Street chat with Shweta Agarwal

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, where do you live now? Your background with photography, how and when you were drawn to the street genre.

My name is Shweta Agarwal, and I am born and raised in Patna, Bihar, India. Since childhood, I have been into sketching, and after my graduation, I was very much into charcoal portraits. I have also exhibited these in different cities in India, but gradually it no longer gave me any excitement and I stopped doing it.

Photography started for me when I got a camera as a gift from my family in 2002. It was a movie camera, but I mostly used it to take still pictures. I started really loving the process of taking pictures, and people used to appreciate my skills. My real photographic journey started when I bought my first DSLR in 2008, and I started to go for photo walks with my friends in Ahmedabad, India, where I later relocated.

Somehow when I would be on the streets, I used to take people’s pictures, and this made me more excited and happy. I got to know about APF (Art Photo Feature) street photography group in Facebook, which motivated me to shoot more street photography, and post one street shot everyday.

Being a teacher in school didn’t interest me as much as photography did, and so in 2013, I decided to take a photojournalism course from the Udaan School of Photography in Mumbai. That was the turning point of my life, to becoming a professional photographer.

How do you define “street photography” for yourself?

For me street photography is my soul. The moment I go out for walk with my camera, I feel completely different energy which is full of excitement and joy. I love to interact with people while I’m shooting, to make friends with them, and to capture the essence of that place — which can include light, shadows, texture, the moment, and some story or mystery. Nothing is as exciting as street for me, it’s full of surprises and every day new things to shoot that I won’t have the next day. I love taking candid moments, and don’t like to make people pose for me. I love to take pictures, the way my eyes see, and I love to observe. That really makes my street pictures special.

Does your local situation affect your work?

We Indian photographers are very lucky to be in India. Indian people are very friendly and they don’t mind if people take their pictures, some get really happy if you take their pictures, especially people on the street. All famous photographers from all over the world long to be in India, and to photograph the people and different cultures here, as it’s so colourful and diverse. So I am really blessed to be a photographer in India. If I am very friendly and make people feel easy, I can get very good pictures. Interaction with people is very important, and a smile.

In what ways do you think being a woman has affected your work?

Being a woman really helps a lot and I am blessed to be a woman photographer. People are very easy going with women, and trust can be built easily. When there is a sensitive situation, people are much more friendly, and are calmer with women photographers in India.

I do wedding photography, and I have realised brides, and even grooms, feel much more comfortable interacting with a woman photographer. In the wedding photography industry in India, there are many more women photographers than male photographers.

Even in documentary photography, women photographers can cover any sensitive situation much more easily, because people trust them easily.

Recently, some of my street pictures were published along with some amazing street photographers from all over the world, and one of the reasons (other than my pictures) is that I am a woman street photographer in India. Gradually here, street photography is being taken up with huge interest by women photographers, and one of the reasons is social media — the different groups and handles on Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, which inspire them to shoot street photography.

Color or black and white, digital or film?

I love color, it really excites me, and allows me different varieties of subjects to shoot. I am always more enthusiastic about color photographs.

As it’s a digital world, I also go along with that, and use a digital camera. I have only used a film camera during my initial photography period, when digital was not yet available. For my street photography, I only use a compact camera, a Ricoh GR2, which is very small in size, and easy to carry anywhere.

What photographers can you name who are the most inspirational to you?

In my initial stage of photography, I used to get inspired by portraits taken by Steve McCurry.

Gradually as I have gotten into street photography, I have been inspired by many street photographers. I love the work of Sonia Madrigal, Amruta Dhavale, Prashant Godbole, Swapnil Jedhe, Rammy Narula, Suresh Naganathan, Sreeranj Sreedhar, Kaushal Parikh, Ania Klosek, Yoriyas Yassin, Vinita Barretto, Muhammed Moheisen, Anushree Fadnavis, Gauri Shetye, Soumya Khandelwal and many more, the list is long, will be tough to put it here.

Is there a special project you are working on? Or recurring themes you are often drawn to?

From this year, 2017, I have started ‘Project 365’, for which I go out and shoot daily and get at least one good shot. This project is completely focussed for my own growth as a photographer, and it’s really giving me some amazing experiences already. Also recently, I have been gifting people with their pictures, and then taking a portrait of them with this picture of themselves in their hand. Seeing my initiative, a well known photographer from India approached me for the project, where photographers from different regions will join in, and they will give people their picture, then take their portrait with these. By the end of this year, there will be exhibition of this project at the Serendipity Arts Festival, which will happen in Goa, India. Hoping for the best.