Tell us about yourself

Arindam Mukherjee (born in 1974) is a self-taught documentary photographer from India, currently based in Kolkata.

Arindam Mukherjee started his career in 1996 as an advertising photographer and worked with reputed advertising agencies, fashion designers, graphic designers and NGOs. However, since beginning, Arindam Mukherjee was more interested in street photography; which later brought him to photojournalism.

Original Link:

https://artofcreativephotography.com/professionalphotojournalists/arindam-mukherjee-2/

He started his career in photojournalism as a freelance in “The Times of India”. Arindam Mukherjee has also worked as the chief photographer and assignment director for “EyePress” photo agency based in Hong Kong. Presently he works as a freelance photojournalist for newspapers, magazines and NGOs.

Photography is everything to me. I know that’s a big thing to say. Truth is I spend most of my time with photography. Either I am taking photos or reading about photo projects, checking out other photographers’ work, or re-searching on my next project.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

Even as a kid I always liked visuals. I liked to paint, watch movies, have my parents buy me picture books. In short, anything visually appealing has had me interested. I was born in a middle class Bengali family, typically into books and studies. But I didn’t like studying much. Though, pictures had me interested in an instant. When I grew up, I followed my heart and photography seemed like a natural progression.

So, even though, it sounds big, I cannot imagine living a life not being a photographer. Without this I have no existence.

Arindam Mukherjee, what was your first camera and photographic experience?

My father’s Pentax K1000. He was a geologist and used to take pictures of the stones’ cross structure. I used to click photos of my parents with the leftover films. I was four or five years old then. However, my dad wouldn’t usually let me touch his camera. He thought cameras were expensive stuff, not meant for kids. He died when I was 21 years old. After that I started clicking around with that camera.

Which photographer has inspired you most and why?

I’m most inspired by Sebastiao Salgado. I just admire his photographic technique, use of space, use of moments etc. One can really learn from him how to handle a big photographic project. I was overwhelmed by his “Workers”. The way it’s been edited is tremendous. It’s a wonderful collection of pictures taken at different places at different times. However, these different pictures tell one single story in a beautiful way. All his work has eternal value. The world cannot function without the workers.

“Migrations” – is the other work that really inspires me. It is continuing since the dawn of human civilization. So this issue will never go out-of-fashion, to put it very bluntly. At present, he is working on genesis – the beginning of the world. Can you imagine the tremendous impact this work is going to have for us and generations to come! I have rarely seen anybody thinking so deeply, as him. He is unique in his ideas.

What’s your favorite photography quote?

I have got two favorite quotes. One is by Steve McCurry.

He said:

“TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER LEAVE YOUR HOUSE FIRST.”

Another is by Robert Capa:

“IF YOUR PICTURE ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH THAT MEANS YOU AREN’T CLOSE ENOUGH.”

The last one is very much true for my photographic style. I can really identify with this quote.

“THE DEFINITION OF A GREAT PICTURE IS ONE THAT STAYS WITH YOU, ONE THAT YOU CAN’T FORGET. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE TECHNICALLY GOOD AT ALL.”

STEVE MCCURRY

How would you describe your photographic language?

I am purely a documentary photographer inspired and influenced by many photographers. I have learnt bit by bit from a lot of people. It’s very important to have a style. My style, I would say, is about intimacy with the subject, layers of information and emotion.

What do you think is the primary objective of a Photojournalist, taking into consideration the recent Guwahati incident?

Primarily we are photographers. Our job is to take the photos. Yet, when things of such horrific nature happen, we cannot just be a bystander. We can call the nearest police station and inform them about the incident. Usually we do have number of the local police station. But we must not stop documenting what’s happening in front of us. We are not law enforcement personnel, so we have our limitations. It was a mob situation. If a photographer wanted to intervene he could have ended up being attacked. All his expensive gears could have been smashed. Yet, informing the law enforcement officials is one of our basic responsibilities in such a situation.

How do you prepare yourself before any assignment or reportage?

You should have a clear view of how you want to do the work and what you want to show. You don’t want to copy anybody else. If you don’t have any new thing to add, then your work will not have much to say on its own.

It is very important to know what you want to say as a photographer. Once you know that, the pictures speak for themselves.

And to understand what you want to say it is imperative to know. So, I research a lot. And even more, I think about it. I always keep into consideration how to reach people the best way possible. I always aim at doing work that may be able to appeal to people beyond my country or time. There are things that’s important to people of my country. And there are things that people from any corner of the world might be able to identify with. I try and find topic of the 2nd category. I never work on something which will be dated in a short while. I don’t do “news” so to speak. I work on issues persisting for a long time and have a broad impact on people’s lives. I work fast as I have to fund my own project. The longer it takes the costlier it becomes. Since the thought process goes on for a while, even if it’s a short term project it still credits depth. I usually can strike the chord on the very first day of the shoot.

