Street photography may just be one way of seeing and capturing the world for many for us. But for Bombay-born, fashion design student turned street photographer Dimpy Bhalotia, it’s both the toughest and purest form of creative photography, for reasons every street photographer is familiar with. It requires patience, a lot of walking around, a keen sense of observation, and perfect timing to capture the so-called “decisive moment”. Nothing is left to imagination here, and the stories captured are not works of fiction. This, she says, makes it the “most truthful art in the world.”
Seeing her impressive black and white street snaps, there’s no doubt that she has already got her style and vision figured out. But her ideas and beliefs about street photography itself may prove to be unconventional for most. This we found out when we recently got in touch with her to tell us more about what street photography means to her, what motivates and inspires her to shoot, and what routine she follows to make sure she gets stunning shots each time.
Phoblographer: Hello Dimpy! Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
Dimpy Bhalotia: Hi! I am a Fine Art Street Photographer. I was born and raised in Bombay, then I moved to London to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design Technology from London College of Fashion. Since then I have been traveling all over the world with my camera, exploring and experiencing life.
Phoblographer: How did you get into photography? How did you discover the kind of photography and imagery that you make now?
Bhalotia: I have always been inspired by nature and birds and all the chaos on the streets. I observe a lot and there is so much going on the streets which are usually missed by many of us. Given how technology has taken over most part of our lives, I fear streets are going to go dead. Given how everything can be delivered to your homes, the charm of busy streets is diminishing, and I want to capture it as much as I can in my style before it’s all gone. I want to capture the energy. I want to keep them alive in my photographs. Maybe in the future (and even now, where everything is online) people will look at them and feel like going out in the streets and run with the birds. I want people to observe and enjoy their time on earth. And for me, through my photography I feel is the best way to express myself.
Phoblographer: Street photography is a very broad discipline that is interpreted differently by everyone. We’re curious, what is street photography to you?
Bhalotia: For me, street photography is the toughest of all forms of photography and art. In fact, of all the art and creative fields, I think street photography is hard to crack. You can paint how you want, you can write what and how you want, you can make films and stage photo shoots, make models/ actors wear and act how you want, set up lighting how you want. But street photography is something you can’t imagine or predict. You don’t know what you will come across while walking on the streets. We can’t create light. We shoot from what we get. All the action we capture is all natural and spontaneous.
For me, street photography is forever about capturing the real world. This is the most truthful art in the world. The purest form of an artist’s personality and vision. There is no imagination here, it’s exactly how it’s out there that we capture. No manipulation, no fiction. I personally think not everyone can do street photography.
You have to be very quick and invisible in the streets. To capture something natural your subject shouldn’t know someone is watching them. You have to merge yourself in the crowd. I like capturing when someone is in action. If you notice, most of my pictures have some sort of movement in them. You look at it and unconsciously you move with the subject. I like to capture when people are in the act. There is so much happening in the streets that even a mind can’t imagine.
You have to keep it real. I travel a lot, and when I say travel, it’s not just for a few days in a city but for weeks and sometimes even months. I like staying and understanding the culture and ethics of that particular place. It helps me understand how people live and like to be treated like. I talk a lot with the locals, all the time. They are the best people. There are days I just walk around and just talk to people about food and life and not shoot at all.
With street photography you have to be quick and very alert with the surroundings and for that, you need to understand the location where you’re at. You need to have a camera on you all the time. You never know what you will come across. Everything is always moving in the streets and with the sun. And to capture it you have to be on your toes all the time.
I remember I was in Copenhagen and I kept thinking to myself, the sky looks slightly lower towards the earth compared to other latitudes and longitudes I have been to. Maybe it was my imagination but I tell you that being sensitive to nature and understanding it makes a huge difference when you are doing street photography. The shades of gray and the scale of birds make a huge difference. It gives me goosebumps. This is the beauty of life. It’s very important to understand how sky floats above us, how the light falls on us and after it falls, how it reflects given on what color it falls on. Then in my head, I imagine it in black and white. It’s a long process that only comes with a lot of practice, walking around, observing and understanding. Once you get the hang of it then trust me life is beautiful and you enjoy shooting.
Phoblographer: What is your photo walk or routine usually like? How do you usually select the spots to shoot?
Bhalotia: I never have pre-notions of how and what I want to shoot. Yes, I will choose a city or a location and just walk around and observe and see what catches my eye. I always start with a clean slate. I will see how the light is. Wait for it to be how I like it. You know, shooting a scene couple of minutes apart also makes a huge difference on the shades of black that you capture. Studying this and understanding how light falls in open on the streets is something very important to understand. If you don’t know how shadow works then no matter how good the location is or the camera, the photograph won’t be as appealing as it can be.
Also, there is a lot of rules set, like one should shoot every day and practice a lot. Yes practice a lot, but shooting everyday is something I don’t buy. I don’t like monotonous routines. It kills the creativity in you and unconsciously, you stop creating and growing as a person. I will shoot for 15- 20 days straight and then not shoot at all for a couple of weeks. Instead, I read books, watch movies, just look out of the window, see light, see how birds fly, how they act. Shooting everyday unconsciously pressures you to get good shots. We all need to go with the flow and slow down. To get the best shots we need to be inspired and walk on the streets and be excited about it. Imagine going on the street every day — it becomes monotonous. I like to go with the flow of my mind.
