Loculars recently had an opportunity to converse with Shweta Agarwal, an emerging street photographer based out of Mumbai and the curator of the popular Hardcore Street Collective feed on Instagram. Read below as she talks about how she got into photography, her undying passion for capturing Mumbai, her approach, and more.
How did photography start for you and how did you get drawn to street photography especially?
I got a movie camera as a gift from my family way back in 2002 and primarily started taking videos. Soon enough I was also making stills and really loved the process. Still photography was a huge stress buster for me and people around me appreciated my skills. That motivated me to keep on clicking and in 2005 I got my first digital point-and-shoot camera. I also got very active on Flickr and got hooked onto photography. In 2008, I moved to Ahmedabad and started going out a lot on photowalks with a group of friends and locals – that’s how I started shooting in the streets of Ahmedabad. Soon after, I also found out about the APF Street Photography group on Facebook and got really active there. APF was probably one of the first social media groups dedicated to street photography and my daily participation there helped me grow tremendously. I’d say my street photography journey started from there.
Did you have any early influences? Who were they? Who are you currently following?
I was really drawn to Steve McCurry’s portrait work when I first started. Despite being a western photographer, his imagery of India is visually stunning. And then Raghu Rai, of course, was an inspiration. So, one could say, the two usual suspects for this part of the world. Eventually, as I started getting more into street photography, I admired the works of Vineet Vohra, Rohit Vohra, and Rammy Narula. Recently, I founded and have been curating the “Hardcore Street Collective” feed on Instagram, which has over 14K followers in less than a year and through that I’ve seen a lot of truly amazing street photographers around the world. My inspiration list is way too long now and it’s a great journey to see such a rich body of work from all these photographers.
How would you describe the contemporary street photography scene in India and Mumbai specifically relative to other big cities in the world? What exciting things are happening in Mumbai right now?
Mumbai is a city on steroids, always buzzing with activity in pretty much every conceivable corner. It’s the largest and most diverse city in India by population so one can imagine the photographic opportunities here – people, colonies, markets, street corners, vendors, festivals, traffic and the list goes on. Different parts of Mumbai have their own unique character, so there is a lot to choose from. It is unlikely you will hear a photographer say “well this has been shot a million times before” about this city. As a photographer, now is a great time to be in Mumbai because so many photo-centric events are up and about routinely – clubs, photowalks, photo collectives, photo festivals – and this city is an open canvas for any photographer, not just street.
What are some of your favorite go-to spots to shoot in Mumbai? What draws you to them?
Rustic places with friendly locals appeal to me the most. As a photographer and even otherwise, I am drawn to open spaces and people that spur interaction. There is a private washing area in Mumbai where several people wash clothes together. It is an incredible community-like experience in an area very close to the sea, with great views of Mumbai as a backdrop. This and many such old neighborhoods in Mumbai have a different kind of energy which is great to just see even if you don’t photograph. Worli Village, adjacent to the famous Worli Sea Face is one of my other favorite neighborhoods in the city. The fishermen’s lifestyle, old and colorful houses, great light and ambient texture have so much to offer to photographers. In some ways, it’s also a visual catalog of India’s history for the past six to eight centuries. I also hang out quite a bit in the slum areas because they have the friendliest people. All sorts of moments are happening constantly in good light and colors.
What is your approach to street photography? Would you say that you have or are trying to develop a particular visual style, and if that’s even important to your work?
I don’t know about having a specific visual style. When I am out shooting, I’m exploring and interacting a lot. I like to look around every nook and corner of a place – sometimes on repeat – to get the feel and be connected to that place. I love to interact with people and listen to their stories in a very open way. My pictures are an outcome of that, but first and foremost I’m a very inquisitive explorer with a desire to freely engage with people. Capturing the unplanned and true essence is what I’m excited about in the photos I make.
What would you advice someone who is just getting started with photographing the streets? Are there things you wish you knew earlier on?
I like to keep it simple and more than any photography skills, I think it is about passion and patience. You will meet all sorts of people and circumstances on the street and shooting photos is not always easy. One has to appreciate the process of exploration and observation and not just the end product. Going out to shoot with the intention of getting an awesome photo rarely works. Sometimes you get a shot, many times you don’t – getting stressed about this won’t work. Often times I have a nice walk, meet some people and come back with nothing to show. That still makes me happy. Shoot for yourself, not for others or for that awesome shot.
You offer several Mumbai experiences on Loculars. What excites you about this platform?
I love the idea of helping other people see Mumbai. This city has tons to offer, yet it can overwhelm people. Loculars offers me the opportunity to show my city, my ways, my spots to a fellow photographer. That makes me very happy. Plus, I like to meet different people from other parts of the world, so in that way, Loculars is a unique way to connect with diverse people from a similar tribe – of passionate photographers and explorers. I am loving the whole process, it is a terrific stress buster.
Many street photographers visiting India usually target Pushkar, Varanasi, Old Delhi, Jaipur etc. for known reasons. Why should they include Mumbai on their itinerary?
India has so many options. All those places you mention are a dream come true for any photographer. But Mumbai should be on that list as well because of how diverse and vibrant it is. The energy is different here. I feel the age-old “east meets west” story really comes to life here and in that respect, it is the most unique city in India. I doubt any other city in the world rivals Mumbai’s variety of scenery, texture, and pace. Many of the famous photographers from all over the world have already come to Mumbai for its essence. I think the street vibe, in particular, is addictive.