When I work I focus on one subject. Even if something very interesting passes me by I don’t get distracted. So, at any given point in time I am working on a single project. I can never do 2 stories together.

I like to work in a planned way. And I keep a well structured map in my head. I want to be sure what I want to say. More than the photographs I labour at story telling. More than a photographer I am a story teller.

I do small projects and quite a few ones at that, because I cannot always self-fund the big projects. After all, I am a professional and I need to earn a living through photography.

Few words on your long term project Indian Coal Miners?

This was one of my early projects. An uncle of mine used to work in the Ranigunj coal mines. The geography of the mining areas and the colour black attracted me. But the real work took place gradually as the life there was started to attract me. Interactions with the local people made me more interested. Mr. Salman Ravi – then a correspondent of The Telegraph, helped me a lot. Other people too became friends and they helped me like fixers. You need to have a good fixer to be able to do a story in-depth. It’s very important just like the other fundamental aspects of doing a project.

Coal Miner is a much-appreciated work for which I have received Media fellowship from NFI (National foundation for India) it is also published in various magazines like Better photography, Private. It was exhibited in Lokayat art gallery in 2004 and will be exhibited in the Angkor photo festival this year.

How do you make emotions to flow inside the frames, how difficult is that and how do you achieve it?

When you are thinking of a photography project, you have got to be patient. There is no veni vidi vici here. You have got to invest on the subject and people, on an intellectual and personal level. People will let you in in their lives only when they feel you are, almost, a part of them. At the least, you are not a threat. Usually people are scared of or uninterested in the media. Once you become a part of them, without any kind of intrusion, you become invisible. And then unfolds the real story. Earning credibility with the subject is very difficult for some, because of reasons related with socio-economical background; cultural differences, etc. Fortunately, I have never had any problem with that. People seem to trust me easily. People still like to trust each other. So I get to witness their real lives, emotions unfolding in front of my lens. I capture what I see. Emotion doesn’t flow in the pictures. It flows between human beings. A picture has to capture that.

One incident during any of your reportage or Photographic Journey with a Photograph?

I remember this particular incident during the tsunami of 2004. It was a scene of devastation. In one such devastated village I came across a little girl whose face did not betray even a single emotion as I photographed her. This was not a common thing to happen, so I asked around and what came up was a typical sad story that summed up the devastation for tsunami, at least for me. This little girl had lost both her parents. Only her little brother survived. She was so much in shock that she hadn’t spoken in days, I was told. Later, her picture became the cover image for my book on tsunami “Waves that Shook the World”.

In your perspective, what difference can a photo story or reportage make to a particular social issue?

To be absolutely honest, all a photo story can do is, inform. It makes the mass aware of the issues and problems. Making a difference depends on the government if and when the government chooses to take a look and stirs. Some times the NGOs too take it upon themselves to bring about a positive change.

What are your future projects and interests?

Currently, I am working on a reportage on the Ganges basin. I am hitting the issues in and around the Gangetic plain to show how in several different ways people of this geography are being affected. It has also been predicted by the environmentalists that Ganga might die in the next 30-40 years, because of the proposed constructions of multiple dams. The tremendous crisis it will trigger, especially for north India, is unthinkable. The deep psychological impact this is going to have on the Hindus and people in general, who have depended on the river since eons. I wish to make people aware of this impending crisis as best I can.

Being a Photojournalist what is expected out of you and how do you make time for your personal life?

Photography is a very important part of my life. But I do it when I like. It’s not like I am on a mission or anything. I do spend time with my family and friends.

Expectations as a professional depend on the people you work with. Editors like certain kinds of pictures. So you have to cater to their tastes, if you want the assignment. This is very important, because we earn a living through photography. At the same time personal projects make you grow. They let you develop you own style. On the long run, personal projects earn you more money and accolades. One has to be able to maintain a balance between these two as a professional.

In Arindam’s point of view, what is a good Photograph?

Very simple! It should connect to people. It should capture the full concentration of the viewer. It will take the viewer to the place of the photograph, convey the emotions felt by the subject and make the reader feel it. It’s a love at first sight. Either you like it or don’t like it. At the same time, you need to be a visually literate person. Many people do not find anything beautiful than the picture of a flower or bird. Usually a good photograph is appreciated by everybody. Emotional aspect is more important than the technical parts.

