“There is Something Beautiful in a Struggle”- Sohrab Hura Magnum Nominee

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Photographer Sorabh Hura.

(The interview appeared first in the  Deccan Herald. Nov. 2014)

News often travels at the speed of light in the pulsating photographers community in India. Therefore, when photographer Sohrab Hura, 32, was nominated to Magnum, it created quite a buzz. He was after all, the first  in 37 years after Raghu Rai to be invited to be part of this elite photographer’s clique.

“Hura who”?,  many wondered. Hura, by his own admission lives in a bubble. But his name did ring a bell. Head tonsured, he would often appear at photo- events flummoxing photographers with his searching queries, put  in his characteristic  long-winded way.

But his work? I tried Google. No. Nothing.  Where was his website?  Though famous,  Hura does not have what the photographers call  ‘web presence’. His work barely shows  up on Google.

Hura,  is something of an antediluvian. He plays the part of the archetypal artist toiling away in isolation, often in privation but indifferent to the fame his work begets him.

“I don’t like to get too comfortable. If I get too comfortable, I can’t perform.  People struggle for many decades before they get recognition. I think there is something beautiful in it. I think it’s very important to be struggling”, he says.

Perhaps that’s why he persists in using the film camera, wallowing in what Raghu Rai calls ‘nostalgia’, even though almost all photographers the world over turned a corner with digital, almost a decade ago.

And as for the Magnum nomination, he says it came with a sense of sadness,  “ I was incredibly  happy in making my work in isolation and anonymity . Its like being on a beautiful island and then seeing a boatload of people coming and now you have to share the island with them”, he says.

If  there is  a man with more  contempt for fame and fortune it is Hura, you would think. But Hura  is not exactly a guy living under a rock as he would have you believe.  He is more clued in to the ways of the world, than he lets on. He is the sort of guy who aims for success but is extremely bashful when he achieves it. For one,  he does not miss sending his photos for any  major photography awards there are. (The magnum nomination came about when Hura first applied for it).

He even sent  his Kumbh Mela photos for the World Press Photo Awards and when his mentor, photographer Swapan Parekh – who was one of the judges that year- complained that all Indian photographers sent Kumb Mela photos, Hura was embarrassed.

The truth is, that  while other photographers were busy making a living – optimizing their websites and cultivating clients- Hura obsessed himself with photography for the love of it.

“I don’t have much money of my own but I am lucky I don’t come from a place where I have to look after my parents. I am not  married . I have no kids. I am taking advantage of all this”, he says.

While he assiduously keeps his work away from  the hoi polloi,  he  has had it reviewed by many  important  photographers across the world, whose  names he spills out casually during the conversation.

It is  hard not to be infected by Hura’s  sense of dedication.  Impressed with it, photographers have gone to extraordinarily lengths to help him. For example, fascinated with Hura’s work, a Paris based photographer sent him her digital camera all the way from France for his project.

One could loosely classify Hura’s  work into two categories. The social documentaries   and the biographical.

Pati,  is his self-funded documentation of a sun-beaten village in Madhya Pradesh where Hura, spends upto 10 days at a time documenting the villagers living their hard life.

But it is perhaps Hura’s biographical work that has won him all the acclaim. ‘Life is Elsewhere’, is his recently concluded series where he documents among other things,  his dog and his mother- undergoing treatment for schizophrenia. The project culminated in another series ,`Look, its Getting Sunny Outside’- when his mother got a little better.

One is on slippery grounds reviewing Hura’s personal work, shot mostly in black and white.   Unlike the photos of say photographers like Steve McCurry, where the photography aesthetics can be easily applied,  Hura makes it difficult with his blurry, vague  and often washed out  photos.

There is a danger always   of eulogizing anything we don’t understand  as art or trashing it as junk. You either expose yourself as a  pretender or a philistine.

So I choose the easy  way out and ask Hura, as he shows his work on his laptop,  to explain some of his blurry black and white photos. “ I try to capture emotions and  feelings . I am not interested so much in the aesthetics of it”, he explains.

With his work offering no ready conclusions- perhaps precisely something Hura wants-  its maybe  safe  to rely on the collective wisdom of  the Magnum photographers who  have appropriated Hura as their  own.

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