An Ode to Mumbai
Amit Chakravarty’s stunning visual stories make for a compelling reason to fall in love with Mumbai all over again, as Ketan Kundargi explores.
When you glance through Amit Chakravarty’s photographs, you are visually transported to the streets of Mumbai. His images portray the idea of the city that resides in the mind of every Mumbaikar. But you will be surprised to know that Mumbai is not Amit’s native city.
What drew him to photography and to the city was a holiday in Mumbai with his parents, a long time ago. “Our family had come to the city from Kolkata for a vacation. The very first photograph I made was a portrait of my parents against the beautiful backdrop of Marine Drive.” It was no surprise then that it was his return to this city years later that would prompt him to dive into the world of professional photography.
A Happy Accident
Amit grew up in Kolkata from a conservative Bengali background. He complains that he was stuck in a routine corporate job and interacting with the same set of people became tiresome. It was by chance that he stumbled across photography. “At that point in my life, photography was a very refreshing change. It made for an excellent pretext to simply wander around and experience new things.”
With no formal education in photography, Amit turned to magazines and books as his guiding light. As a result, his influences are wide and varied. He would be on the streets rummaging through old paper markets looking for anything to understand photographic technique or simply to view works by the legends of photography. And all this, before he even had a camera in his hand. Today, he learns and feels inspired through the aid of digital magazines, websites, movies or simply a word with veteran photographers.
“Lately, I have found new love in photographing portraits of everyone—from a celebrity to a common man.”
But even after almost a decade of being a professional photographer, his old school learning methods have not ceased.
“I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most giving photographers in this field. They have nourished and shared ideas and techniques with me and helped me articulate my ideas to tell a story.” I ask him for a few photographers whom he would credit his learning to and the list is endless. Almost every great photographer I mention, Amit has interacted with in the past. It paints a clear picture of his zeal to constantly keep learning and reevaluating himself.
Similarity in Diversity
One thing that stands out in Amit’s work is the multitude of genres of photography he has shot. From fashion portraits to food photography, covering events to street photography, he has photographed it all. “Being an editorial photographer for a lifestyle magazine gives you that many opportunities.” And yet, there is a singular Amit Chakravarty style that reflects in each of these photographs. There is an interesting juxtaposition of the obvious with the hidden and layers peel out to build stories slowly. He believes that previsualising is the key. “Most of my photographs are already set in my mind before I release the shutter. Being an editorial photographer, I even go to the extent of visualising the image in the layout and what size it will be published in. And once that is decided in my mind, I can get very finicky to crop out even a small portion of the captured photograph.”
Not A Photojournalist’s Take
Amit’s corporate job in an IT company got him to Mumbai. It was here that he would take the leap of faith and pursue photography professionally. “I wanted to live and breathe photography every day of my life.” He believes he was very fortunate when Hindustan Times opened its doors for him, even though he had no experience in the field. From there, he went on to do an exhaustive stint with TimeOut Mumbai before recently moving to The Indian Express. However, he does not call himself a photojournalist.
“I would be more comfortable calling myself an editorial photographer who works in a newspaper or a magazine. I spend much of my time developing a core, narrative or aesthetic, in my photographs. My pictures intend to communicate an idea to the viewer and initiate a dialogue with them. I do not wish my pictures to be a definitive story of any person or place. To be a photojournalist is a huge responsibility.”
His recent switch to The Indian Express is an indication of what to expect from the photographer. He intends on working on stories across the country that have a larger reach. If his images are anything to go by, one can expect a stunning visual painting of the country we know and love.
“I do not wish my pictures to be a definitive story of any person or place. To be a photojournalist is a huge responsibility.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Better Photography.
Gadgets and Gear
• Amit uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 16–35mm, 50mm or 70–200mm lens. Recently, he also started photographing with a Holga HL-C 60mm lens.
• He is most comfortable with a single lens DSLR kit making it easier to walk around.
Tips by Amit
• It helps to be well informed. Make sure that your visual stories and true facts are coherent.
• Always be passionate about what you are photographing and enjoy it thoroughly. Even the most mundane then becomes an interesting story to tell.
About Amit Chakravarty
Amit is a Mumbai based photographer who shuffles between his professional commitments and personal explorations through the camera. He has worked for publications like Hindustan Times, TimeOut Mumbai, The Indian Express and National Geographic, amongst many others.