Pubarun Basu, the 20 years old boy from Kolkata has created history by winning the young photographer of the year 2021 award by Sony World Photography awards as the first Indian ever. In a recent candid conversation, Pubarun told us about his journey, inspiration, future plans, and much more. You can check the video here:-
What was your first reaction when you got to know that you had won the award?
"I was so overwhelmed by emotions because it was a long process until the results come out. It's almost like 6-9months until I know that I had won it. When I got the mail from the world photography organization I was head over heels. It was something extraordinary and my parents, they were so happy, and my mother, she was quite emotional, and I still can't get around my head from the fact that I have won it, and being the first Indian is something...a feeling unmatched. So, I am really glad."
More than 3 lakh photographers from 220 regions participated in this contest. Did this high competition bother you?
"At the start, I didn't know that, that many participants were there because, in this 14 years of history of this competition, this year has been the year that has had the most number of people participating in this contest. So it was a major highlight for them also. And I got to know after the results where they announced. But I will tell you that when I was checking through the shortlisted pictures of my competitors, that was quite amazing to see the quality of work produced by the people under the age of 19, all over the world. So, I am really proud that my generation hosts such brilliant minds, brilliant talents and it was an honor to be announced as the winner amongst those creative minds."
How did you get the idea of your theme, 'no escape from reality?
"I captured this picture here all in lockdown. And I had got that theme from the world photography organization, 'Composition and design'. Personally, I love to click pictures outdoors. I am not really an indoor kind of a shooter. So, I had to challenge myself in a particular way, find some unique perspective in my own familiar place, because I couldn't get out. For a photographer who works primarily outdoors, it's kind of a challenge. Actually, I was taking a stroll on the afternoon randomly and I came across my parents' bedroom, and I could see parallel shadow lines of the grills- cast of them. And I thought it's quite interesting and intriguing from a perspective, and so, I thought maybe I will try to make something out of it. For a couple of weeks, the picture was playing in my head - kind of creating itself and forming its own boundaries. And then finally I just randomly asked my mom to stand behind the curtain and put her hand out...kind of in a way to express that she is entrapped in it. She did that and I had almost 5 minutes before she got frustrated in the sunlight and heat coming ( laughs ). I took the picture and post-processed it. Then it came to my mind that I should caption it like, 'No escape from reality. Because that's a harsh reality now, and I wanted to portray it through my picture. And somehow it got the award. And I am really happy for it."
Tell us something about your journey.
"My father is a photographer. He is a very eminent photographer here in Kolkata. He is quite senior. Since my childhood, I had these photography gadgets all over the place. So, I used to experiment with them. Not really knowing about their proper functions. But I just used to play around with that. And gradually from that my interest in photography started to grow, and when I was 4 years old I captured my first picture on a fair in Shantiniketan... ( Poushmela ) and I was actually in Khoai. In that fair, all kinds of folk artists, folk forms of art, and I started taking pictures of it. It hit me. Honesty at that age, you're not attracted to the fundamentals or the basics of photography - you just like to capture whatever you feel like. So I was capturing that. I lost touch with photography gradually till I was ten. Then my father bought me a point-and-shoot camera with which I used to catch birds' (pictures). I was an avid birder. I used to capture all kinds of migratory birds. Finally, when I was 15, I got the chance to use a full-fledged DSLR and used to take it to the strolls. I live in North Kolkata, just next to the rivers. I used to take it down strolls and just walk around the plains of North Kolkata, around the river and capture the lifestyles of the people there. And then I started becoming serious about it. And.... that's how I am now."
You did a course from the Museum of Modern Arts, New York. How did it help you?
"The museum of modern arts, as it is a plethora... it has so much of knowledge into it... I mean the masters there and all the collections they have...it's just brilliant. When I saw that it offered a course during the lockdown, I enrolled myself as I had plenty of time. It was a very intensive course, and the primary thing that I got to know from that course is how photography came about as a fine art discipline. So, how do we put artistry in the process? It's quite a scientific medium if you think of it in that way because all you do is capture light and materialize it. But what about the artistry in our pictures? how do we put our own perspective in the pictures.... and all those things. It was a really enlightening process for me because I got to know so much about fine art photos and I followed a lot of photography thereafter and it has significantly contributed to my photography journey."
