19+ Indian Noir Photographers Reveal The Stories Behind Their Favourite Black and White Captures
By: Avinash Kumai on Jun 4th, 2015

Black and white are the colours of photography. To me they symbolise the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected – Robert Frank

A coloured pictured is nice, but a monochrome (or black and white) is better. And as normal human beings, we see life in black or white, don’t we (well most of us do)? Sometimes, people relate to monochromes more than a coloured picture. And like it or not, black and white (rightly called noir photography) images are making a comeback of late, as digital camera owners and artists rediscover the beauty of mono images. In this article we look at various noir photographers in India (in no particular order) and witness their best photographs.

Prashant Godbole
Image credit: Prashant Godbole

They say photography is the art of observation, but veteran artist Godbole thinks "it has more to do with patience and intuition than just observation." It's the willingness to wait for the right moment coupled with a sense of when something’s about to happen. “I saw this crow pecking the horse when I was walking along the beach at Dadar. I took a couple of shots, but decided to lie still because I had a feeling I was about to get something interesting – and suddenly, the horse kicked his feet up in the air. I immediately grabbed the chance and clicked the photograph you see here,” recalls Godbole. “What I’ve learnt over the years is that photography has more to do with the anticipation of the right moment than the one present itself.” Perhaps shutterbugs have something to learn today, eh?

Follow his work here.

Zishaan Akbar Latif
Image credit: Zishaan Akbar Latif

This photograph is of Zishaan’s grandfather, Dhanji Anklesaria – when he died. A day after his death, the 8th of December 2012, he was kept in a glass ice cascade as the family waited for his son, Farokh Anklesaria, to make it before sundown to bury him at the Parsi cemetery in Jhansi.

“My mother, Ferengez Latif, was inconsolable, her hand was constantly on the glass, trying to hold on to her father for the very last time, and my way of holding onto my grandfather was by making my last memories of him through a picture,” recalls Zishaan. “I captured photographs of him even when he passed away as I could not fathom the idea that he was gone. It was my way of bringing him back, on film, to immortalise him and to keep his spirit alive.”

“During the last few years of his life, I went and spent as much time as possible with him. Initially, I went in as a photographer wanting to document him, but ended up capturing a more valuable experience as a grandson spending time with his grandfather, trying to understand this larger than life personality of the family. I tried my best to comprehend this feeling, but I still have unanswered questions about him, his ways, his life, that he lived on his own terms,” ends Latif.

Follow his work here.

Shibu Arakkal
Image credit: Shibu Arakkal

This untitled work is from Arakkal’s second solo series of work titled ‘Off The Shadow’ done back in 2000. The anthology was photographed on a 35mm film with a Nikon analogue camera. Created from his travels across Rajasthan and Dubai, ‘Off The Shadow’ was his stylistic birth as a photo artist.

“This particular work was a happy accident that got me experimenting with photo montages, amongst other techniques,” he tells us. Although he had studied photo montages extensively, especially those that David Hockney had created in his career, he hadn’t attempted his own version until this body of work.

It so happened that the two frames that make up this work were photographed one next to another on the black and white negative, and as such, when the contact print of the negative was made. “I realised that the two photographs formed a complete work together, almost as if they were intentionally shot that way,” Adding “It is an instance of photographic destiny, where lines, patterns, spaces, composition and lighting couldn’t have come together better, if it were so planned.”

The original first edition comprised of two analogue prints pasted together to form a whole work, before the days of photography softwares.

Follow his work here.

Bhagyashri Patki
Image credit: Bhagyashri Patki

Patki likes to call this body of work the Mystical Saints, one of her current projects on ancient Tamil literature, where the photographs are a depiction of the life stories of saints, the poets of Lord Shiva who composed liturgical poems of the Thirumarai. This project is undertaken as part of Project365, a public photographic art project documenting multi-cultural aspects of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. “This picture for me is the personification of Lord Shiva’s beauty,” reflects Patki. As the poet on the onset of expressing the devotee's desire to meet his reverend says:

He is beyond the world’s thought,
His tresses are decorated with the moon and rivers
Immeasurable brilliance;
Shiva, the Dancer in the hall
Praise and worship his feet
That blossom as grace. – Shekkizhar

Follow her work here.

