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Framed
January 24, 2018

An Interview With Street Photographer Craig Boehman

Text by Ranjabati Das. All Photographs © Craig Boehman, www.streettog.org

Craig Boehman, who specialises in street photography, frames his subjects aesthetically within their environment when he trains his lens on them

What makes street photography so unique?
What makes it different from many other photographic genres is the transitory nature of the subjects themselves. Whereas in landscapes, the weather may change from moment to moment, yet the mountain itself remains more or less intact for the next photographer. My subjects in Mumbai resemble anything but timeless entities. They are transitory; they’re likely to never repeat the same actions, in grace or form, ever again in front of that building or along this particular street. If I can capture them in one act of beautiful transcendence, then I’ve succeeded.

What attracts you to a subject?
There are times when existential moments unfold into the realm of art. In plain words, it happens when I look at a subject and I can imagine it as a painting. The thing about street photography is that things tend to happen fast and I may take a picture and not really know what I have until I get home and look at it more closely on the computer. But on a good day out in the streets, I can spot a subject, which almost always is a person, and provide a space within a frame to allow the individual to connect aesthetically with his or her environment.

Describe an incident that has left a lasting impact on you.
The episode that still resonates with me happened a couple of years ago when I was shooting in Goregaon (West). I had been taking portraits of a few homeless people — a mother and three of her children. After I had shown them their pictures on my camera, the mother motioned me to follow her. I was very hesitant because at that point I had not had many interactions with people living in this kind of poverty. But what transpired next was nothing less than spectacular; I ended up taking group photos of whom I believe to be her extended family. I realised then the greatness of this matriarch, whose simple invitation had lifted the spirits of the children as well as the adults in her tiny mobile village. I’ll never forget it.

Early influences that shaped your sensibilities?
I’ve never been influenced by any photographer as such. I will cite, however, the philosophical tenets of existentialism and the visual quest which tend to arise in expressionism. So, really, I’m paying homage to a few painters whom I really admire, namely Marc Chagall and Egon Schiele, if I’m pressed for names.

Why black and white?
Black and white is my first love and what I learnt to do myself when I first picked up a camera. I learnt to develop the film and make prints. Much later when I finally got around to picking up photography again, I found it only natural that I continue with my love for the genre. But I acknowledge that taking pictures in India often requires many shots to be processed in colour to simply work as images.

A city you would love to photograph in India and why?
Besides Mumbai and Kolkata, both home bases for me really these days, I’d like to go back and spend some quality time in Varanasi. To say the place is magical is not doing it justice, photographically speaking. For me, there are three general zones I’ve identified for exploration. The city streets and all the congested chaos thriving there; the banks of the Ganges, where the ancient promenade winds through a sea of ever-morphing humanity; and the meandering lanes between the buildings perched above the river bank, where cars are too big to go through and where wandering herds of cattle and motorcycles reign supreme. I would even venture to say that these lanes are the arteries of the place and the River Ganges, the heart of it all.

What is the #3StrangersADay project all about?
It’s a 365-day street photography project that I began on January 1, 2017. Essentially, I would take three pictures of three strangers every day. I ended up with over 1,000 images over a period. It’s my first long-term photography project, and I’ve learned a lot about Mumbai and its people, not to mention the art of street photography.

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