Some day, I would like to work for wildlife conservation: Photographer Rana Pandey

 Some day, I would like to work for wildlife conservation: Photographer Rana Pandey

Upasana Kaura

Young documentary & street photographer Rana Pandey has been practicing visual storytelling for over six years now. A graduate from the prestigious Presidency University, his work makes an attempt to showcase the many socio-economic and untouched shades of human life in a more intimate form. Currently busy with Kashmir centric ‘Project Bismillah’, through which he aims to bring out a few unheard stories from the region, he has also been travelling to Chikmagalur and a few more forestry areas of Karnataka, working around to document its wide range of coffee plantations. In a free-wheeling interview, he gives us a peek into his life and more:

Throw some light on your Kashmir centric ‘Project Bismillah’ which aims to bring out a few unheard stories from the region.
Kashmir was an instant love for me so much so that I had to go there 7 times. Around my fourth visit Article 370 was scrapped; I and my team were greeted by closed shops, streets with massive police deployment and at times not even a single civilian was in sight. According to the locals, tourism was at an all-time low of just 5%. Majority of the people were sitting idle, with nothing to do, eating away their savings, children were sad because they hadn’t been to their school or met their friends in the last 3 months. And this is what gave rise to Project Bismillah.

Inside a saffron farmers house in Pampore, Kashmir

You attempt to showcase the many socio-economic and untouched shades of human life in a more intimate form. What makes you choose these subjects?
Choosing my subjects is somewhat tricky as I have to keep many things in mind like accessibility, sensitivity of the situation and time but generally I choose my topics based on how deeply I relate to them and my understanding of them. Sometime things just pop out and you know you have to get them but most of the time it is a lot more subtle and you have to go by your gut.

Chemrey monastery in Ladakh

You have co-authored Altars of Yearning: How India Prays. Do tell us more about it. And how did it reach The House of the Lords?
Some four years ago I started working on my photo story “Why Do We Pray”. Through it, I intended to capture people at the moment of devotion, when there was a unity between the soul and the spirit. My prime aim for my project, ‘Why do we pray?  has always been to unfurl the incredible dimensions of the numerous cultures of India which coexist peacefully. Later, realizing the potential it had, I along with my mentor Kounteya Sinha and friends compiled the various chapters of the project into a book which was released by Cherie Blair in the House of Lords of the United Kingdom.

Widows of Vrindhavan celebrating Holi

When was the first time you realise that your camera could act as a creative tool?
I think that it was around the beginning of my photographic journey that I started to develop a feel of how to use the camera as a storytelling tool. It was a vague conception of a creative art form to express oneself and the world around me and I lacked a lot of knowhow and nuance. But as my knowledge of the art grew, I realised how we can change the outcome of any image by choosing between the various combinations of lens, light, filters etc and thus transform an image according to our creative taste. 

Your first camera.
My first camera was a Fujifilm HS30EXR. Though it was just a point and shoot camera but it opened up a whole different world for me.

Snow-capped Gulmarg

Is there any other side of life you would want people to see through your lens tomorrow?
I would like to work in wildlife conservation and protection someday. I love animals and nature and firmly believe that their lives are as important as ours and would surely like to narrate their story.

In broader terms, can you be called a photographer who is an artist?
I think all the photographers out there are artists. Photography isn’t just technical knowledge that requires expensive equipment, it’s also very imaginative, requiring skill to create something beautiful and which has a deeper meaning. Instead of using words, just like any other language, photography uses visual elements to tell a story or use it as a form of artistic expression.

Your ideas germinate from…
From experiences, both mine and others’. I think an open heart and a deep receptivity opens the doors of inspiration.

How different are you from others in the same genre if there are any?
There are many other photographers in the same genre, and there is a lot of good work being done. I think you can differentiate a photographer from others from a variety of parameters like the subjects they like to cover, the instruments they use, where they get inspiration from. I think I am a documentary photographer who likes to work with the underrepresented and is looking for those untouched moments of a person’s story.

What is that one thing which is the most important part of a photograph?
There are various factors to a good photograph for example composition, framing, patterns, light but what differentiates a great photo from a good one is the philosophy behind it. A great photograph should be able to catch that fleeting feeling which can only be seen in the moments stillness in space and time. It should show something greater than what the human eye can see, it should be able to bring out the character, or pain or even something for which we don’t have a word. It has to have a soul which can resonate with ours and make us respond to it.

A group of women praying inside a temple in Varanasi.

How important are awards?
I feel what makes a photographer stand out from the others is his/her body of work, the people he has documented and the stories that he has told. That said, winning an award or getting recognized is very helpful specially during the initial stages of your career. As a professional photographer we need to invest, not just in gears and equipment but also in opportunities, opportunities to shoot the photos we love and also to showcase them to the right people. Competitions are also a good way to judge your work, compare them to others work and see where you stand.

A photographer who inspired you to take up art?
There are lot of them, like Steve Mccurry Raghu Rai, Sebastiao Salgado and many others but what really inspired me to take up this art as a profession is the love for exploration and storytelling.

What do you do when you are not in your creative space?
Usually, I try to relax. Often during my free time I play football, helps me in taking my mind off things.



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