Shiv Kiran
Image credit: Shiv Kiran

The photo is from the series ‘Son of Sea’. The story is about the dream that Kiran had while he was in Puducherry. It is the story of a person who lives in the sea. He sees a lot of places from the sea, but has never been to them. Early one morning, he has a dream. In the dream, he is in one of the cities. But then he finds himself in an odd situation. He wants to enter various spaces, but is unable to do so. So in his dream he prays for Nirvana and returns to the sea, where he belongs. “In this photo, the person is at a place where there is a building at the background and everything is closed. The geometry of the place attracted me to this place, and then [I] decided to shoot it here,” Kiran states.

Follow his work here.

Swapnil Jedhe
Image credit: Swapnil Jedhe

Boys practicing B-boying at Girgaum Chowpatty, Mumbai. A picture that perfectly depicts happiness and the spirit of freedom and belonging is all around you, all you have to do is observe. A photograph that questions your existence, for sure!

Follow his work here.

Rajat Dey
Image credit: Rajat Dey

“I know, under my feet, under these streets, a city still sleeps, and a man sells addresses door to door,” Dey summarises his picture with a poem. The city may have its set of challenges, but there is an innate beauty in this struggle too.   

Follow his work here.

Swarat Ghosh
Image credit: Swarat Ghosh

Life at Ghats –This picture was taken at Varanasi, and depicts human emotions at their best. A flower seller at the ghats is pondering over her fortune, wondering why she is not able to play and have some fun like the other kids. “Some get to enjoy life while others work; the irony of life, I guess,” states Ghosh.

Follow his work here.

Pradeep Ks
Image credit: Pradeep Ks

This is an ongoing project on documentation of the hilltop shrines. “The hills have (our) eyes,” exclaims the photographer. Devara Betta is in Hosur district of Tamil Nadu, adjoining Anekal in Karnataka. It rests fifty kilometres to the south of the city and has a Shiva temple.

Follow his work here.

Deepa Kamath
Image credit: Deepa Kamath

This is one of the photographs from the series ‘Motifs Of Solitude’. In nature, there are no explicit rules or boundaries by which it runs – unlike society, religion, families, countries, companies, academia (ironically, invented to bring order and efficiency). It’s extremely simple yet mind-bogglingly complex. Simple in the sense that it runs on what’s available – sun, water, soil – and complex in its tightly interwoven stability. The ‘rules’ by which they function are inherent within each and every existing species. And every species knows its role as soon as it’s born and till it dies. There is fluidity in form, structure, function and transition. The system keeps running, flourishing and more importantly evolving.

“I feel lost as a species. Maybe it’s because of what I like to call ‘The Human Zoo syndrome,' being taken out of the natural environment or because of being subjected to, compelled to function under the commands of unnatural forces which I described above or both,” explains Kamath. Adding “But I do feel there is something amiss within our running; so much so that it lends a mystical inquisitiveness towards nature’s running. Thus in these photographs I humbly hope to express the simplicity, beauty, fluidity and yet an ominous forewarning that I perceive in nature.”

The series was photographed in Mumbai and Goa using the Agfa Isoly camera on a neopan 100 ISO film and developed by Idea Creative Solutions, Mumbai.

Follow her work here.

Prashin Jagger
Image credit: Prashin Jagger

Birds in the city or whatever is left of them must feel really lost here. They see their homes being stripped naked by either poisoning them or hacking them. Their homes on trees are like dried leaves just waiting to fall to the ground. “This particular picture took shape because it was disheartening to see them be forcibly cut off from what they call home,” clarifies Jagger.

Follow his work here.

Anish Sarai
Image credit: Anish Sarai

“This photograph is from one of my many walks around the market. When I saw this bubble seller in the sweltering heat despite him being a kid, he had this intensity in his face and I wanted to bring that out with him holding his bubble gun which is meant for kids to play with,” highlights Sarai. The photo is aptly titled The Bubble Seller.

Follow his work here.

Vinay Aravind
Image credit: Vinay Aravind

This picture happened when Aravind was walking along an alleyway in West Delhi, to find a school that he was going to take pictures of. “I happened to peer into this metal-working shop and I asked if I could take a picture, and this gentleman agreed to pose for it,” states Aravind. The sheer intensity of his gaze burnt through the viewfinder! “I am glad I didn’t shoot it wide open (this was at f/3.2), because you can see just enough of the background to get a context for the scene. You can see his colleague crouching on the ground and the flames of the kiln as well.” 

Follow his work here.

