While in the act of photographing, Nav-een Kishore does not like being observed, especially by his subject. “I hate it when I’m caught,” says the lighting designer, photographer and publisher of Seagull Books, reflecting a fairly common sentiment among street photographers. As a photographer, he cherishes a Henri Cartier-Bresson-like invisibility, submerging in the crowd, eyeing the perfect candid instant.
Tramp, an exhibition of his work held recently in Kolkata (3-18 March), was not, however, about seeking those startling decisive moments that have been a hallmark of street photography since Cartier-Bresson. With a collection of 355 black and white photographs, shot in 10 cities around the world and over decades of travel, the photo series reflects the visual mix and madness of busy urban streets. This series is expected to travel to Delhi sometime this year.
Photograph by Naveen Kishore
A closer look at it reveals the method that the series’ curators, Sunandini Banerjee and Bishan Samaddar, used after going through thousands of prints. The photographs are geographically spread across cities such as New York, Kolkata, London, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Frankfurt and Kyoto, but their curatorial intervention is subtly marked by efforts to group the untitled photographs under different thematic schemes—lines, symmetry and architecture, bright lights and long shadows, men and mannequins, reflections and the often overlooked realities of cities.
Looking through Kishore’s body of work, photographs of New York skyscrapers, represented through their straight lines and looming constructions, melt easily into a visual of the bamboo scaffolding of a Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata. On his part, Kishore chooses not to caption his images or provide any geographical markers. “I have desisted from captioning or titling the photographs since the visuals are self-explanatory or are open to interpretation. There is no forethought and I have photographed for the mere pleasure of taking pictures,” he says, admitting that on their own the photographs don’t stand out.
The other pleasure, of course, is that of walking. The spontaneity implicit in his photography can be explained by the fact that Kishore, during his travels, often shot in the idle hours available between attending official appointments; choosing to walk instead of taking “a cab, bus or train” to reach his destination.
The series takes its name from Tramp, Norwegian author Tomas Espedal’s book on the simple delights of walking, “the act of putting one foot in front of the other, moving out of a familiar house, the lonely house, and beginning a journey in which you’re never alone.”
As head of Seagull Books, Kishore has published the English translation of the book.
Camera in hand, Kishore betrays the temptation of becoming permanently itinerant, as Espedal’s book notes. With his background in stage lighting and a photography habit nurtured since the 1960s, Kishore’s work escapes the usual slots of documentary, fine art or salon photography.
Though the huge bulk of photographs seems somewhat indulgent, viewers can derive their own conclusions in sync with the “unfettered” nature of the work—the overuse of mannequins and shop-window reflections in Western cities is offset by more life-and-blood bazaar scenes of the East; the occasional discreetly taken waist-high photographs of people on European streets contrasted by the overt portraiture from Kolkata’s streets, where people obviously place less premium on privacy; the chaos of our roads compared to the colourlessness of the West; or, as a viewer told Kishore, “There is nothing dark or depressing even in the night-time photographs.”
In parts, the images are manifestations of Kishore’s solitary act of walking. At its best, the frames admit to Espedal’s view: “Slowly it dawns on me: You’re happy because you’re walking.”