In the world of photography, the idea of collectives is not new: Magnum Photos set the standard nearly 70 years ago and countless other efforts have cropped up in the intervening decades. But what is new, or at least has changed dramatically in the past decade, is the ease and speed at which groups can form and collaborate. Combine this fact with street photographers’ wide-ranging embrace of social media, and we are witnessing an explosion of collectives that bring together like-minded street shooters from around the world and then rapidly disseminate their work across digital networks.
Week by week, over the course of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards, we will be featuring inspiring street photography collectives from across the globe. This time: That’s Life, a collective of street photographers who capture the vibrant urbanity on the streets of India in fresh and unusual ways, using their pictures to convey new (and sometimes humorous) stories of life on the subcontinent.
LC: What were the origins of your collective—what first brought you together, what’s kept you together as time has gone on?
TL: India is a diverse country and the streets are very unique, completely different from the West. In fact, the streets across India are very different from one another when you travel from the larger cities to the small towns. Our collective was formed to showcase work from across India in varied personal styles and expressions, which cumulatively would add interest to the fascinating scenes that unfold on the streets daily.
With a group of like-minded people, all passionate about street photography, we hope to promote the amazing work created across this diverse country. It is the common love and passion for photography that keeps the collective going and we are always thinking of new ways to collaborate and create new and interesting work.
LC: Can you say a bit more about the unique challenges (and beauties) of photographing on the streets of India? Some of your members are Indian and others are not, so I imagine that each person brings a different perspective to this question!
TL: While for the most part India is a haven for street photography, one of the biggest challenges when shooting there is trying to stay invisible. You would think that in such a chaotic and crowded country, it would be easy to remain anonymous. And it is—until you attach yourself to a camera. Suddenly, you start attracting all kinds of unwanted attention. Over-excited kids jump in front of the camera just when you have the perfect moment framed; you draw unwelcome glares from illegal pavement vendors who are wary of citizen journalists posting images on the web or in newspapers in an effort to remove them.
As many of us are Indians, we tend to overlook the craziness on the surface and try to delve a bit deeper. We are more familiar and comfortable in these surroundings and often have the advantage of being able to speak the language, which creates an instant bond.
Paradoxically, it is this very familiarity that can become a challenge when trying to create work that is fresh or unique. When even the strangest things start to look normal, then it becomes difficult to spot what is truly special.
This is the advantage that international photographers have over local ones. While they may be less comfortable on the streets and definitely attract a lot more attention, they have a fresh pair of eyes that can see things in ways that we might overlook.
LC: What is about street photography, in particular, that attracts you all? Do you have a manifesto or some kind of animating belief in the power of the genre as a way to see the world?
TL: All street photographers share a curiosity for life. Not knowing what the streets are going to serve up every day is exciting and keeps us going back for more. And every once in a while, when we manage to make a good image, it recharges our battery and we become hungry all over again.
There is so much happening on the streets of India. It is unposed theatre showcasing comedy, drama and a variety of emotions that, in sum, reflect the story of the place.
I suppose, in a way, we are capturing moments which in time will form a part of the (visual) history of this wonderful country.
LC: Collectives seem to be an important structure for street photographers, in particular. Why do you think that’s the case?
TL: There are countless street photographers in India who continue to shoot in a bubble and often go unnoticed on the international scene, even though they are creating powerful work. As individuals, many of the TL photographers are reserved and quietly go about their craft without really showcasing their creativity. That’s Life has provided them exposure as well as a new found confidence and belief in their abilities. Like they say, there is strength in numbers.
As a collective, we offer a platform from which one can wield more power and gain more exposure. And hopefully in time, as we garner more talent, we will help bring to light some fantastic yet undiscovered work.
LC: If a new group were interested in starting a collective, what advice would you have for them? Challenges to watch out for; things you wish you had known at the beginning?
TL: Do it for the right reasons. A collective is not going to make you famous. But it will inspire you to create strong work especially in the company of fellow members.
Don’t rush things. Wait till you have a few really strong photographers before launching. And by strong, I mean photographers with a good portfolio but also those who are passionate and will actively contribute to the collective.
It is also good to have a diverse group of photographers showcasing a variety of styles. “Like-minded photographers who each have a unique mind” sounds like an oxymoron—but one that I believe could stand any collective in good stead.
—That’s Life, interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Editors’ Note: You can find more of the work of That’s Life on their website—11 photographers in total, each offering a unique vision of the ever-colorful streets of India.
Other Collective Interviews: