Ritesh Uttamchandani, photographer

The photographer trying to charm the grey cat

Nearly everyone has a camera in their pockets nowadays. So while the mystique of film photography and waiting to see what developed no longer exists, it takes someone exceptional to shine amid the constant bombardment of visual stimuli we face every day.

On a monsoon Saturday in July, with the water sheeting it down, raining cats and dogs and other small furry animals, we had a visitor who battled through the streets to deliver The Red Cat. This is the first book compiling some of the thought-provoking photographs of the man behind the camera. Let’s hear from him about his craft and his passion.

Meet Ritesh Uttamchandani. In his own words, “Just photographer will do. Because I’m not just a photojournalist and categories are consistently broken as I go along. Not an artist, I don’t like calling myself that. When photogs call themselves artists, they effectively negate the value of their own craft. You don’t need to do that.”

Idol workshop, Chinchpokhli

Why do you take pictures? Was it a straightforward journey, something you always wanted to do? Like “I’m going to be a photographer when I grow up…”?

I think it is purely because of the kind of person I am. I was a reasonably shy child. And everyday I would wake up in the morning and see Dad and my sisters reading the paper. The first thing as a child I would notice were the photos.

A jyotish used to come often to our house, and he would tell my mother that I would do something to do with the arts and I was like, “Bhakk, I want to be a sportsman and later a scientist.” And I guess it’s the fables and stories my sisters and mum would narrate. They would just spark my imagination. I’d imagine things, what must Karachi look like and so on. In those days, we had radio plays for kids and film reviews, so words would influence and invoke images.

Do you enjoy the entire process? Which part of being a photographer is your favourite? Are there any bits you want to fast forward over?

Every part of it is my favourite. But the best part is hanging with people, hearing their stories, and the food. Anyone who hangs with me is well aware of how much I value a power nap and the food.

What has been your most rewarding moment so far? Can you reproduce it, do you think? Have you tried to?

I can’t pinpoint that. And rewards differ as one grows. It might have been an award, but nowadays, I feel very happy when a photograph of mine manages to make a tangible difference in the collaborator’s life.

Cinderella, Goregaon West

What normally gets you down or stops you in your tracks when you’re in the middle of a project? How do you then overcome the hurdle or circumvent it?

Generally the slowdown is self-induced; there is too much noise around us. Too many people have notions about how something should and shouldn’t be and the only way to power through is block out these noises. And they have a right too, photographs are subjective and the medium is too democratic now. In fact, I think all of us are lost to a large extent. Embracing it only makes the journey a little more comfortable and productive.

Has your craft changed you? In what way?

I doubt I’m an authority on that. Viewers have to evaluate that. But yeah, to a large extent I find photography to be like a performance; you switch roles according to a scene.

Does your craft define you?

No, it defines some parts of me. And we, as a species, are fairly complex, so any definition that holds true today, might not stay the same way after a few years, or even hours.

Servicing high-tension wires over salt pans, Bhandup

Some advice you wish someone had given you when you were still at the beginning of your journey? Has becoming a photographer turned out the way you imagined it would be?

I keep collecting advice and ideas. I mean, we all begin thinking that we will be the next gear toting world traveller. But the scene has changed in the last decade. And I’m just happy to be on the journey. And pictures can be made anywhere. I was recently exposed to Eva Haeberle’s work. I don’t understand a word of German, but that was some wonderful mind altering work, yet so simple.

Are there still horizons for you to conquer? Which ones, specifically?

I haven’t been hired yet by the ad world. I think I could bring a lot to the table. I’m hopeful that someone somewhere will give me a shot. That’s actually how everything begins. Someone gave me a chance 14 years ago. Even the people I meet and photograph, they are actually giving me a chance, allowing me to be a part of their life, just for a bit!

Electric dancer

The Red Cat and other Stories is available from Ritesh’s website. This is a lovingly produced book, that has not only unusual photographs, but also little gems of narrative that will cause you to look differently at your everyday surroundings. Go on, click though and order it!

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