Having spent the last couple of years lamenting about how there is no half-decent street photography project in India, I was too scared to try it myself. The visual of me, a girl, standing on the streets of Delhi / Noida / Gurgaon, with my camera used to shut down the plan as soon as it came up in my head. Where would I stand? What if someone came up to me and demanded to know just who the hell I thought I was, pointing my camera at whoever I please? What if someone threw a stone at my camera? ( It’s Delhi. Things can get weird pretty quickly. On the other hand, maybe I’m just paranoid. )
I looked around the Internet to see if someone else was already doing it in India. Maybe I could pose the above questions to them and get over my fears. I was only able to find one chap who was a street style photographer in India : Manou of Wearabout. Manou photographs people from all walks of life : from fashion weeks to local markets, North India, North East India, Vintage photographs ( which I don’t think he has photographed ) etc., which make for a blog with very interesting content. He doesn’t blog very frequently though. Manou has also collaborated with brands and has been commissioned by magazines to photographs street style related stories for them. Some screenshots from his blog below.
Manou’s work on the blog seems to start in 2010. I also saw some work from Santu Misra on the lines of street style as well. He seems to have started something akin to street style in 2010 as well. His blog is DevilWore and he usually photographs people at fashion weeks. Like Manou, Santu does not post regularly either. I wish he did. He has a good eye for framing. Some screenshots from his blog below.
Apart from Manou and Santu, there didn’t seem to be anyone else doing anything at all about street style photography in India. ( Santu seems to have a Tumblr specifically for street style in India as well. )
There was this 2012 article on MissMalini.com about Varun Sikka’s street style photography in India but I have not been able to find any other street style work by Varun.
There were – and still are – a ton of photographers doing street photography though. When I was thinking about writing this blog post, I had sent out a few queries on Twitter and Facebook asking people to point me to their favourite street style photographers in India. In response, I received links to a ton of street photographer. I then resent my query framing it as looking for street STYLE photographers. I still haven’t received many responses but from my research on Google, I have established that while we still do not have many photographers who work in this genre, there are definitely more now than there were when I was busy being scared about practising this genre myself.
As luck would have it, I first tried my hand at posed-people-photography and not really street style, with the #BeYoung project that Fiama Di Wills commissioned me and Akanksha to photograph for them at #WIFW Autumn/Winter 2014. It was the safest approach for me to experiment with street style photography. I was still quite nervous about having to stop people in their tracks and ask them to stand patiently while I composed a frame and took their picture. Everyone was so nice about it though that after five days at fashion week in March 2014, I was a little more brave about wanting to attempt street style photography just the way I wanted. ( Almost everyone! There was one girl model who snapped at me for pointing the camera at her. I quickly put down the camera and politely informed her that I was photographing for my client and the client is Fiama Di Wills, to which she said, “Then I’m definitely not interested in you taking my picture.” That was a tad unnerving. )
A few photos from that assignment to give you context. I was being super safe.
I didn’t consider this street style photography by any means. It was a start though. It being a client commissioned assignment, I could hide behind invoking the client’s name if someone did ask me “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Although, as you know, it didn’t really help with the model who refused to be photographed. ( I was whiny about her refusal but as a professional I understand and respect people’s privacy. )
The next brush I had with posed-people-photography was the #LiveInCotton assignment that was commissioned by the International Cotton Council. The initial brief for the project was streets style photography of people wearing cotton and going about their daily lives. I though about going to Khan Market, finding a couple of places to stand and photograph from there. The only trouble was that the project only started in the peak summer months and I was pretty sure someone would stab me if I asked them to stop and pose for me in the Delhi heat! Again, I took the safe route and went door to door to photograph for this project. I knew some of the people and had met them earlier but there were some whom I had only connected with over social networks and was meeting them for the first time.
I had done two commissioned projects but I still hadn’t photographed street style the way I would’ve liked to! As a photographer, it is hard to not know about the existence of Scott Schuman’s The Sartorialist blog. He is one of the world’s most popular street style photographers. His style of photography is also posed-people in the street photography but the people are not aware they’re going to be photographed. So it isn’t a staged photo. While I was inspired by Scott’s success, I felt like I needed more in my own street style photography experiment. I scoured the Internet for more international professionals who were working in this genre. Some screenshots from Scott’s blog below. In general, it seems that the street style photography market abroad, for photographers, is quite crazy and saturated.
