MAR 2017 – FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER
Created by Dave Christensen, Director and Curator of the Harvey Milk Photo Center
Interview with Nishad Joshi
By Dave Christensen, Director & Curator of HMPC
How long have you been involved in photography?
I first got interested in photography around 2004. Fueled by the internet, my interest quickly evolved from highly-photoshopped images of fall foliage, to street photography with black-and-white film. Since then it’s been a bit of a tumultuous relationship – I even stopped shooting completely from 2010 to 2015 – but I have been back at it for over a year now, and hope that I can now stay motivated and keep having fun.
What are your motivations in Street Photography?
In theory, I love the absurdity of spending countless hours searching persistently for something that is completely unknown. I think that this difficulty makes street photography beautiful – it teaches you to stay open to possibilities, be completely present in the moment, and not get too attached to the results of your labor. It does get frustrating from time to time, but given the terrible odds, nothing is more motivating than making a photograph I actually like.
What tools are you using to assist in the creation of these images?
I shoot black-and-white film, primarily with a Leica MP and 35mm lens. I have recently been venturing into medium format, shooting portraits on an old Rolleiflex, but have yet to use it on the street. Printing in the darkroom has been like finding a missing piece of the puzzle for me, and I now consider it to be a vital part of the process. I am constantly amazed by the quality of silver gelatin prints, and working in the darkroom serves as a great counterpoint to being outside on the street. I develop my film and print all my photographs by hand at the Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco.
Is there a theme or narrative in you work/style?
With my street photography, I suppose I am on the lookout for slightly humorous or absurd situations – but I don’t actively think about themes beyond that. Of course humor is a tricky thing, because to make a joke you need to have a sense of what is “normal” to contrast against. On a recent trip to Nepal, my sense of “normal” was taken away, and the photographs I came back with were more straight documentary in nature. On the subject of themes, I like the idea of amassing a large archive of photographs to then comb through one day and let the themes emerge naturally. In this day and age there is so much emphasis on briefs and artist statements, that I am glad that classic street photographers such as Winogrand, Erwitt et al made “just shooting” a legitimate way of working.
What are you trying to say in your work?
To be honest, I am not trying to say anything in particular. Going out without a plan, and simply reacting to what one sees is a way of working that really appeals to me. Tod Papageorge said in an interview, “I think now that, in general there’s a failure to understand how much richer in surprise and creative possibility the world is for photographers in comparison to their imagination.” I love the idea of coming back with something completely unexpected.
Some perform for self and others are looking for social commentary. Where do you find yourself?
I definitely fall in the former category, and don’t actively seek out social commentary on my work. I get deep satisfaction when a photograph works for me, and if my wife Yakuta sees a photograph in the way that I intended, I can’t ask for more! That said, I do very much value the opinions of those that I respect, and do like sharing my work in a more intimate setting. While I am not active on social media, I do post images to my website every other day in an attempt to maintain some online presence, however small.
Do you find yourself working the scene with multiple shots, or just a split second?
I find myself taking multiple shots of fewer scenes, rather than single shots of many scenes. Often it is very subtle details outside of a photographer’s control (or even consciousness) that can make a picture work, and if the situation allows, I’ll try to take a few shots. Of course, sometimes the situation changes, the subject notices, or I simply chicken out after one shot. Even with static scenes, I think it is important to shoot a few different compositions – sometimes what looks best through the viewfinder is not what looks best later. Working faster and taking more of those split second shots is definitely an area of development for me.
What is your process in the field?
When I am going out with the intention to photograph, I try to seek out public events that seem to have the potential for interesting pictures. I am rarely focused on the event itself, but will usually look for situations of interest around the fringes. Other than that, it’s just about walking around, tweaking exposure, and trying to perceive the world just that little bit differently. I do have a tendency to overthink things while I am out there, and I’m working on shooting a little more instinctively instead. After all, you have to leave a little room for the magic to happen.
What is going through your mind when you push the shutter?
At that moment, it’s actually things like keeping the camera level, and not cutting off people’s feet – little things that are surprisingly difficult to keep track of in the heat of the moment! I’m also usually hoping that my subject doesn’t figure out what I am up to and get upset.
What other photographers (living or not) inspire you?
I am inspired by many photographers for different reasons. Currently I am most inspired by those that are able to see (and, of course, convey) humor or absurdity in seemingly mundane circumstances. Among the masters, it’s photographers like Elliott Erwitt or Richard Kalvar. Examples among contemporary photographers include Blake Andrews and Matt Stuart. These photographers take the kinds of photographs that I find most stimulating – magically transforming the banal into something fascinating. As far as photographers working actively in San Francisco, I quite enjoy following Troy Holden’s exploits on Market Street.
Do you find the arts or music play a role in your work?
Not at any conscious level.
What are you trying to capture from these moments in the street?
With street photography, I am trying to capture the result of attempting to see my surroundings in a less obvious way. More than photography’s ability to describe, I am interested in its power to confuse – whether it is through juxtaposition, freezing movement, or simply separating what’s in the frame from the surrounding context. I consider a photograph successful if it forces the viewer to see something differently from how they would have seen it if they were there. Of course most attempts fall flat, so it’s best not to get too attached and just keep working.
Are you engaging with the people as you shoot?
No. Since I am after candid moments, any interaction with the subject would ruin the picture. I am not one of those people that is naturally at ease pointing a camera at strangers without their permission, and it is often a significant battle against myself to make the kinds of photographs I want. I have to keep reminding myself that I am the only person that sees the possibility for a photograph in a given situation, and to make it a reality I just have to take it. Luckily, when a truly juicy moment presents itself, I’ll often forget all about social niceties.
Thank you so much for your time today. Is there anything you want to add?
Just that I consider myself relatively new to this game, and I’m sure that my thoughts and (hopefully) photographs will continue to evolve with time. Thank you for the opportunity to share!
More about Nishad Joshi…
Photos by Nishad Joshi
Curated by Dave Christensen, Director of HMPC
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