The gallery of images I prepared for the December 1, 2021 issue of The Dreaming Machine contains photos from my most recent forays into conceptual photography, combining realistic images with Surrealist techniques to create a mood, evoke a concept or situation. I draw inspiration from iconic paintings such as those of Dali, Magritte, Picasso and Van Gogh and recreate their settings in India today, creating new works that both challenge the imagination by stirring a sort of cognitive dissonance.
Example of my street and travel photography as well as a version of this interview can be found in the March 2021 issue 79 of Italian literature journal Le Voci della Luna (The Voices of the Moon), an Italian language, print literary journal. For that publication, I prepared a gallery containing 15 images taken in different locations in Kolkata and villages in India, on different occasions and times, with a special focus on women, their bodies in motion and stillness, in various positions, in places where they gather. Kolkata is called the City of Joy and is also the heritage and cultural center of the state of West Bengal. Like any city, Kolkata has its own characteristics that make it very colorful and unique in its own way. A very specific rhythm of life always pulses through the veins of the city. In each season it appears different from the previous one. Bengalis are said to hold 13 festivals in 12 months, which means people don’t miss the chance to celebrate life. I try to portray the moods, expressions, body languages of different people, their dances and their rituals during any festival. In doing so I try to illustrate the essence of the city as I believe in capturing the decisive moments.
When you go to photograph in the street, the photographer is not able to arrange either the bodies or the situations, you have to adapt to the flow, keep an eye on the developments of the scene. Sometimes I am attracted to a person who exhibits a very strong body language and with the lens I capture the whole scene that surrounds her or him, or it could also be a simple movement, a symmetry, a contrast, a balance. It depends on the situation and mood. For example, in the photos of tribal dances published in the magazine and which I took in Puruliya, an area of West Bengal, it is a performance of ‘chhau’ an internationally renowned dance form developed by the tribal population and which reflects their culture and religion. It is part of a ritual and is linked to a particular period of the year. I found myself there at the festival by chance and was struck by the dance, the vibrant
expressions of the dancers, the color of their clothes and their body language. I hadn’t planned the photos at all, I took them to fix the celebration, the strength, the body language and the movement. It was not a theatrical performance but the moment in which members of that tribal population worship the goddess Durga by telling the story of the abolition of iniquitous power and the victory of Good over Evil.
As far as my positioning is concerned, there is a trick, it is called the ‘observation point’ and that is where the photographer is placed to make the most of the field of view. Identifying this point is not spontaneous, it requires a long exercise, but once you get your eye on it you can easily select the point from which you will have the maximum effect.
For example, in the shot of the woman threading beads, I noticed that those clay jugs framed her perfectly, it was spontaneously a portrait within a frame so I also included them in the shot creating a technique called ‘double frame’, a rule of composition.
The same is true in the case of the woman seen from behind a cracked wooden window. I was struck by her face that expressed great loneliness and her standing at the window suggested that she had been there for a long time and the person or thing had not arrived. Yet she continued to wait with a thread of hope, an endless wait. In short, I tell a story, I use the photographic medium to fix ephemeral moments that we do not notice in ordinary life. I fix emotions such as pain, joy, hatred, cruelty, anguish. And it’s not just about human emotions but also about shapes, patterns, textures, contrasts in the natural settings that surround us.
In my nature photography I always put nature first and second the expression of the human being, their way of perceiving nature, how it affects their life and their relationship with it. Do those who live in rural contexts have the same relationship with nature as those who live in an urban situation like those that we have in the city? These are questions I ask myself. So photography as a mixture of technique, technology and thought. I am currently very interested in surrealism applied to photography and I will always continue in the search for new forms of expression.
Sumana Mitra was born the 1 ° September 1991 in a village in West Bengal state, three hours from Kolkata. She currently works as an assistant professor of visual communication at a college in the state capital. Her interest in photography was born while attending courses in multimedia and animation, and it led her to specialize by earning a diploma in photography from the International Institute of Photography, as well as an advanced diploma from Light & Shadow, a photography institute in India. She also holds a Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism. Her photographic works have been included in the photography salon “Digifocus National Salon” and “The Wall Mag”. Her shots have been shown in an annual National Academy of Photography exhibition. The art of photography attracted her at an early age after seeing the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson in a specialized magazine. They moved, intrigued and stimulated her to learn about the aesthetics and techniques that underlie good photography, so she started reading, watching and learning the techniques. In this learning period she also became acquainted with the works of Kevin Carter, Steve McCurry, Ansel Adams, Sebastiao Salgado, Moriyama Daido, Raghu Rai, Raghuveer Sing etc., which had a great impact on her way of conceiving art. Additional influences were the works of the great painters of all time such as Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. She eventually focused on the street & travel photography genre as she always intended to tell a story through her works.