‘I needed to put at stake my own vulnerabilities’

Sohrab Hura’s third self-published photo book takes up the strands of where his earlier work ended – in his past with a firm look to the future

Published - July 20, 2018 09:26 pm IST

There are images that you photograph. And then there are those that you merely see. Sohrab Hura’s work, especially in his new book, Look it’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! ( LIGSO!!! ), belongs to the latter category. As the invisible eye, lost to the background and yet never really too far off, Hura records the life and times of his dog Elsa, his parents, their relationship and a bit of life as it unfolds in the surroundings of his mother’s house. “The very fact that I chose to look at my own home was because when I was looking outwards, it didn’t [make] sense to be photographing other people’s lives if I had not photographed my own. I needed to also put at stake my own vulnerabilities before I could take responsibility for someone else’s”, shares Hura over an email conversation.

Having worked on each for a decade before publishing, his images in both Life Is Elsewhere (2015) and LIGSO!!! (2018), stun you with the kind of access they give you. But what’s dramatic to an outsider is only most ordinary to Hura. His earlier high contrast, gritty, grainy black and white imagery has now given way to raw, understated work in colour. “The use of colour allowed me to make my work a little more dirty and little more real,” states Hura. While the one commonality retained, is the almost landscapish flatness of vision, accentuated heavily by the uncoated paper he uses to print, there is an unmistakable effusive, unbridled ease of flow in his recent work.

Breaking out

Aware of the conscious shift in his image making, Hura attributes this evolutionary curve to workshops he conducted for kids in Cambodia, at around the same time that he began shooting for LIGSO!!! in 2008. “I saw children photographing in the most carefree way. It made me realise how I was protecting myself by masking what I was photographing i.e. my own vulnerabilities, with the use of a certain language that was seductive. It had made me feel safe up to a point beyond which it started to strangle me. I needed to break out of it, confront my reality and reduce the gap between myself and my intimate space,” he reflects. As a viewer, not once do you feel overtly enticed by the skill or use of visual language. Hura’s approach is quite the opposite – his opening frames in the new book, of cluttered bedrooms and unmade beds, do more to push one away than to vie for your attention. Memories that seem personal on one level, feel anonymous to the point of becoming collective memories that could belong to anyone really – all of which push you away and yet draw you closer to the work.

“I’ve changed both as a person as well as a photographer and both positions affect each other. As a photographer I’ve gained more distance from the medium. That is not to say that I don’t care about photography but now I’m more at ease coming into it from different positions and because of that photography seems to me far more malleable than it ever did before. The thought of applying the same kind of photography, in terms of its language and so on, across all my works started to feel absurd because it would mean nothing more than remaining stagnant,” he reasons. What really is the language of photography then? Is it conversational, is it evocative of a certain mood or feeling, or is it whatever the author makes it out to be?

Experimental approach

With his second book, A Proposition for Departure (2017), published alongside his first solo show, Sweet Life , in September the same year at the Experimenter gallery, Kolkata, Hura stepped beyond the purview of pure photography, helping one experience visuals through sound. “I wanted to try and extract sounds that would reflect a state of being that I had felt at the time of making the image,” he writes in A Proposition for Departure . Using an online synthesiser, graphs, mathematical calculations and detailed notations, the photographer explored the relationship between images and sound. Pushing the boundaries of the medium, Hura challenges conventional definitions of both photography and of what it is to be a photographer. Comparing himself to a puppeteer working at all his strings, he says, “The different movements of the hands bring to life, the puppets hanging below differently. The tone, the pace, the pitch, the distance and the intensity in my work as well as the movement (or stillness) of time within it are my strings. How I work at my strings generates specific flows in my work. There are some stages that might allow for a movement of strings different from another. The book for me is just one such stage.”

Having come a long way from turning to photography as an escape to hide from the world, when his own was falling apart, after his mother’s illness resurfaced in 2005, to today being an associate for the world’s oldest and most sought after photo agency – Magnum, Hura feels no different as an artist. Only, a deeper sense of belongingness to “the community that is Magnum” and a gratefulness for “the rigour it has instilled in him”. He still has to work for another two years before he can apply for a full membership. With a fourth book already in the pipeline, he informs, “I have many books almost ready to print but I think what I’m ready to print next is called The Levee. The work traces a journey along the Mississippi river upto New Orleans in the United States, that both he and his father took in 2016, by ship and by road respectively, each a couple months apart.

This again like all his earlier work, he hopes to self-design and self-publish under the imprint ‘Ugly Dog’ , in memory of Elsa, whose passing away was what actually prompted Hura to publish his first book with much urgency, as closure. As also the fact that he sees “…many books that belong more to the designer than the photographer just as I have seen many works belonging to the editor or the curator more than the photographer. It is important to me that the authorship of the work remains mine.”

Peer support

With that in mind, there are books by fellow photographers that he’s looking forward to which include Soham Gupta’s book Angst, Moksha by Rohan Thapa from Nepal, Nick Sethi’s Khichdi and one by Bangladeshi dentist and photographer, Taufiqur Rahman Anik. While Angst is published by Akina whose sensibilities Hura completely trusts, Moksha, he’s glad is free of conventions that most works get trapped with. Khichdi with almost 500 images feels nothing short of a “beautiful mess” to him, while Anik’s book maquette was an unexpected surprise in its obsession with teeth.

Today with advances in technology, when anything and everything can be documented with ease, the why of shooting something takes precedence over the what. Hura reasons, “More than a photo book or photographs having a purpose, I think it’s important for the person making them to have a position. Everything else will fall into place subsequently.”

To order a copy of Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! write to uglydog455@gmail.com

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