Barnana is a writer based out of Mumbai, India where she works with a women’s healthcare company.
She also works as a freelance reporter covering rural development stories. Her interest in photography stems from the need to document but at the same time as a practice of art.
Her work blurs the line between documentary and fine art photography.
What are the rules of your photographic work?
As a beginner I am yet to develop my own rules for my work.
But there are certain basic rules which I follow, such as always ensuring that the lines are right. They needn’t be perfect all the time but following certain patterns or lines when taking a picture can be reassuring and safe.
I want to make sure that I am not making any technical error – other than the slight bending of rules for creative purposes.
The second rule which I ardently is to always shoot in sunlight.
While we can always manipulate light indoors through massive screens or ring bulbs, there is nothing quite like the softness which natural light brings with it.
Of course, that is an unreliable method of photography because cloudy days are inevitable and then you don’t get the light you want but other than that, I always like to take pictures in sunlight.
The third and my most sacred rule is to always shoot alone.
I personally do not prefer working with a crew, don’t like to have anyone around me for handling the props or the lights.
I like to do everything on my own. That way even if I make a mistake I can quickly rectify it without being answerable to too many people. Most importantly it gives me the space to innovate which happens at the spur of a moment.
Is there a particular combination of techniques and tools that you think makes the difference?
As I said, I am yet to discover a lot of things and I still play around a lot with softwares, camera settings, and everything around me or the subject.
There are, however, two or three things which I prefer working with but I am not sure if they make a huge difference in the larger picture.
When taking street photographs, I usually prefer the Auto mode because the street is constantly changing and there is a lot happening there.
As a beginner, I am yet to enter that set of mind where you can adjust the exposure mode according to your need and shoot the subject exactly as you want it to be.
It takes me close to 10 test shots to get the exposure mode right and even then more than often I will see the photograph completely white.
So I keep it in Auto mode when taking pictures of impulsive subjects such as street life.
On the other hand, if it is a staged photograph or a portrait I ensure that my camera is on Manual mode.
It is just about the comfort of the situation, as of now.
I don’t use Photoshop because I still don’t have the need to but I do use Lightroom, most of the time to only reduce the brightness.
Other than that I try my best to not edit my pictures but focus on taking a proper shot.
Tell us about an experience that definitely changed the way you work and made you grow.
I don’t think there can ever be one experience that changes things for you and makes you grow. It is always a collective of tiny, unrecognized moments which contribute the most in the changes you experience. Personally, for me, photography has been a part of my alter-ego.
Everyone knows me to be a writer, a poet, someone who will one day pen down the ultimate 21st century novel.
But all that is fantasy. And I know where that comes from.
I am a Literature student who for the longest time has worked as a Journalist. I write long-form features on rural development, women’s labourforce, the working class struggle.
Although I know my work has had an impact in the past, I know photography can enhance it. Because when you hear someone say something, I will probably stay with you for a day or two. But when you see something, it gets locked in your mind.
Working with people across spectrums of gender, class, and age, I strive to not only report but to show.
It’s not about either reading Martha Gelhorn or seeing Lee Miller’s photographs to understand the Second World War but to do both to fully experience the horrors of one of the worst acts of mankind.
Was there ever a difficult situation? How did you react? Tell us.
I don’t think I have reached a place where I faced a difficult situation. I am still quite young, and impulsive, and bold to experience true difficulty.
There have been bouts of depression when I didn’t work for months or had fits of rage but never anything life changing.
In photography, I try to read and learn as much as possible everyday. And everytime I read something I try to apply it.
For example, I recently read in a book by James Monaco, How to Read a Film, where he gave a detailed explanation on how Hitchcock shot that famous staircase scene in vertigo.
I read about it, took notes, and tried it at home. It worked! And I was elated.
So it is more about growing right now, I am sure there are a lot of difficult times ahead and very soon I will have to react in some way.
How do you relate to the environment and the subjects you portray?
I think the only relation between the environment and the subject is their constantly evolving nature. You cannot photograph the same thing in the same way twice;
the frame might be the same, what you include might also be the same but there is always the inevitability to time brushing through things.
As the environment evolves, so does the subject.
For example, Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl is one of the most beautiful examples of how time can affect a subject, and thus the photograph.
It also depends on how time affects you as a photographer, do you still see the subject in the same way as you did and do you still live in the same environment that you lived in years ago?
The relationship really is with time, I think.
I also ask you to share a bonus trick among your secret techniques.
I don’t have any secret techniques but I would suggest everyone to take at least 50 photographs in a day. It can be anything, a chair, a dress, a strand of hair.
Just take as many pictures as you can.
It helps you hold your camera better and makes you more comfortable with it, it will also help sharpen your eye and teach you where to look.
Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?
As of now I am using a basic level DSLR, Nikon’s D3500. It’s my first DSLR. I use two lenses, 18-50 mm and 70-300 mm.
Are there any books you would recommend?
I really enjoyed reading some books – they are both on films and photography.
One is James Monaco’s ‘How to Read a Film’, which I have mentioned earlier, and the other is On Directing Film David Mamet.
For my personal project, I am currently reading a book by Frances Borzello ‘Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraits’.
Next on my list is Geoffrey Batchen’s ‘Each Wild Idea’.
What stimulates your creativity, what inspires you?
Life. I don’t think anything else can be as inspiring.
Life throws a lot of things at us, it recently hit me with my father’s ill-health and that is quite the struggle.
But when it was pushing me down and making things harder, it also made sure that I did everything I did best.
I think that is where the stimuli lies.
My creativity is a response to what Life is telling me or doing to me.
Barnana Hemoprava Sarkar