Interview with Srikanth Kolari, part 1: Colours of India in B&W photography

by deborah on 09/28/2010

Srikanth Kolari aka Sri is an emerging photographer from India with a strong sense for social issues and amazing eye for sharping these moments through the camera viewfinder… I’m very happy to have Sri as the first interviewed photographer on Body Pixel…

srikanth_kolari_1.jpgPhoto: Srikanth Kolari (c)


Bio:
‘Sri is an accidental photographer. He hails from Thrissur in Kerala, but as a 14-year-old shifted base to Chennai. He had earned a sports scholarship there and he used that as an ‘excuse’ to leave home and leave behind the disturbing memories. He was training to be an athlete but an injury when 19 forced him to quit sports. For the next few years he wandered aimlessly, although he had registered himself for a BA in History at the Madras Christian College. History surely was not his calling.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

When he confessed this to a friend he initiated him to industrial photography. He was nearly bored to death with it. Then he worked as an assistant to a wildlife photographer, where he says he made some progress with his photographic skills. He did not hang on there for long either, he took to fashion photography because livelihood issues had cropped up by then.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

When he turned 25 a fancy idea struck him: That he should lead a ‘normal’ life. By which he meant he should marry, arrange for a monthly salary and settle down. He did meet a charming Croatian dancer for a partner and landed up with a job in Outlook, the national newsmagazine. But within two years he knew he was a freer spirit and could not stick to a given framework. He quit his job and began to travel with his girlfriend across the world on a self-discovery trip and soon saw himself being led to the threshold of what you see exhibited here.’ (bio by tasveer.gallery)

His work has been exhibited so far in India and Italy.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

Your photography portfolio is mostly dedicated to social issues… children in India, seasonal workers, HIV & AIDS people, sex workers, transgender community… How do you decide on topics, locations, subjects?

SK: I don’t really decide. It kind of just happens to me. I have a list of projects with me all the time…

In fact, it is like a Mango tree. You have the tree and mangos up there on it. I usually only have the stone. So when I throw the stone up towards the Mango tree, whichever mango falls down, that’s the one. There are too many issues going on in the world, and they are all important, but which one I do first depends really about the stone. About the access to the subject, financial possibility, and such. Unfortunately I can’t afford to plan yet.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

What is your relation as a photographer to subjects during exploration phase and, afterwards, when shooting them? You have to gain a huge amount of trust…

SK: I just go there open hearted, hoping to be completely honest, and not selfish. I don’t just enter someone’s space, pull out a camera and shoot; in fact I don’t think I would know how to do that. I need to listen first, get connected to the people whose stories I am about to transfer further and only then I can start shooting.

Personally, I believe we all have two circles around us. One is the social circle, what we show to the world, our family, school, friends, opinions… the other one is completely personal. There is where we bury our darkest secrets… stories we would like to carry with us to our graves. And this is the circle that I am entering each time I shoot.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

The most important thing for me here is to be clear that I am not intruding someone’s secrets, but that I am entering as a messenger.  The reason why these people choose to share their stories is not me. It is their wish for the world to learn about what’s happening. Their hope that something will change, and that the change will be positive.

I am not quite experienced to answer that question as off now. Maybe in another five years I will find the answer, but not today. I don’t speak the same language with most of the people I meet and document their stories. I believe the energy we build around us is what makes our hearts to speak out. Like I said… I need more time to figure out this answer… I am just at the beginning of my journey.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

Also… at the end of the project, I feel rather frustrated. I have spent so much time with this people, listening to their stories, documenting their lives… and I always leave that space hoping I will be able to do something with it… hoping I will be able to help somehow… But so far… nobody wants to publish these stories… they stay as a reminder that people still do suffer, and I can’t do anything about it. It is not a nice thing to live with, but I still do believe in what I do.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

Can you tell me something about the project you are currently working on?

SK: The project I am doing now, for example, about HIV / AIDS positive children… After each visit to various families, parents always ask me on my exit: “Will the doctors soon find the cure for AIDS? If not for me (cause my life is over), than at least to save my child?” What answer can I give to that?

My aim is in fact to reach as many people as I can, show them what is happening in the world around them, and only through global awareness, we can make some improvements. The truth is, these children are not really dying because of AIDS, they are dying because they don’t have three nutritious meals a day. If we could arrange for their food, that would prolong their lives for at least few years.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

You like to use both, B&W and colour photography? But, what makes you choose to shot something in B&W over colour?

SK: Now I shoot only B&W. The reason behind it is that the projects I do here in India are stronger in B&W for me. India is for itself a very colourful country.  Where ever you go you see colours. The way people dress, the way the countryside looks like, bindi on ladies’ foreheads… everything is full of colour.

To get rid of all these distractions, and reach the point straight away, I prefer to show the story in B&W. That’s how the viewer can concentrate only on the subject, and not million other colourful things that surround it.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

What kind of impression do you hope to leave upon other’s who see your photographs? Especially in the context of social issues…

SK: I don’t want to leave any impression on anyone. I just want for people to see what is happening. And I believe in goodness, meaning, I believe that whoever needs to be connected to the photos, he/she will be. If at least few people see the photos I have shot, and if they decide to help (this way or another), we have made some progress.

We all have our own opinions and we are coming from different backgrounds. But I believe everyone can recognize sadness and pain when seeing it. Just as we can recognize happiness. And that’s what matters.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

In general, during a session, how many photographs would you say you take to find ‘the right one’? Is that something you think of when everything is done?

SK: I generally don’t think of anything. But I remember what Mr. Henri Cartier Bresson has said: “You can’t make cheese out of one glass of milk.” I agree with that. The more photos you take, the more chances of getting the right one will appear.

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Photo: Srikanth Kolari (c)

How does it feel when your work is completed? Do you feel fulfilled or empty?

SK: That is when my real worries start. When I am in the field, I don’t think about what to do with the end product. But once I finish the editing, and have the story ready… I start feeling frustrated, angry, mad in fact. I hate realizing that each time I am done with the project I can’t do much about it. Because there are so many people who can make some difference, who can in fact do lots of difference, and they don’t seem to bother. It hurts being back to real world.

When you photograph on the street, do you have a theme in mind?

SK: I don’t photograph on the street… I guess, in that case, I am the only photographer who doesn’t walk around with the camera in his hand. I need to have a mission. I guess… that’s how I function.

Read the second part of the interview with the photographer Srikanth Kolari here: Photographer is a Messenger…

Srikanth Kolari