The Magic That Is Mumbai

Gaurav Khedekar

Civil engineer Gaurav Khedekar, at age 23, has not had many years to practice, experiment, and unearth the magic that is part and parcel of street photography proper. Yet, Khedekar is a skillful bandit, roaming the streets of Mumbai decisively stealing emotions which are often a reflection of his mood at any given moment. Khedekar uses these moments in the street to share his love of street photography, often for hours, with the people he meets. There is a sage-like soulfulness found in his work that is hard to define. Perhaps the lead photograph of this interview can do that for me.

I live in Mumbai. I’m a civil engineer by profession and a photographer by choice. I haven’t had any formal training in photography but I am forever teaching myself through observation and experimentation. Streets create magic and I try to capture some of that magic in my pictures. The whole surprise element is what intrigues me the most about street photography." Gaurav Khedekar

Kujaja: What type of photography do you enjoy most and why?
GK: The streets are the most amazing place for me to click pictures. It is full of magic and surprises. It is so full of action that things can change in a split second. I enjoy it so much because it has changed my perspectives in a million ways. It has heightened my concentration, increased my patience, and taught me to expect the unexpected and be ready for all the surprises it offers. One can never assume what’s going to happen next and that’s the best part of this type of photography – it never ceases to amuse you.

Kujaja: How did you get involved with the type of photography you’re doing now?
GK: To be frank, there is no big story behind me getting involved in street photography. Although I've always had a deep interest in photography, I’m not professionally trained. Photography is my passion and streets add the magic. People and the action going on randomly in streets attracts me. Pausing life in the form of a picture is challenging and stimulating. It is full of surprises and filled with a variety of subjects. This is what keeps my interest in Street Photography growing everyday.

Kujaja: Do you have a style that separates you from other photographers?
GK: I don’t know yet if my style separates me from other photographers. After all, I’ve been doing this only for a couple of years now. But one thing I know for sure is that my style is practice! I believe in practicing and experimenting with all aspects and then picking out the one that best suits the needs of the situation and the photograph.

Kujaja: Can you identify a unifying theme or recurring thread running throughout your photographs?
GK: I’m not sure if I have an underlying theme that connects all my pictures. So there isn’t a pattern, but I have noticed that I sometimes end up clicking pictures which reflect my mood at that given point. I have experienced capturing some really deep and adverse situations when I was in a sad and pensive mood, or some really creative pictures when I was in a quirky mood. But irrespective of what mood I am in, my zeal to get the perfect shot that will satisfy my personal requirements is almost never compromised. So maybe I can say perseverance of getting good photos is the theme that connects all my work.

Kujaja: Which photographers have influenced your photography?
GK: I am always striving to learn from any photograph that I come across. Some photographers who have really influenced and shaped my perceptions are T. S. Satyan, Raghubirsingh, Henri-Cartier-Bresson, Steve McCurry, Robert Capa, Martin Par, Prashant Godbole, Prashant Panjiar and several others whose names I do not know, but whose pictures have taught me well.

Kujaja: What is the most challenging part about being a photographer?
GK: I’m often very critical of my own work. This is both a boon and a bane. I love to challenge myself to try a variety of techniques and I often end up not being satisfied with my own work. So the toughest part of being a photographer for me is to make myself happy by reaching that level of satisfaction of capturing a really nice picture. Although this makes me a perfectionist, the actual challenge is to not give up midway and keep going till I get the perfect shot.

Kujaja: Do you think gear really matters?
GK: Personally, all that matters is a good eye to catch a good picture. It’s about seeing something beyond normalcy. I started out by using a basic digital camera. I have even worked with film cameras, and phone cameras with a resolution as low as 2MP. But not having fancy or expensive equipment never kept me away from the love of photography. Of course good gear matters, but it’s like an added advantage. I believe that what really matters is the way you use whatever equipment you have and trying to put life into your picture. Anybody can take great pictures if given the world’s best equipment, but the real challenge as a photographer is to create magic even with simple gear.

Kujaja: How do you choose the places you go to photograph?
GK: I never choose places. I just put on my shoes, grab my camera and start walking on the streets without pre-deciding any route. Wherever my eye catches something interesting, I halt. Sometimes these halts are short and quick, and at other times, they might turn into hours of waiting for that right moment.

Kujaja: How do you shoot in non-ideal shooting circumstances?
GK: Our thoughts and requirements make situations ideal or non-ideal. When I am out on the streets shooting, there is nothing non-ideal that I can alter and make ideal. Streets are natural, raw and always in the present tense. My constant efforts are to steal moments and emotions from the streets and capture them forever in my photographs. The only thing that can make this ideal and possible is my perception of an action and my ability to seize that moment.

Kujaja: RAW or JPG and why?
GK: When I started out, I wasn’t fully comfortable with RAW so I used RAW +JPG. Also, I needed some assurance that I could revert to using JPGs. But this led to massive space issues on my hard-drive and I had double the files to manage. RAW files don’t look like JPG, which is again a big setback. Currently I have started using JPG Fine. Not only is it convenient, but it also saves time. And the file size is much smaller than original RAW files. My camera still maintains the high resolution of the pictures, so it all comes down to individual preferences of saving the images.

Kujaja: What’s your useable-to-unusable ratio when you review images from a shoot?
GK: Generally with streets, you have to seize the moment. And such moments might last for just a couple of seconds at times. I usually click about 4 to 6 pictures of something and then use the one that best depicts what I intend to convey.

Kujaja: What is your best photography tip?
GK: Learn to observe and observe to learn. A photograph might be a still image, but photography is a process. Be yourself when you have that camera in your hands and make it speak out stories aloud for you. Have fun, because what you have in your hands, is truly, your dream machine!

Kujaja: What are your photography weaknesses?
GK: Since I have no formal training in photography, I lack in some technical skills. My post-processing skills are not up to the mark and I’m trying to work on it.

Kujaja: Many photographers feel that we're all inundated with images in this digital age. Have you seen a change in the way people interact with your photos because of that?
GK: Technology today has made photography somewhat easy. It’s simple to click an average image, add some filters and make it impressive. I myself have an Instagram account and I often share the pictures I click on other social media. Many of us often unconsciously end up choreographing the perfect picture with just the right amount of sunlight, not more than 2 strands of hair on face and a smile that is ‘practiced’ to look candid. And sure, that is an art too in its own way, but it loses honesty. I am not exactly overwhelmed by this, but I do feel that somewhere down the line, it takes away the whole essence of playing with natural light, using natural situations for shoot and feeling like you created something beautiful yourself. On the downside, sometimes people think what I click is all because of the perfect filters that I use. But on the upside, I get to connect with and follow a number of people with such amazing talents from all over the world.

Kujaja: How has photography changed you as a person?
GK: Being a street photographer, I’m often approached by strangers interested in knowing what I’m trying to do. Often, I end up talking to random people I photograph for hours. As a person, this has boosted by people skills and taught me to be comfortable in different situations with different people. It has changed the way I see people, places, and things. On an even more personal front, it has made me more accepting of situations and their outcomes.

Kujaja: What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
GK: I want the viewers to see magic in simplicity. We all need to pause and look at the greatness even in the most common activities we engage in. Street seems like an everyday thing, but there are a million little things that happen on a daily basis that we miss. If I can slow down the fast moving pace of even one viewer and inspire him to have various perceptions about things, I would have done my job.

Kujaja: Thank you for this interview Gaurav.

Gaurav Khedekar at World-Street Photography (click)