Image credit: Leela

The great web of Maya weaves illusions of beings arriving and departing rapidly; they halt in this world only for a while. They meet, share a word, fight, laugh, cry... and then leave forever. Strangers turned into friends and friends into strangers. “As I see it, airports are microcosm of life,” says Leela. Quite rightly put.

Follow her here.

Magali Couffon de Trevros

An image from her wanderings on the streets of Bangalore. A meditation. Beauty in dirt, static paintings captured along the way. Trevros believes that street life gives a place its pulse. In this way, Indian streets are unique. It spreads loneliness in an overpopulated crowd, offers moments of beauty, of order and quietness in a world of chaos. “I like to concentrate on human lives, personalities, knowingly letting aside the colours of India,” she states. Too much colour distracts, turns away the attention. “I like to be closer to beings to create portraits, or on the contrary to distance myself from them to apprehend an environment. Capturing lives, smiles, sadnesses, always true never acted. Composition remains a key to a balanced image. This is a typical example of waiting for the right moment and getting lucky,” she clarifies.

Follow her work here.

Jaideep Chowdhary
Image credit: Jaideep Chowdhary

“The Bride’s father (featured in the image) was having a great time and poking fun at his daughter throughout the wedding and seemed happy. In the Sikh tradition, the father takes the daughter’s ‘palla’ and ties it to the groom’s stole and drapes it over the groom’s shoulder, symbolically handing over the daughter to her husband. As soon as this was done, the bride’s father broke down – no one expected this,” recalls Chowdhary. A powerful image!

Follow his work here.

Prathik Panchamia
Image credit: Prathik Panchamia

A photograph of the gorgeous Ama Dablam. One of the peaks of the Himalayan range in Khumjung, Nepal. The Sherpas say it’s a good 20 times more technical than Mt. Everest. Capturing the beauty of the peak with the play of the colourful prayer flags was a memory for Panchamia. “I came up with an idea of adding a hazy image of the prayer flags in the foreground, to add a sense of movement and to let people see how windy it was up there and how gorgeous the peak in the background is,” enthuses Panchamia.

Follow his work here.

Divya Shirodkar
Image credit: Divya Shirodkar

Shirodkar’s trekking attempts got her to a place named Kasol, Himachal Pradesh, but because of some issues, the trek got cancelled and therefore she ended up exploring places around Kasol, one of which was Malana.

Malana is a land of those people who believe that they belong to the caste of the gods – the descendants of Alexander The Great – and consider it a sin if any non Malana citizen touched them or their property. “This curiosity pulled me and my friends to discover this place further. While we were hiking up this tiny village which has no roads to get there, we found several children, with typical ‘Pahaadi’ (means people from the mountains, mostly Himalayas) features, absolutely filthy, with stains of dirt all over their body, playing in this huge mansion. The mansion appeared to have had a narrow escape from being burnt down totally, and was completely charred. There was this one kid, who had finished his turn to play amongst his friends and was staring out, which caught my eyes, and that’s the picture you see,” Shirodkar states.

Follow her work here.

Akhil Khatri
Image credit: Akhil Khatri

So this is how the story goes: “When the bride went ahead to meet her friends during the reception, the groom knew that she’s not going to come back before 30 minutes. As he wanted to take the advantage of the moment, he stretched out and decided to take a nap,” remembers Khatri laughing.

Follow his work here.

Ram Ks
Image credit: Ram Ks

A refreshing bath on the banks of the river. Doesn’t this fill us with joy and remind us of our childhood days (at least for those who come from smaller towns)? The case was same even for the bullocks, Ram tells us. This photo was shot on the banks of river Cauvery near Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. “Thirst connected all three of us at that point, I guess. I wanted the right shot, the bulls were longing for a splash and the farmer’s desire to get himself captured along with his ‘prized possession’ was fulfilled."

Follow his work here.

Vijay and Vidhya
Image credit: Iclickd

From a fashion shoot; the silhouette perfectly signifies and creates curiosity about how grand the lady is going to look.

Follow their work here.       


Do you know of other noir photographers from India? Let us know in the comments below.   

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Avinash Kumai
Avinash is a dreamer, a music connoisseur and is constantly seeking new things that catch his fancy. Enjoys the silence of his one-bedroom-apartment and loves cooking alone. He prefers genres like rock and blues, and is obsessed with what an instrument can do if it's in the right hands. His all time favourite jams are Comfortably Numb and...   Read more
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