore, where I learned quite a lot about the craft. I even got myself a job as a product photographer. Things were going smoothly, and I gained much appreciation from my peers until I joined NID. It was an unreal experience for me. Coming from a city like Indore, I’ve never interacted with a foreigner. My three years in NID went by doing experimental photography and learning its intricacies. NID also gave me my first exposure to rock music and festivals which I had never celebrated yet which helped my art improve a lot.
I faced a real challenge in the examination. Well, it is not like traditional college exams. Instead of solving a paper, the student has to display photographs they took and present them to a jury of established photographers. It might seem simple enough, but I had tears in my eyes that day. A simple question from the jury, ‘Why have you chosen this picture?’, made me realize that everything I’ve been doing for so long was false. It had no meaning. This was when I understood that I had to unlearn and relearn everything that story-telling through a photograph was more important than concentration on the technicalities of photography.
Except for the horrendous experience in front of the jury, studying at NID exposed me to a lot of new things. I had to create three projects in three years, and I managed to explore different strata of photography. I was never an avid reader, but my approach to the project, ‘Looking for Gandhi’, taught me to research more by reading books. Afterwards, I saw a drastic improvement in my style of photography. My experience taught me that there are different connotations of an image. Some people think that I’ve slandered Gandhi while some think that my pictures portray his teachings. My second project led me to explore myself. I had to take self-portraits. I think that taking someone else’s picture is much easier. Delving deep into your soul and portraying your truest emotions in self-portraits is quite tough. I named this project ‘Boyhood’, a photographic diary of myself. As I was a single child, I interacted with other children to better understand myself. Though it was a tough task, I enjoyed learning more about myself. My first two projects helped me build and develop my intrinsic values, but my third one led me to the adventurous and rugged landscapes of Pithampur, where there’s fascinating beauty on every inch of land. This project changed the way I talked to people and taught me how to get out of difficult situations. Though the apprehensive nature of the people of Pithampur startled me, and there was a constant fear about my equipment getting stolen, I learned how powerful and fearful the camera can be.
After spending three years in NID, I decided to look for a project that would help me financially. I’ve always selected projects that would help my art grow. After assisting Ryan McGinley with a project, I went to Delhi to assist Vikas Maurya. I stayed with him for a year and got the chance to work with brands like Pepsi, Audi, Delhi Daredevils, and many more. But I was not happy. The four walls of my Delhi apartment suffocated me. I felt isolated. I questioned myself about what I was doing because things were so different from what I learned at NID. I wanted to do something on my own.
In 2019, I went to Pune and joined two of my friends and started Genda Phool in hopes of doing projects independently. We were successful for some time until we started struggling financially. The group broke up, and I had to return to Indore to my house. I felt dejected. The advent of the pandemic stopped all projects. I was out of work. I realized that this was the time I had to make a decision. I had to decide whether to return to doing commercial photography or give my own art time, but I chose to make a balance between both. I am taking commercial projects, and simultaneously I am compiling a photo book with the projects I am doing. I want to change the mentality of people who think that illustrious work can only be made inside the boundaries of a metro city.
People tend to be inspired by watching the work of other photographers and I am no different. But I think that other art forms like dancing, music, and painting have helped me see different sides of photography and have expanded my horizon. Whenever I am doubting myself, I hop on to my collection of different photography books, and they encourage me again to keep believing in myself and my art.
- Somya Parikh
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Editor: Harshita Sharma
Written by: Sauvik Chatterjee