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Deb In Focus with Alf Myers

Over the years I've come to know many photographers and I hope that I continue to meet many more in the years ahead. Each and everyone of them brings their own style, knowledge and experience that has helped my own photography develop and grow. One such photographer is Deb, a photographer based in Mumbai and he manages to see the world with such a refreshing eye. He captures completely unscripted moments with a real feeling to them. He is also one of a growing number of modern street photographers who delights in celebrating colour, and only occasional converting to monochrome,

He has an eye for reading an image which he uses to great effect as a member of the Vivian Maier Inspired administrator team. Here he provides very valuable advice to people who are starting out, plus good critique for the more seasoned photographer.

AM - Thank you again, Deb, for agreeing to spend some time with me and answering a few questions about your photographic journey. Since we first got acquainted behind the scenes of a rather successful online forum called Vivian Maier Inspired, where I have found you provide excellent insights into the world of street photography, be it on processing, quality or composition. Not to mention supporting all of the administrators technically or in general. You’re also very successful outside of the VMI forum, with your images being recognised by other big forums like The World Wide Street Photography Club and Golden Eye Shot.

It is evident that you've become an accomplished photographer but before we go into you current experience can you tell us about what first got you started and how you’ve come to enjoy street photography?

Deb - Thanks Alf for such a nice trigger to this conversation. It indeed is a pleasure to talk about photography and everything related.

To understand how I possibly got started, let me take you to my childhood for a while. My father had one AGFA Click II - 120 film camera and one Yashica-FX-I. I used to be very fascinated seeing those shiny little machines. I tried many times to get my hands on over those machines...but my father would keep me away from exposing films [laughs]. By the time I was 6 years of age; my neighborhood Uncle (who used to be my father's photography partner) instructed me and handed over the AGFA to click a portrait. That was my first shot; I was inspired for a lifetime since that day. I was always an observant kid and took keen interest in people. Even my fine art canvases were full of human actions, anatomy drawings, and relevant.

As a grown-up, when I first decided to take up commercial projects, I delved into varied photography genres of wedding; abstract; events; portraits; travel; products, and landscapes etc. for satisfying my soul. It took a while but I realised impromptu and spontaneous human interactions are feeding my photographer soul better than anything else. And then I saw a documentary based on the mysterious photographer nanny named Vivian Maier! I fell in love with the street and gathered up more love for people again! Vivian Maier pushed me to look for all the old archives....I was saving my shots all these years.

Cautious Past - Worried Future
Yoga Dog
The Wrong Slipper

AM -That is a familiar story for a lot of experienced photographers, I believe. Exploring many different subjects and styles until you find that something that says: “This is me.” For you, it appears to be the spontaneity of the human species.

I’m curious, what was it about Vivian Maier’s work or story that so inspired you? Also, are there any other photographers out there that have made an impact on you?

Deb - Inspiration? Her passion. Maybe the very thing that made people hire Vivian Maier as a nanny—her watchfulness. Perhaps the nanny could be the perfect person to photograph the world unnoticed. The passion behind taking rolls and rolls of photographs is something amazing, keeping in view that she never really tried to publish them or talk about them to anyone. More than 'what' she clicked and 'how' she clicked, what interests me is, 'why' she did whatever she did! I am anyways floored by her odd story. About what I gather from her approach - Vivian often used to get too close to her subjects, evoking action, reaction, expressions or just their silent stories. That is a different level and approach towards street photography which I find amazing!

Photographers impacting me? A little tricky to answer that, as I have not followed anyone that deep. I had been watchful of all the good works going around globally and always been finding some interesting concepts and compositions. Instead I shall name a few individuals whose consistent work keeps me interested. Take - Joel Meyerowitz (he is a living legend anyways), Orna Naor, FH Priok (sad...he is no more), Antonio E Ojeda, Emily Soto (Non Street), Sarasij Dasgupta, Soumya N Ghosh, Boy Jeconiah, Alexander Merc, Trevor Gwin and a few more surely.

