A commerce graduate who started a computer business in 2001, Indrajit Khambe is today one of the most artistic documentary photographers around. Life and circumstances, as he recalls, might have kept him away from the arts during his earlier life, but painting, theatre, and photography always found their way back to him, and claimed him as their own.
Khambe started shooting full time only from 2012, but made strides very early on with his quietly evocative photographs. So impactful and arresting is his eye for mood, detail, and colour, that in 2019, Apple even commissioned a whole #ShotOniPhone series with him during the festival of Holi, showcasing some of these shots on, among other platforms, their Instagram account.
A practice so focussed on the mundane, but magical moments of everyday life, Khambe’s photographs and short atmospheric videos show how immersed he is in the lushness of the Konkan coast — his world, his workspace.
“Whatever work I start only has a starting point, but no end,” says Khambe when asked about any upcoming projects. “As I evolve as a human being, I keep revisiting and reshooting the same subjects because my understanding of particular things changes, and is changing. I keep (shooting) the same things again in the hope that I will find something interesting that I haven't found before,” the photographer who is based in the coastal Sindhudurg district on the Goa-Maharashtra border, says.
Ahead of starting ‘Tell A Story’, a 15-day online workshop on photography next week, Khambe, talks about the intense relationship he shares with his surroundings, how shooting in Hampi made him think differently about his art, and about imbuing documentary photography with a sense of the magical. Edited excerpts.
Why did you pick documentary photography? And how did you get the genre to make space for your aesthetics and creative eye?
I decided to do documentary photography because I wanted to document the things which might be (become) very precious to society (in these fast-changing) years. Documentary photography has financial challenges in India, and you can hardly make a living out of it. But since I was earning good money from my business and I had a deep influence of experimental theatre on me, I decided to pursue documentary photography.
I discovered my own vision and style only later. My work has a balance between traditional documentary aesthetics and my own artistic vision. I always stick to human interest stories — it’s really all about perspective and how you find something magical in daily mundane life around you.
Describe your current workspace to us.
My home and entire village and landscape is my workspaces. It's a place with a very slow pace of life. You wake up with nature sounds and lush green forests and serene water bodies give you company the whole day. During my childhood days, I used to spend a lot of time alone roaming around the landscape and sometimes painting. I love my own company and that is what helped me to develop my own photographic vision.
Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
I think evolution is a very subjective term. I find it (as being) the same (as it was) since my childhood. The places where I use to visit during my childhood are the same today. And I am happy with the fact that they didn't change much. I must say that it didn't evolve much but I take it as a positive thing for me and for my life.
How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
It's a very intense relationship. Each space has its own beauty, but when you are living in the same space for a long time, you start taking that beauty for granted. I know each corner of my space, every stone in the river, and every tree. But when one is (seeing) these since one’s childhood the primary attraction for these things doesn’t exist — (it lets me) start going deeper.
Nature keeps changing the same space. So the same tree might be full of leaves in one season and full of flowers in another season. The same stone might be under the water in one season, and out of the water and showing itself in another. (My relationship with the places I shoot in and from) is all about how I observe and feel this magic, and how I try to incorporate it into my art.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
I don't think there is any particular eureka moment for me considering the craft of photography…takes consistent practice and discipline to understand it, just like any kind of craft. I have had many moments which made me realise and learn and I believe that there will be many more realisations coming. There are thousands of ways to create a good photograph. I only knew a few and I will keep searching for more. All my major work comes from this space in which I have been living for the last 40 years.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
I think Hampi is the place that is very close to my heart. I went to Hampi a few years ago and it was like love at first sight. I liked the vibe of the landscape and the serenity it carries. It is when I started taking pictures in Hampi that I realised that I do something more than just typical documentary photography. That whole experience changed me as an artist and photographer, and I have kept (going back repeatedly) in the last 4-5 years. I would love to spend more time in Hampi in the coming days.
A memory of one of your photographs — how did it come to be, where did you shoot it?
I think the picture which I shot in Mahabalipuram recently. One young couple was looking at the sea through the barricades and the way they were standing close to each other was so amazing and intense. I can feel their emotions and the dreams they have for their life.
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.