Q&A: Alternatives – Sohrab Hura (part 1)
Growing up, Sohrab Hura had many ambitions which changed from one exciting thing to another. He started with dreams of becoming a dog, which later evolved to being a superhero and from there to a veterinarian… to a herpetologist studying reptiles and amphibians… a wild-life filmmaker.
Finally, he trained as an economist at Delhi University and the Delhi School of Economics before turning to photography. While his early photographic work explored the human stories behind economic movements such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005, his more recent long-term projects take the form of personal emotional journeys distilled in a series of poetic images of everyday existence.
He lives and works in New Delhi.
THIS IS PART 1 of the Q&A ‘Alternatives’ interview with Sohrab Hura. To jump to Part 2 go here.
You studied economics initially. How did you get from economics to photography?
I started by photographing employment and livelihood issues, so the transition was smooth. I think economics was a mistake though because, in my opinion, the discipline is not at all human.
Do you think an artist has a particular role or responsibility in the world?
To make honest work?
For you, what does it mean to make ‘honest’ work?
It is difficult for me to describe what ‘honest’ means to me, but I find it difficult to sense honesty in more contemporary works.
I think ‘honesty’ means something different for each of us. For me, it is something I feel in my gut. I guess I could call work that is made for the sake of its existence and nothing else, honest. I don’t know if that makes sense. In today’s world where we are bombarded with so much information and aware of so many things, I think a lot of other motives, consciously or unconsciously, get attached to the process of creation. Where does my work fit in? What can my work do for me? How can I sell my work? Becoming aware of a successful formula or a trend… Thoughts like these change the way we create.
Do you think of yourself as an artist?
I don’t know if I have thought of myself as an artist, or a photographer, for a long time.
I have just wanted to do something with photographs (amongst other things) and that’s about it. I think I got scared of thinking of myself as a photographer or anything because that perspective was getting very self-indulgent. The “I” was getting bigger than the work. I’d like my work, whatever it is, no matter how good or bad, to be bigger than me.
How that happened … by accident or on purpose … I don’t really remember.
What kind of role do you see yourself having?
I think, for me, becoming detached from the idea of what role I play is one of the best things to have happened to me.
Have you always worked in this way or have you changed direction over the years?
This is who I am right now.
When I began, photography was just making photos. Then, over the years, I thought and intellectualised a lot … maybe too much … and the very questions that you asked me just now were a few of the ones that occupied me. I was too busy trying to place myself and my work in a box.
But I have been letting go and becoming increasingly blank, until the only thing that remains with me is the desire to make photographs. I was thinking too much previously and it was getting in the way of making my photos. Now, slowly, as the burden is lessening, I’m making more photos and finding new directions.
Can you give an example of work you have made since letting go that would have been harder or impossible previously?
More than work, it is my state of being that has changed. I don’t know if the change in my state of being is reflected in a simultaneous change in my work.
In terms of an example… well… OK. A few years ago, I started photographing my mother and her dog. I think I began by trying to make it into a ‘project’. Given my awareness of how things worked, I knew a photo story must have a beginning, middle and an end. To make matters worse, I think the issue of my mother’s mental health became a bit too important in the images. Today, I just want to take photos of my mother as a son, and not as a photographer. I don’t want to lose out on any photographs of her, because before this she had not been photographed for 10 to 15 years.
The photos are just of my mother and her dog; not my mother, the person who has a certain mental condition. I’m much happier now.
What is the nicest thing someone has said about your work?
A week ago someone close to me told me that he wished he had been like me when he was younger because then he’d be in a much better place right now. He said that because of who I was I would feel a lot of hurt and pain in my life. It is the latter part that means a lot to me.
IN PART 2 of this interview, Sohrab Hura talks about the temptations and pitfalls of fame within the art-world establishment hierarchy. Go to Part 2 here.
Images (from the top):
© Sohrab Hura ‘Pati’ 2006: Women workers huddle together to hand in their attendance records at a work site. On such sites workers are usually paid on the basis of the average number of work hours of the whole group and not on the basis of the time put in by the individual, irrespective of how hard he or she works. Corrupt locals register fictional names on the roster to make money. Consequently, many innocent people who put their sweat and blood into their work fail to get the full amount due to them. Corruption exists in almost all government-initiated projects.
© Sohrab Hura ‘Elsa and Ma’ 2011