I often go to the same spot several times a week, and a lot of times in a day. You don’t always get shots on the spot. Sometimes, you really have to wait for long for something interesting to enter your frame, which happens for just a few seconds. If you miss it, it’s gone. It’s time-consuming and sometimes you still you don’t get anything. It’s not like in films and studio shoots, where you can put up lights how you want and instruct the models how you want them to act. That’s why I say street photography is the purest form of art and not everyone’s cup of tea.
And on top of that, black and white photography is the hardest of all. Being sensitive to light, shadows, contrast, and textures is something very unique and takes years to train your eye. I have shot so much in monochrome that I have all my memories of countries and people and experiences in black and white. I think I somehow don’t react to color sometimes. And that is why also I don’t shoot every day. When I go on the streets I want to be excited about the gray and the black and white that I see. I want to be very conscious when I’m on the street and sensitive to the light and tones. I also want to have a memory of every shot I take.
Phoblographer: Please tell us about your gear of choice for your street photography. How do you think it allows you to achieve your creative vision?
Bhalotia: When I wrapped up my fashion brand and I was clear I wanted to shoot as much as I can but I just couldn’t make up my mind on the gear. There are so many toys in the market that it has become a circus. It’s sad to see a lot of photographers just collecting for the heck of it, thinking gear makes a huge difference, which is something I don’t buy.
I started shooting with my iPhone and I realized it was all about angles, patience, understanding light, tones, and textures. No matter how big or good your camera is, if you don’t understand these basics, you will never get good shots.
A lot of people think I’m using Leica M10 or a Fujifilm camera, but when I say its just iPhone they get shocked. I personally think everyone should shoot with what they are comfortable with and not get into the rat race of buying gears. It will only create a lot of mess in your life.
Phoblographer: Who are the street photographers that have inspired or influenced you? What are the qualities of their work that you want to see in your own?
Bhalotia: Movies, music and nature have always been my biggest inspiration. Roger Deakin’s Cinematography, Satyajit Ray films, A.R. Rahman’s Music, Alfred Hitchcock’s play with light and shadows in his films, Buster Keaton’s sense on crafting comedy, the sun, birds, nature, and books.
To be honest, none of the photographers have ever inspired me. Yes, there are many photographers whose work that I admire but not to the extent that I want to do what they do or even get close to their style. Still to name some few, I think Fan Ho, Vivian Maier, Irving Penn, and Henri Cartier-Bresson have done some incredible work.
I think that being inspired by another photographer will never help to create work which stands out. Inspiration has to be original and not from something which has been shot and done. You will only create unconsciously what they have already created.
The source of inspiration should always be something which doesn’t come from your profession. Inspiration has to be original and from your experiences and your personality. I always tell writers not to read books, dancers to watch birds fly and not look at other dancers, painters to create their own color from flowers and fruits and not study other painters and instead study colors of animal skins, feathers and nature. I believe in experiencing love, hate, jealousy, fear, rejection. Only these experiences will bring out the emotions in you, and you will be conscious and stronger and it will reflect in your work. Let life treat you the way it wants to and let it show it in your work. You will only grow in life and in your work.
Phoblographer: Please share with us a favorite street snap that you took and the story behind it.
Bhalotia: I was just standing near the lake and it was really hot. There was hardly anybody around. But I didn’t leave, I kept walking around the lake. Around an hour later, I suddenly saw this boy running so fast coming towards my direction from nowhere. I had just 5 seconds to compose, and boom, he ran past me. That’s how I got this picture. And I’m glad I waited. It’s very important to have patience with the light, waiting for an action to enter your frame, a lot of walking, and understanding how people act.
Phoblographer: What do you think makes a street photograph outstanding or exemplary?
Bhalotia: Anything that moves your soul. Anything which resonates with your thoughts, feeling and emotions. Anything that makes you feel like you want to experience it, or makes you wonder how and where is this shot taken. That’s how you know you have nailed it. The basic thing is it has to evoke a feeling in you. That’s what matters and that makes it outstanding. Also, non-staged street photographs, no fiction, and only reflecting reality are the most important things.
Phoblographer: Which aspect of your style do you feel makes your work truly your own?
Bhalotia: If you notice I capture motion and lot of action that’s happening in the streets. And by that I mean not just capturing just people walking into the frame but a lot of real action in it. Also, my work features a lot of birds. I’m very attracted to anything which is lively, energetic, and flying birds. Look at my photograph and you can feel the energy. It’s black and white but filled with the color of emotions. It sends positive energy to the soul. My photographs are filled with life and motion, and unconsciously, you move with the photograph in your head. I think that truly makes my work truly mine.
Phoblographer: Lastly, what would you advise those who are thinking of getting into street photography?
Bhalotia: Don’t pressure yourself. Don’t fall into the trap called RULES. There are no rules and no formula. Gear is an addiction; don’t dig a grave for yourself. Don’t shoot every day and look for inspiration and don’t follow photographers. Just enjoy shooting or else your photographs will look tired. Don’t try to recreate what’s done and create your own style. Just go with the flow. Every photograph portrays the photographer’s personality. All the experiences, thoughts and feelings are reflected in every single photograph. Street photography is all about a lot of walking and being alert with your camera all the time; if you can’t do that, don’t think of going for it.
Don’t forget to follow Dimpy Bhalotia on Instagram to see more of her beautiful street photography.