Hi, my name is Pravin Tamang, and I am based in the small town of Darjeeling in India. I like my photography to describe a place visually, the small bits of time, and I try my best to be honest about it. For me, simple and honest pictures say a lot, and I try and follow that rule most times. The combination of people and places at a given moment in time really draws my attention. I try to create images that give a sense of place but also its people and their aspirations. One loses its significance if the other is absent from the equation. I try to depict the intimate interaction that happens silently between these two elements – one that is perpetually in motion and the other that has probably stood for millennia.
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Here on this series, I would like to submit a renowned culturally significant place named “Varanasi,” the series stitched together is called “Scenes of Solitude.” These images tell us a story of the connection between an individual with the place.
I use natural or available light. I use a Leica M10 with 28, 50, and 90 mm lenses. Sometimes I use a Manfrotto BeFree Tripod.
The Essential Camera Gear of Pravin Tamang
Why did you get into photography?
There was a time when I used to travel a lot, I always thought you can remember most things, but memories are tricky. Your brain only remembers parts it wants to remember. My photography journey basically started to captur these moments that I could go back to anytime. Then I started to follow and read about other great photographers and got hooked on the art of photography, and wanted to create my own.
Which photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?
Photographers like Fan Ho, Micheal Kenna, Sally Mann, Sebastiao Salgado, Saul Leiter, to name a few.
And I like works from painters like Edward Hopper, Caravaggio, and Vermeer because they teach you a lot about lighting.
How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?
I have been shooting seriously for over eight years now. I can only say that I am evolving as a photographer every single day and learning a lot. I see my images from the past and pick out 100 things I could have done better. I will probably say the same when I look at my images from the present to 10 years from now.
Tell us about your photographic identity. You have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that person as a photographer.
In my opinion, most things that we do now have probably been done already; we only try to make things better and give our own twist to it. For example, let’s take portrait photography. Legends like Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Albert Watson, Steve McCurry have covered most of them quite stunningly.
Tell us about the gear you’re using. Please give us a list of the gear and the reasons why you choose that gear.
I use a Leica M10 and M9P with three Leica lenses. 28mm Elmarit (probably one of the best lenses ever made by Leica, in my opinion). I also have 50mm Summicron and 90mm Summicron. I sometimes use a tripod from Manfrotto for my portraits.
I like Leica rangefinder cameras purely because they are the simplest camera you can have. I am not a tech guy and don’t understand half the things that the camera does. I mostly rely on basic settings, which is enough to give you a decent result. I don’t like too many distractions caused by the camera. It should be used as a tool and only as a means to achieve something. The more you have, the more you tend to mess up, in my case.
Please be descriptive. We want to know how it helps you translate your creative vision.
I like simplicity both in my images and also in most things in life. Simplicity is a relatively complicated process, but that process is you learning as you go. The camera should just be there to capture images. It cannot think: you are doing the thinking, and your camera should simply translate this to your images. Rangefinder cameras are simple; you don’t have autofocus and most things are manual, meaning you are in control and not your gear. You and not your camera are to blame for your images. It forces you to learn and practice, which makes you a better photographer in the long run.
Natural light or artificial light? Why?
I mostly use natural light and only use a small LED light as fill on portrait shoots. There is no substitute for natural light. I think it’s also kind of fun to use what’s available to you. Throughout history, brilliant photographers have created amazing images just using natural light. But my choice is mostly due to the amount of gear I want to carry, and one of the reasons I use a Leica is the size of the camera.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
For me, photography is not just about creating great images: it’s about the process of making those images. I like the feeling of going out, traveling and enjoying that process. It is about what goes into making an image and not always about the end product. It’s a kind of brief time when you are on your own. Nothing exists except what you are doing right then. It is kind of addictive, this short burst of zen-like state.
Do you feel you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?
Both. Everyone engaged in photography is somewhat documenting something. Right now, most times, I am in the streets, and it is your studio where you are constantly documenting life as it happens but also creating these unique moments caught in time and that cannot be repeated.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically? Please be descriptive.
Most times, in the back of my mind, I am thinking about how to make my images unique. So, paying attention to composition because for me its basic composition that will make my images original. Then the exposure, what should the viewers see and what I can hide and still be able to tell a story. On the streets, my approach is to tell something that is normal and honest, everyday and mundane, and viewers should be able to relate to it. Immerse myself to enjoy these moments personally.
I walk a lot. I only realize this when I come home/back to my hotel room to find myself exhausted at the end of the day. I like my small gear setup. I mostly carry one extra small lens in my pocket and only ever reach for the bag if I need my tripod or another lens. I also sometimes use a lens mount that goes under the camera body and acts like a camera grip. I would have set up my camera beforehand, and it’s only about the artistic approach after that, like how much blur you want, over or underexposes your images, etc.
Please walk us through your processing techniques. Also, tell us about how you’re achieving your look without Photoshop if you’re comfortable with that.
I use Lightroom to process my images. To make it super simple, I actually prefer using Lightroom CC because there are fewer bells and whistles. I don’t add or remove stuff in my images except for sensor dust.
There is nothing more I can say besides this about my post-processing techniques. I have none.
Tell us about the project or portfolio you’re pitching to us. Be descriptive with the who, what, when, where, how, and why.
Over 5 million travelers combined with pilgrims from around the world visit the famed ghats of Varanasi. I frequent these ghats just as anyone, most times aimlessly. The blank gaze across the horizon of the meandering Ganges from the start of the day to the end of it.
Sometimes I wonder how many people have walked through these sandstone and cobbled pathways of the ghats, some during their happy moments but most for their journey towards the end. My thoughts wander towards how temporary and short our existence is in contrast to this city that has stood the test of time through generations, silently along with the river.
The hustle and bustle aside, I love the true mood of the city, the quietness of it all. I am drawn towards these scenes of calm and witness these moments that define this place for me. I take a shot, walk, and repeat the same action again, and every time I compose and press the shutter, I get a deep sense of calm within me. I prefer isolating my subjects normally at the backdrop of the morning or an evening mood, right behind me maybe a few more pilgrims/tourists or even hundreds. But to me at a time, I can only see and hear my subject and most times feel their deep sense of devotion and a sense of solitude. I want my images to translate those moments of being alone in the midst of the chaos behind them. Only in Varanasi could you see these multiple narratives flowing past you along the Ganges. I prefer black and white or muted colors to further add simplicity to these images.
I’ve consistently been drawn and prefer to take shots of these honest moments. Moments that have probably been repeated every day of my subject’s life yet they are unique, important, and significant.
What made you want to get into your genre?
I still struggle to put myself into a genre. It’s so difficult. I like the freedom to create without genres to shackle you: to create and repeat the same thing over again as expected.
What motivates you to shoot?
Photography is meditative. I like the highs you get from going out and shooting and enjoying the process.
I also like meeting so many people and knowing their stories.
Explain why the readers want to see your work, or why your project is really cool.
Varanasi as a city has been shot a lot by some important photographers. But I still strongly believe there is a lot of stories that are untold, and my set of images are one among them. I think people would enjoy knowing that there is this silent and solitary side of the city, this silent relationship between the river and the everyday mundane. I think it is special and worth telling about it to the world. How cool is my project? Only viewers can tell that I am just a medium.