Nominated to Magnum Photos, one of the world’s most reputed photo agencies, Sohrab Hura is keen to see if this development adds to his work or takes away from it
Sohrab Hura is largely unaffected by the development at which someone else in his place would have been ecstatic. In fact, a little more than halfway through the conversation, nonchalance gives way to scepticism. This is how the young photographer is perceiving his nomination to Magnum, one of the world’s most prestigious photo agencies.
The last time an Indian photographer made it to Magnum was in 1977 when Henri Cartier-Bresson appointed Raghu Rai to the agency. More than two decades later Sohrab has been nominated to the international photographic cooperative founded by the likes of Bresson, Robert Capa, Maria Eisner and David Seymour etc. in 1947. “There are two more rounds to go before I become a full-time member. I will continue to work the way I do and take on assignments given by them if I feel like and after two years there will be a voting by the members,” says Sohrab.
Full-time member or not, to be associated with a powerful agency like Magnum is no mean achievement for a photographer. “To be very honest I am not thinking about it. I just want to be a photographer that I was. It surely is a platform to say what I want to say. The good thing is that it has a big audience and the bad thing is that it has a big audience,” feels Sohrab who is keen to see if his work changes under pressure. Although he has a background in economics (he trained as an economist at Delhi School of Economics), ever since he took up photography, Sohrab has been pursuing independent projects like “Sweet Life” where he focuses on his mother suffering from a mental condition. It was followed by “Life is Elsewhere” (again an autobiographical work, now being turned into a book) for which he gained much appreciation. Some time after his studies in economics were over, he also frequented a region in Central India called Pati, documenting the lives of villagers mired in poverty but not low on spirits and awareness.
“I have been working in isolation for a long time. The primary reason I applied was to see if the external pressure gets the better out of me or damages me. In material terms I don’t know yet what I will get but I am extremely bad when it comes to talking about one’s work. Almost every photographer has resorted to social media to showcase his/her work but somehow I can’t bring myself to do that. So I need someone to do this dirty work for me. I believe that it will give some sort of life to my work,” feels the lensman, adding that maybe Raghu Rai’s work on Bhopal and Mother Teresa wouldn’t have got that much exposure had he not been associated with Magnum.
At Magnum, most of the members have been advising the young photographer to carry on with his independent work, taking on assignments only if he finds them exciting. On his way to Kolkata for a wedding and with a recce in mind for a new project, Sohrab reveals that with his latest work “Heat”, he is trying to push the frontiers. “It is about the summer in one of the hottest regions in India, Barwani in Madhya Pradesh. The idea is to just capture the intangible and not focus on the socio-economic conditions. I wanted to create this feeling of heat. It was a thread that I picked from Gabriel Garcia Marquez when he writes about a hot summer in Macondo. When I would go to Barwani, I was looking at right to food and other economic issues and felt it became propaganda-ish. It was reaching out to a pre-determined audience and then I felt the need to look at it differently.”
There are no exhibitions coming from Sohrab. He isn’t too keen on them, just like social media. “For last three years I have just been making work. I will have one if I really feel like it. I felt horrible after having the NFI exhibition but I had no choice but to show it because it was a fellowship. I felt miserable showing the photographs of such poverty and denial. I guess you really need to be thick-skinned to be doing such work. I am not.”