I was pointed to Tommy Ton’s street style blog on tumblr. He has done some excellent work but AFAIK Tommy doesn’t blog anymore and I haven’t researched into what he’s upto these days. I was still seeking inspiration from someone who lived and breathed street style. Eureka / Hallelujah happened when I stumbled onto Adam Katz Sindig’s work on Le21eme.com that proclaims in its tagline “This is NOT a street style blog!” I loved his style. I am a huge fan of his work and eagerly look forward to the rare interview or two he does with publications. I even emailed him and he was kind enough to respond. His images were love at first sight for me. Some of my favourites from his work as screenshots from his blog below.
Such fabulous work! I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to replicate this look and feel in India but now I was DYING to try it out. I decided to give it a shot in the safe environment of #WIFWSS15 in October 2014. I figured I had nothing to lose. By now, most people at fashion week kinda recognized me and if anyone had any objections, they would atleast be nice about it. Hopefully. Some of the photographs from my first street style experiment below. ( All #EyesForStreetStyle from #WIFWSS15 )
I photographed hundreds of people at fashion week and published a total of 80 images on the blog. Everyone who saw the series was appreciative and I couldn’t believe how well-received it was. Now that I’d conquered my fear, I decided I must do more of this at other venues I did not consider as safe as fashion week. ( When I was photographing this particular series, I also saw another photographer, at a different vantage point, photographing people. He was asking them to stop and pose for his camera. I was curious but did not get a chance to say hello. )
My next street style attempt was at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2015. I was in the city photographing for a client and had to visit the venue for the assignment. I had some time on my hands and decided to photograph some street style as well. It was MAD! So many people and then attempting to photograph a single person in the maddening crowd was quite an experience. I was frustrated at missing many photographs and at being photographed myself – there were a large number of people at the event who were carrying cameras and probably attempting street style like I was. It was an experience I am never going to forget. From the safe embrace of fashion week to the fish market of Jaipur Literature Festival!
I tried to photograph hundreds of people but failed to get decent frames in most cases. I published 59 photographs on the blog. Some of the photographs from that venue are below. All of #EyesForStreetStyle from #ZeeJLF.
By now, I was hooked. Wherever I went, I thought of photographing some street style, even if I only had a couple of hours. Next stop? #EyesForStreetStyle at the St. Regis brand launch! I had expected people would dress up in their finery for this but was sorely disappointed. I barely got a handful of photographs and published 27 on the blog. ( All #EyesForStreetStyle at #StRegisPolo. ) I was enjoying this more than I had imagined possible. Meanwhile I continued to Google for other street style photographers in India but to no avail.
Then in the same month as ZeeJLF and St. Regis Polo, I was photographing a commissioned assignment at the India Art Fair and DIED when I saw the street style potential there! I barely spent about an hour photographing and I had 26 photos that I ended up publishing on the blog. It was a GOLDMINE for street style photography and I cannot wait for the 2016 edition to spend all three days parked there. How fabulous it was! Some of the photos below. ( All #EyesForStreetStyle from #IndiaArtFair. )
The above three street style stints all happened in January 2015. I could barely wait for fashion week in March to try my hand at this again. I ended up photographing for a few hours each day for all the five days and I had hundreds of images. I ended up enjoying it a LOT more than I had expected and have published 75 images on the blog so far. ( All of #EyesForStreetStyle from #AIFWAW15 – it is still being published – about two photographs per day. ) By now I was sure I wanted to pursue more of this and ended up getting the EyesForStreetStyle.com domain specifically for the street style work that I do. I didn’t think I would ever end up doing that!
It was only during Amazon Fashion Week in March 2015 that I found out that the photographer I had seen at the last fashion week, who was also photographing street style, was Samir Rana. Samir does some lovely street style photography and has been commissioned by publications for their street style stories as well. His blog / website is called StyleSpy.in and some of my favourites as screenshots below.
The street style photography scene in India definitely seems to be moving in the right direction but there still aren’t many players in the market i.e. photographers, who do this kind of work. After all my asking around and Googling, I’ve finally come up with the following list in NO PARTICULAR ORDER :
06. This is Sheena
08. PopXo ( although they are a multi-author publication – all the above are solo photographers )
09. Little Red Tote
10. Polka Cafe
and that’s it. If I had to pick a favourite, of course I would pick my own work – I love it. But if I had to pick someone else, it would have to be Samir Rana’s StyleSpy.in hands down. While it isn’t my style, it is probably the only other good quality street style portfolio in India! I’m guessing more photographers will attempt this in the near future and hopefully new styles and perspectives will emerge. Indian streets have so much to offer in this regard. We might not be dapper when we dress daily and we might not fit the conventional expectations of “style”, but there’s a whole lot of traditional, native Indian style that cannot be found on the streets of any other country in the world.
( If you know of other street style photographers in India, please share their URLs with me and if they fit the caterogy, I will include them in the above list. )