One picture and the story behind it?

I had recently gone to Jharia to make a reportage on the mine fire raging under ground. During one of the rainy dusks I got this shot of a girl with an umbrella. She was making her way through the fire and gushing smoke. It is an undulating terrain. So at times, the small incline she was on, looked like it was floating out of nowhere. There was this strong smell of sulfur, raging orange fires scattered through the place. The heated earth was a constant reminder of the volatile nature of the region. The earth sinks every now and then. I was a little worried for the girl’s safety. But I could not take my eyes off of the view in front of me. It was beautiful and a little scary at the same time.

Your Best compliment/achievement so far?

I don’t know. No one compliments me (

What Tips or Advice do you have for other aspiring photographers?

In one word, patience. You won’t get recognitions or accolades for your work easily. So, one just has to keep on doing his work. If you are patient you will be seen and noted. Another very important aspect is one has to be ethical enough as a person. This is a profession where you work with people, often times most vulnerable sections of the society. So as a photographer you have to be sensitive as to how you use the information your subjects have allowed you to gather. Also, one should not be lying to one’s self. If you don’t like an image be honest to edit it out. Don’t just use it because you find it easy that way.

What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?

Since my early career, people have commented that I have a “style”. Neil Bergess was first to mention, then it was photographer Dr. Shahidul Alam who said the same. I did a workshop held by these them organized by the “British Council, India”. I still have that style.

In order to develop a style it is very important to know what you want to say as a photographer. Once you know that, the pictures speak for themselves.

And to understand what you want to say it is imperative to know. So, I research a lot. And even more, I think about it. I always keep into consideration how to reach people the best way possible. I always aim at doing work that may be able to appeal to people beyond my country or time. There are things that are important to people of my country. And there are things that people from any corner of the world might be able to identify with. I try to find topics of the second category. I never work on something which will be dated in a short while. I don’t do “news” so to speak. I work on issues persisting for a long time that have a broad impact on people’s lives. I work fast as I have to fund my own projects. The longer it takes the more expensive it gets. Since the thought process goes on for a while (sometimes even for two or three years), even if it’s a short-term project, it still credits depth. I usually can strike the chord on the very first day of the shoot.

When I work I focus on one subject. Even if something very interesting passes me by I don’t get distracted. So, at any given point in time I am working on a single project. I can never do two stories at once.

I like to work in a planned way. And I keep a well structured map in my head. I want to be sure what I want to say. More than the photographs I labour at story telling. More than a photographer I am a storyteller.

I do small projects and quite a few ones, because I cannot always self-fund the big projects. After all, I am a professional and I need to earn a living through my photography. I work at the depth of the projects. The deeper I can get to the subject the better. I don’t just aim at clicking beautiful photographs.

What do you consider to be the axis of your work?

I believe in copy book style photography. If I just follow the trend I am losing my style. These days, lots of people are making use of shake and blur, holga lens, elaborate processing etc. without realizing it may be actually taking the pictures’ quality down. If you are just following a trend, it’s not you, it’s just the fad you are following. It needs to be you at the end of the day. If I just follow someone that means I am losing my unique style. Your style is your identity.

Also I am not a very technical person. I use normal lenses. I have a 35 mm lens, and sometimes I use a tele lens. My work is more issue-based, more conceptual. I define my photography as focusing more on the humanitarian aspects than on technicalities.

What qualities does a good photographer need?

In one word: patience. You won’t get recognitions or accolades for your work easily. So, one just has to keep on doing the work. If you are patient you will be seen and noted. Another very important aspect is one has to be ethical enough as a person. This is a profession where you work with people, often times from the most vulnerable sections of society. So as a photographer you have to be sensitive as to how you use the information your subjects have allowed you to gather. Also, one should not be lying to one’s self. If you don’t like an image be honest to edit it out. Don’t just use it because you find it easier that way.

What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes, Arindam Mukherjee?

Very simple! It should connect to people. It should capture the full concentration of the viewer. It will take the viewer to the place of the photograph, convey the emotions felt by the subject and make the reader feel it. It’s a love at first sight. Either you like it or don’t like it. At the same time, you need to be a visually literate person. Many people do not find anything beautiful than the picture of a flower or bird. Usually a good photograph is appreciated by everybody. The emotional aspect is more important than the technical parts. A photograph should engage its viewers.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?

Inspiration comes from your inside. Things that are affecting you, things you react to, and so on. I get inspiration from what I see, read, experience and observe.