Raj is a member of Instreet Collective, one of the curators of APF Magazine street photography FB group, the founder of World Photographic Forum and a reviewer of camera gear. He facilitates several workshops on street photography all over India. He recently won Puskar Fair contest 2017.
Statement: The camera is my constant companion wherever I go. I believe, if you are in a habit of taking photograph every day then it will become a reflex action and your mind will instruct when to click and what to click. I think one has to be the true critic of his own photos. I prefer to review my own photos repeatedly on a regular basis to improve my photographic sense.
You can find Raj Sarkar on the Web:
What is your first childhood memory?
When I was in class 1, I used to make chapati with my elder sister that I could eat during the recess period. The sense of smell is closely tied to memory, and it’s a wonderful memory for me to recall.
Are you still learning who you are?
Yes, I am still learning and I will continue to learn about myself until the day I die. Everything around me is always changing, so what would make me think that I can remain constant? Continuing to grow within my art and within my life is a never-ending process for me.
Who are you when no one is looking at you?
When no one is looking at me I feel like I am a street photographer who has learned to hide from the crowd. Maybe I have become invisible! On second thought, maybe people are just ignoring me! I think I have the skill to blend into a crowd, to remain unnoticed. Anyway, this is one of the best things that can happen to a street photographer, and I really enjoy it.
What got you involved in photography in the first place?
I always enjoyed observing people and trying to read the mood of strangers on the street. Once I realized that I felt great respect towards these people, even though I didn’t know them, capturing them in photographs was the next logical step.
Ansel Adams once said: You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. Could you tell us about your favorite photographs, books, music, and people who are closest to you?
My favorite photograph is from a book called “A Way to India” by Raghubir Singh, one of my favorite photographers overall. The photograph is very simple but it truly captures my heart. The picture is a red Ambassador, centered in the frame. To the left, there is an old man sitting on the ground against the car, head down with his hands clasped and his legs pulled to his chest. There is a magical ambiance to the shot, with a beautifully saturated exposure that paradoxically captures a sense of perfect isolation within an energetic image.
I read a lot of books and articles, and when I’m not out photographing, I enjoy watching YouTube interviews of photographers that I admire. It may be no surprise to anyone that my favorite photography book is Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment,” and I also pick up Sebastiao Salgado’s “Genesis” over and over.
I like listening to music of all genres, from folk to rock and everything in between. My favorite singer is Kishore Kumar who is from India, and I also enjoy Chayanne who is from Spain.
I’m very close with my wife, my mom, and my sister. They’ve helped shape the person I am, and they continue to do so. I’ve also been blessed with many close friends, but if I began naming them off, we’d run out of time!
There’s a thin line between invading people’s privacy and taking their photographs. Why do ethics matter?
I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the question. Taking someone’s photograph isn’t generally unethical, unless, for example, the photographer is secretly photographing someone in a very private situation, which no one should do.
People can be sensitive about being photographed, however, and that’s understandable. Sometimes a person doesn’t like the way they look in a photograph. I can understand that some people feel that a photograph invades their privacy, so that’s a fair question. For me, I try to measure my subjects’ mood before I photograph them. Sometimes I casually photograph them without making a big deal about it, and other times I may approach them first and ask if they would mind being photographed. If someone really objected, I just wouldn’t photograph them.
Bruce Gilden claims that photography is a voyeuristic medium. Does it resonate with you?
It doesn’t really resonate with me. Photography is an artform, and to me, it’s more philosophical than that. If it feels voyeuristic then it’s probably because the photographer is more focused on sneaking around than on looking for the next great shot.
Have you ever acted rude in front of people you have tried to photograph?
I have never acted rudely. If someone objected to being photographed, I would move onto another subject. I don’t need to waste my time getting involved in that type of situation.
Have you ever been following your subject that the person could eventually think you’re a stalker or a pervert?
You hardly find a street photographer who has not faced this reaction from people.
Gloria Steinem once said: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. Are you getting nervous when someone goes deeper and scrutinizes your work?
I always like to learn and I happily accept suggestions from other people, so I don’t get nervous. This only helps me get better, and if for some reason I don’t agree with a suggestion, I’m free to ignore it. Besides, I always enjoy talking about photography. Have you noticed?!
What if you take images for a couple of years and don’t get a positive audience reaction? Would you be still taking them?
Why should I stop taking pictures? I take them all the time. I take pictures for enjoyment and because it’s my love and passion. When the love is pure one, criticism can’t bother you, it can only make you stronger. As they say, “even a stopped watch is right twice a day,” so it’s a law of nature that I’ll get a few good shots every year. Success!
Do you often get jealous of someone’s achievements?
I don’t get jealous of others. Life’s too short and I’d much rather enjoy and celebrate their success. I actually take inspiration from the accomplishments of others. The problem I have with the word “achievement” is that it implies that once you get it, you can stop working. To steadily increase your knowledge and devotion through ongoing hard work is more valuable to me than getting an award or recognition.
If you could wake up tomorrow in the body of another artist, who would you choose and why?
I know the question is figurative, but I’ll answer it more literally. I don’t want to wake up in the body of another artist because by doing so I would have lost my individuality and everything that makes me who I am. Not to mention I would also lose my wife, my mother, my family, and my friends. I’ll keep my own body, thank you! I have my own world. I cannot afford to lose even a single day.
What artist made the most impact on you and why?
I have to pick two. For me, Henri Cartier-Bresson is the pinnacle of the artform we call street photography. His work continues to show me how to see the geometry, lines, and situations that lead to the decisive moment. Add to that the work he did in establishing Magnum and all the great photographers that came under their wing. Just amazing.
A close second – or maybe tied for first – is the great Indian photojournalist and photographer Raghu Rai. He was also a Magnum photographer and a protégé of Bresson’s. His work speaks to me like no other. In fact, there are very few of his published photographs that I don’t connect with.
If you could have personally witnessed a perfect street scene at the right decisive moment, what would you want to have seen?
Nothing in this world is perfect, and besides, I don’t possess a preconceived notion of the perfect photograph anyway. As soon as I can envision what this perfect photograph is, why even bother to take the shot? My journey in this world would be finished. If I somehow get that shot someday, so be it.
If you could witness and photograph any historical moment of the past, present – or future – what would it be?
Past historical moments are probably something I’m familiar with, so photographing those doesn’t appeal to me. As for the future, no one knows what that will bring, and it’s futile to try to predict. Street photography is about being in the right here, right now. That’s where my focus is.
What’s on your photography bucket list this year?
I’m not sure. I try to travel somewhere interesting each year, but I haven’t planned that out yet. Wherever I go – overseas or in my hometown – you can count on the fact that I’ll fill up another hard drive!
What do you like to do outside of photography?
I love to draw, watch films, play acoustic guitar, and listen to music. Sometimes I try to sing with karaoke music.
Blind and live forever or be able to see and die in a couple of years?
Blindness is a failure of the certain organ. I would love to live long and if I live long enough, technology is developing rapidly so there is always a chance to get back one’s vision. For me, the inner vision is more important anyway.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
Hindus are cremated, so there will no tomb for me to say something about myself. If Hindus had headstones, I might leave a message like “I will again be born as a human and will die as a photographer.”
About Arek Rataj
“You Can Shoot. Can You Talk?” is a series of interviews created by Arek Rataj. He is a Qatar-based journalist, contemporary photographer and educator.
Arek was born in a small industrial district in communist Poland under the Soviet Union dictatorship. In midst of this human misery, political hypocrisy, environmental dirt and ugliness, he became particularly sensitive for all signs of beauty and transcendence.
You can find Arek Rataj on the Web:
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted Raj Sarkar. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.