Prashanth Vishwanathan: Dynamic Storytelling
While in conversation with Prashanth Vishwanathan, Conchita Fernandes finds out how his images breathe life into the different vistas of India.
Sometimes, the best things in life come in the form of unexpected packages. You don’t actively seek it, but the moment eventually comes around and envelops you. Prashanth Vishwanathan too, shares a similar story.
In 2006, when he was interning in the Sales department at Reuters, he happened to stumble upon the agency’s photography unit. He describes the moment as being mesmerised by all the photographs in front of him.
Learning From the Best
Later, at the end of the internship, Prashanth decided to take a bold step. Instead of looking for a job, he picked up a camera.
He realised the importance of learning from the best early on, and so, he made sure to attend workshops by the likes of David Alan Harvey and Swapan Parekh. He also trained under several senior photographers like Arko Datta, and it wasn’t long before he realised that this was the profession for him. “18 months later, I joined as a stringer for Reuters wire service, and have been freelancing since then,” he says. Apart from this, he also actively contributes to Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and several other publications.
His Third Eye
When he is not shooting for assignments, Prashanth prefers documenting the daily back and forth of life in the various cities in India. Since he travels 10–15 days a month, he finds himself drawn towards the unexpectedness of everyday life.
The cellphone, he mentions, allows him to easily merge with the crowd. “As a street photographer and a photojournalist, one wishes to be invisible so as not to disturb the subjects and the surroundings. Cellphones are small and people don’t take you seriously. Fortunately, over the years, the quality of the camera on the device has improved drastically. So much so, that today, I carry my phone everywhere and shoot with it even on professional assignments.”
“When I started out, I really admired the work of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier- Bresson. But as my journey progressed, I discovered the works of Elliott Erwitt, James Nachtwey, Sebastião Salgado, and others. They have all influenced my work and how I shoot and. Among the Indian masters, I am deeply in love with the colour work of Raghubhir Singh.”
Planting the Seed
However, his interest in photography did not just spur from a chance encounter. His childhood had a lot to do with the way he makes pictures today. When asked how, he chose to quote Ansel Adams, “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard and the people you have loved.” To this he adds, “I have always been interested in the economic divide of man, his interaction with nature, and his disregard for human rights in the quest for development. I have to credit the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, for instilling in me the principles of equality and harmony.”
One thing that Prashanth cherishes the most is a piece of advice given to him by Arko Datta, “While walking on the street, when you turn around and look at something twice, know that there is a potential there for a photograph.” And so, he keeps his eyes peeled for the faintest presence of irony, satire, humour, love or mystery, on the street.
A Little of Everything
What is really discernible about his cellphone work is its simplicity. Keeping in mind what he does for a living, I like that his pictures don’t scream of the run-of-the-mill journalistic work that most of us are used to seeing. In fact, there is a certain sobriety to his pictures, which do not intend to shock or provoke their viewers. Adding to this, his own commentary on the images, either in the form of interesting anecdotes or poetic verses, wraps it up perfectly.
“One should not avoid clichés. Shoot as much of it as you can, and get them out of your system. This will help you grow as a photographer.”
In a span of almost a decade, Prashanth has traversed several exciting roads. In 2008, his photograph of the Mumbai attacks appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine, a huge accomplishment for someone who just started out.
However, as far as perfecting his style is concerned, he still thinks that he has a long way to go. “In the beginning, I took a while to understand what is it that I like to shoot, and shoot it well. The journey still continues, and I am still figuring out my subjects and my style. But I think I have progressed a bit in the journey.”
Tips on Making Everyday Photographs of Your City
- Be Observant: Sometimes in the most chaotic atmosphere, one can find infinite solitude. It is only a matter of seeing the connections right in front of you.
- Experiment as Much as Possible: Just because they are street photographs, it does not mean that you cannot experiment with forms that are abstract and surreal.
- Find Humour in the Everyday: The street is dynamic and so, there is always something funny happening all the time. Make sure that you’re there to capture it.
About Prashanth Vishwanathan
His work focuses on documentary photography and includes events, weddings, political activism, visual sociology and news photojournalism. Some of his favourite movies are Turtles Can Fly, City of God and Taxi Driver. He is currently reading books by Reza Aslan, P Sainath and Amartya Sen. His all-time favourite television series are Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Breaking Bad
Find Prashanth here:
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Better Photography.