“So, tell me… what makes you mix a Masters in Economics with highly acclaimed photography?”
Sohrab Hura, now in his late twenties grinned and replied,
“I did it for fun. I also wanted a PhD in Economics, but ended up not going for it.”
Born in October 1981, Sohrab Hura is acknowledged as one of the most exciting new generation photographers in the world. Indian by birth, he sees the world as a place of real human stories, and brings in his experiences as an economist to expose the human dimensions in economic movements. Through his lenses, Hura believes it’s important to remain honest and share stories where personal connections are indelible. His work was exhibited at Chobi Mela V, and he returned to Dhaka this year at Chobi Mela VI to conduct a workshop for students from Pathshala South Asian Media Academy.
We met at Pathshala on a lazy afternoon while his students were busily preparing their work for a ‘street exhibition’. Hura encouraged his students to move out of the box of exhibiting photographs only in galleries or defined spaces, and make it available for public viewing – even if it were only a fun experiment.
“When I came to conduct this workshop at Pathshala, I was hoping I will be able to encourage students to think about their photographic works at greater depths. This does not necessarily mean the quality of each photograph, rather the thought process that goes behind producing it. I want them to experience photography as storytelling, and be honest about what they’re offering. We discussed how a physical or psychological space can be used to interpret the stories, and how an average viewer might perceive it. That is why we decided to hang photos on walls and streets, and invite random pedestrians to take a look. It will help the photographers to understand how their work is communicating with others.”
Sohrab Hura with a visiting student at Pathshala. Photograph Sarker Protick
Yet, I felt an irony. Hura is a self-taught photographer who has not been to any formal school to learn photography, yet finds himself ‘educating’ photography students. How does he see such contradicting pieces fitting into the picture?
“I think it’s important to get some level of formal education in photography to understand its parameters and ethics. I may not have been to a school like Pathshala [because we didn’t have such an institution in India] but I was well guided by very influential photographers, such as Raghu Rai. I am extremely privileged that way – I won a fellowship that allowed me to learn things from brilliant artists in a more informal setting.”
“I believe there are different ways of reaching the same destination. It’s the same with learning photography formally and informally,” added Hura. “I recommend people to gain some organized experience in the field before moving onto to exploring their photographic identities. However, I don’t think one needs to spend a lot of money going to an expensive school to learn those things. It can happen with a small investment, where not too many things are at stake and you have the opportunity to unlearn as you learn.”
As the evening sun was setting in, we could hear the bustling of the students outside. It seemed they were ready to show their work and had already gathered some audience. Hura’s experience with photography amongst the younger generation in Bangladesh was limited, but he recalled his time in Pathshala as intriguing. In what regards does Sohrab Hura – being young and dynamic – perceive the nextgen photographers from Bangladesh?
“The work is definitely good. However, many students are gradually experimenting with different formats. They’re cropping images into different sizes without realizing how it will appear on an actual print of that size. For me, the process is more important than the product. I pay attention to the formats. I think these photographers need to understand different formats in their actual dimensions and decide whether it suits their images or stories.”
With students from the workshop at Pathshala during Chobi Mela VI. Photograph Sarker Protick
A storyteller at heart, Hura shares how photography has changed for him over time. From being intrigued to recording personal incidents to finally settling into an international standard, and recently into a more emotionally connected space – he feels his journey has been privileged, interesting and surprising at the same time. In his work, he prioritizes context over other photographic aspects, and feels that one should remain clarified about their intentions before actually beginning to photograph a story. A strong base will certainly guide the story better.
The crowd outside was getting noisier and I could feel Hura’s excitement rising. The random pedestrian is an audience without baggage and often the most difficult viewer to communicate with. Both Hura and I were beginning to get anxious to witness how people were reacting. While we sipped the last bit of cha in our cups, Sohrab Hura summed up our conversation. On a final note, what advice would he give to aspiring photographers?
“Be honest. That’s it.”