Hyperspace

Borewell

AM - That is a strong list of people you mention there with some very distinctive styles and approaches. Some of Trevor’s processing leaves me stunned, it is just so good. What struck me about your reply was your observations on Vivian, they are very insightful and deep.

One of the things you mentioned in your summary of why Vivian inspires you was her approach, so let's reflect that back. When it comes to your own photography, how do you approach your subjects to capture the spontaneous human interactions that satisfies you so much? And do you have any tips or techniques that you could pass on?

Deb - Yes, all of them do have distinct styles for sure. And Vivian Maier is an enigma.

My approach? Never had any specific approach. I had been easy on myself. When I am out there on the streets, the camera (be it my full frame or the smartphone) is like another appendage. I have understood one thing; the more conscious I would be about my camera, the more I would make people conscious about me. I do what I do and no one seems to pose a challenge for me. There were a few instances when people discovered me and they expressed back with a smile. I take spontaneous decisions about how to approach a street moment. I have felt it best not to make the street life aware of my presence.

Coloured Emotions

Manipulated scenes do not satisfy me. I preferably keep my camera placed between my chest and the hips but you can expect seeing me with my camera over any odd place if I feel the need for a specific composition.

And I prefer moving around rather than being stationary and waiting for my subjects. I shall mention one thing here; I have seen photographers go climb the trees and crawl middle of the street but I have not done that yet. These actions, I have noticed, create unwanted consciousness about the photographer and often the photographer becomes the point of interest and eventually a subject. I have stayed away from becoming a subject to get more candid moments than ever.

City of Opinions

AM - Sounds like we’re very similar in that regard. We appear to both like exploring an area, observing the people and positioning ourselves to capture the shot in as much a natural and candid way as possible. Also, I think, in a respectful way and with no confrontation.

I wonder if we’re the same when it comes to post processing? You know it was a topic of constant debate backstage in VMI. “When was enough?”. “When was too much?”. “What is acceptable?” and, “Can the processing/manipulations even be spotted?”. Can you enlighten us with what you generally do in post-production and, in your view, are there any do’s and don’ts when it comes to post-production of street?

Deb - Yes, this sounds like more or less the same stance yet you see our resultant photographs have different styles. It is interesting. You must know, Alf, your street works too are followed closely by me.

The Laugh

AM - [laughs] It’s good to know you’re following me too.

Deb - Hahaha... Alf you got me here....

Libero

Post-Processing...mmmm ... I was expecting this discussion to come up!

I have heard people shout at all ends. Some want to stick to the old style of not processing it but only a crop (when needed). While some just can’t do without blasting that colour bar or the clarity bar or this or that. Some even aggressively maintain photo shopping and finally creating composites! Yes, and we are still talking street. And I shall respect all the opinions from all the camps. And why not? Just like anything, photography must be progressive too.

Having accepted everything, I shall add, 'Kindly know where to draw the line'. If we are following human ethics down the street, we shall also ensure to maintain the essence of photography when we are off the street and back to our computers.

Take care of the composition, get hold of something interesting within that frame and even if you have somehow missed the perfect frame in desperation to get that perfect element within - well, try different crops. I mostly do it that way with a subtle exposure and colour corrections if required. I use Lightroom, Photoshop, and all the technical skillset I have for products, abstracts, landscapes and a few more but not for street.

Seeing moments in everyday life that tells a story of the time and place

AM - I take it that means your approach to a street image is closer to the traditional dark room processing, cropping, dodge and burn. Keeping the reality but highlighting the story?

You’ve not really mentioned where you mostly spend your time making your street images. What are your current favourite haunts and, given the opportunity, where would you love to shoot? I’m also curious to know if it would be street or another genre that you practice.

Deb - Keeping the reality AND highlighting the story. No dodging and burning necessarily. If a little dark can bring a mood... bring it. If a subtle vignette can do justice to the story...do it. If a crop helps bring a fresh perspective... don’t hesitate. Traditional dark room processing had too much of challenges and now with the advent of digital platforms, I have multiplied power. That poses a need to be equally responsible to those powers.