Who is your favorite photographer?
"My favorite photographer and my biggest inspiration is my dad. It's from an unbiased point of view because I see him every day and every day is a learning process for me. I have no hindrance in stating the fact that he has been the greatest inspiration in my life - in the field of photography and in anything else. Apart from my father, I saw the works of Ansel Adams, Cartier Bresson, Steve McCurry... all brilliant photographers. But one thing that I have noticed is that more than I find inspiration in the photographers themselves or the body of work that they produce, I feel like I get inspired by photographs, 'single images'. So, no matter where it comes from, who takes the picture, some images just stand out of the crowd. I feel like some pictures, if you see them, you can't get it out of your head. I have witnessed such photographs and I feel like they are a bigger inspiration to me than the artists themselves. I always respect the journey of the artist, the work they produce, and the process they go through, so, it's all a cultivation of the process."
How do you manage studies with your passion?
"I don't pay too much attention to my studies (laughs). I have another path- I am a musician for 13 years. I play the Tabla. I am an Indian classical musician, learning under Pt. Tanmoy Bose. So I manage 3 things at once. But I never got under that pressure because everything falls into place.... it has been like that for the past years. And my parents were very supportive. They never tell me that you have to be an engineer or doctor or something else. I have seen that when they give me all the freedom and I get to choose myself, I stay happy all the time, and I focus on my work better. I don't say that I'm bad at studies. I get good grades but I don't study a lot. I study all night before the exam (laughs)."
What are your goals and ambitions, as a photographer?
"Right now, standing at this point, I would like to document the stories around the whole world as much as possible. What interests me. The thing that I love about photography is the art of storytelling in its nature. So, the fact that I have photographed for over 6 years now, and I have started to develop a long term project called, 'The river and its people', which is based on Ganga, and the people that inhabit the banks of the Ganga. I have noticed that there's a pleasure...... a deep kind of empathy in me is there for those people, that makes me want to tell their stories to the world. So, right now my goal is to tell the stories of people and their culture from all over the world if I get the chance. I don't know what the future holds.... this might evolve, or branch into something else, but I just hope that I stay in this path."
How would you describe your photography style?
"My photography style is capturing extraordinary out of ordinary. It's the magic in the mundane...that kind of a feeling."
Just like your winning photo, right?
"Yes, almost like that. But the winning photo was shot in a controlled environment. When you go out for a walk, you just go out to explore, and see this mini moment of joy and happiness, or even of anger or sadness- any kind of emotion and you just feel like this one moment....a very brief period of time for which the moment would last and after that, it would be lost into oblivion. You just try to capture it and show it to the people around you. So that is what intrigues me and that is what my photography style is at this point because all I do is to capture the moments of joy..... extraordinary kind of moments.... moments that stand out from the rest...from the ordinary. My style has been a byproduct of my process. So, what I do when I go out to take photographs is that I don't take anything else with me other than my camera, and phone for communication purposes. Other than that, I don't take anything. I just try to feel myself in that environment. Because I feel that a connection must be built between the environment and you, and between you and the subject so that you can really narrate their stories and think of the world from their perspectives. So in order to click a picture that narrates the character or the personality of a person or their stories, you need to have empathy towards the person. I try to have that as much as possible. I don't rush... I don't click too many pictures at one go. I just take that one shot, which is the decisive shot of that moment, and which narrates the whole story of the feeling that I felt. That's what I would say is my process."
What's your plan ahead?
"My goal is to tell stories from around the world. My plan is to study photography as much as possible, to go deeper into the subject, get a much more introspective understanding of the subject. And I feel like a course on photography would help me and that's why I have started to plan my studies. Currently, I am in my undergraduate course. I plan to do my post-graduation in photography if everything else permits. I am looking forward to that. And I've also started to develop some projects like 'The river and its people' which is a long term project, and some other projects as well. I want to go to the tribal people of India and document their culture and lifestyle that is disappearing very fast. I want to document it while it's still is in place. Let's see what the future holds for me."
We wish Pubarun success in all his future ventures as well.
Written By Sanga Basu, Content Writer, WPC