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Op-Ed: An American street photographer in Mumbai (Includes interview and first-hand account)

I’ve been shooting street photography in Mumbai for just under a year since I discovered this photographic niche. Formerly a pure breed writer, I had prided myself on being able to string a few words together on my better days to form some sort of cohesive narrative. But that all changed when I rediscovered photography — street photography — after taking a workshop in Bandra. My life quickly transformed from arduously organizing words on my word processor to quickly framing pixels in my viewfinder. My answer to the “What do you do?” question changed from writer, to writer-photographer, to photographer-writer, and finally, to what it says on my business card today: photographer. Pure breed, no hyphens.

Why street photography?

Street scene in Mumbai  India.
Street scene in Mumbai, India.

The short and sweet answer is, it’s just plain addictive! And apart from the change in creative pace, I liked the idea of interacting with the world more frequently, outside, with strangers. It was a great way to get to know the city better and its inhabitants with the added bonus of exercise. My over all existence mutated from a solitary writer almost always confined to his computer, into a guy who liked exploring Mumbai for the sheer pleasure of “getting the shot” (I still spend zombie hours in front of the computer but less time is spent on writing and more on photo editing. It’s a change I gratefully welcomed.)

Bandstand at low tide. Mumbai  India.
Bandstand at low tide. Mumbai, India.

Unlike other photography genres, street photography, I discovered, is about forming relationships with your fellow human beings, your subjects. Same goes for wedding or fashion photography (or any genre involving people or animals), but street photography is an undeniable wildcard since I really don’t know what kind of relationship I’ll be forming with my subject. Not always. Naturally, if I’m capturing a lot of candid shots, the relationships may be very brief indeed (and only one-way from my end) and restricted to the solitary confinement of my computer or phone. But if my shots turn out well, maybe I’ll share them with the world. My take away from street photography is that relationships come in all varieties and need not be so narrowly defined as a photographer-subject dynamic.

A girl chasing pigeons in Mumbai  India.
A girl chasing pigeons in Mumbai, India.

Another wildcard issue almost unique to street photography comes into play when the photographer is “made” by his subject. The chance to capture the scene undisturbed is lost. When this happens the tables are turned and I’m the one being watched! Getting a candid shot becomes nearly impossible without relying on a lot of time, effort, and luck. But sometimes these situations work out if the subject’s reaction to my presence is interesting in some way.

A construction worker spots me taking his photo. Mumbai  India.
A construction worker spots me taking his photo. Mumbai, India.
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There are exceptions to the being made rule. Vendors on busy tourist beats are used to getting their pictures taken and if they notice me, usually go back to work or offer-up a cheesy pose. Contrary to some of the difficulties working with children, in certain situations they have been more than helpful to me, especially if they’re playing or involved in an activity that’s more entertaining than talking to a guy with a camera.

Boys playing in surf. Mumbai  India.
Boys playing in surf. Mumbai, India.

Another strong possibility for a street photographer in Mumbai, especially for an outsider like myself, is the photo request. If I spend an hour or more shooting I’m usually asked at least once or twice by people on the streets to take their pictures. I didn’t care for the interruptions when I began taking street shots, but I’ve since learned that these images of beggars, shopkeepers, street kids, and the just plain curious, can be interesting too and I adapted to take street portraits on the fly as part of any street photography session. I began to think more about how to take interesting shots with static subjects as a creative challenge instead of thinking of the interruptions in a negative light. This change in thinking has lead to interesting situations and conversations with individuals whom I would have never interacted with otherwise.

Street children at Bandstand. Mumbai  India.
Street children at Bandstand. Mumbai, India.

All of these shots here were taken by me in Mumbai 2015-16. You can follow me on my website at Please make use of Comments to let me know what you think about my photos – also don’t be shy about sharing your own street photography!

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