Current favourite haunts? The recent explorations have been through Kalaghoda Festival at Mumbai and a Ferry Ride at Kolkata. I wish I could have figured out more camera-time in the last few months.

I am keen to go out to a million places...yess. If I have to name some instantaneous mentions, that would be difficult. Given an opportunity, I would go anywhere I have not been to. So much yet to explore!

Street first, Alf....street first!

Spot The Ball

Alf - Street first! I’ll remember that. So your choice of where to go would be anywhere you’ve not been as long as the streets are forthcoming with potential images.

Earlier you mentioned your father’s AGFA Click II - 120 film camera and one Yashica-FX-I, which I guess are not your cameras of choice these days. I’m also assuming that you’ve tried a few cameras over time. Which do you recall with fondness? Also, what is your go-to camera at the moment and what is it about it that works for you?

Deb - I remember the Agfa one very dearly and I miss it for all the non-photographic reasons. It had a nice leather cover which wooed me. And then, that camera was pretty easy to dismantle even for a kid. There had been days, when in the afternoons, I would sneak up the almirah and pick this camera out and go hide in a secluded corner and spend hours with the piece. You can call it an odd pet of mine, with a leash!

Good old days..

Now... my Canon 6D with the 50 mm or the 24-105mm lens does most of the tricks.

It’s speed, low light performance, and the wireless access keeps me enchanted, Alf. Of late, I have used Canon cameras only. I did check out a few others though but as soon as I get my Canon back in the palm grip....I know it is home. Having said that, I had also been experimenting with a few ultra-wide angle compact cameras and am convinced to go street with ‘em once.

Stripes

AM - They are good memories indeed. Interesting that it isn’t the technical side of the camera but the look and feel that you remember. It also sounds like that carries on in your current equipment as you describe it as being home when its in your hand. The Canon 6D is a large camera, which goes to show that the camera you’re comfortable with is the one to use, especially on the street where I believe you need to remove as much distraction as possible from the process of taking the image. Not knowing your camera is one of the biggest distractions. Each adjustment takes time and distracts from the processing of observing and taking the shot. With a camera you know, it is second nature, you're relaxed and you're ready to take the shot when the opportunity presents itself.

I’m sad to say Deb, that we’re coming to the end of our chat and I’ve really enjoyed the images you’ve painted with your words as well as the examples of your photography that you’ve shared with us. But now for our last question and a chance to share some knowledge for those who are just starting out on their photography journey. What would be the one piece of advice that you would have loved to have had or known when you first decided to become a photographer?

Deb - You decoded it in such an easy way, Alf. I took years to realise it. Yess, when I am relaxed, I am getting the best shots.

My fair bit of advice to all the souls starting out would be very basic and simple. Ensure that YOU are happy and smiling after you caught that moment. Let the social media die and the web shut out, you must be connected to what you just clicked...everyone else can follow thereafter.

It was a pleasure Alf.

Plight

Mirror Mirror

AM - I found it really heartening to hear your philosophy and motivation on photography which has been underpinning all of your answers. Especially your last piece of advice which I think can be summed up as, "learn to shoot for yourself, not for others, and you'll get more enjoyment out of it."

I'm sure we'll continue to exchange thoughts and views over Facebook but for now, thank you and good bye.

If you want to see more of Deb's work you can find it here -

Here I Come
Yoga Dog
Plight
Libero
Coloured Emotions
The Laugh
City of Opinions
C for ...
Stripes
Spot the Ball
The Wrong Slipper
Cautious Past - Worried Future
Mirror Mirror
Weirdo
Lost
Youth has no age
Big City Life
Hyperspace
Borewell

Comments

John Hughes - "Great read Alf, Deb has some amazing photos."
Vanessa Cass - "This is fantastic. Great job to the both of you!!"
Neha Gupta - "Wow...It looks like a complete lifetime showcased in the pictures shared in your interview..you are a world famous celebrity now....Autograph please"
Created By
Alf Myers
Appreciate

Credits:

Images are by Deb Rishi