Sunday, July 25, 2010

Abhinav Jain Interview (A Coup D'etat Of The Status Quo)

A few years ago, I got the bright idea to interview a few prominent photographers in the photoblogging scene. Unfortunately, things happen a little slower here in the Dirty South and this interview with Abhinav Jain has been sitting in my inbox for a couple of years.

Abhinav Jain has been photoblogging since 2004 and I've been following his work since early 2005. I've enjoyed his impressive six year run and he continues to update A Coup D'etat Of The Status Quo. Without further ado, the interview:

How did you first get into photography? Who gave you your first camera, or did you purchase it yourself? Was it film or digital?

I sort of abruptly stumbled into photography in November 2004. Just prior to that month, I had come across a few photoblogs that greatly excited me. Here were regular people producing incredible works of art, and that too on an almost daily basis! I had been painting since I was a child; but with a camera in my hand, I was a mere snapshot shooter who never looked beyond the auto setting on the dial. These photoblogs helped something click in my head, and I truly saw and understood photography for the first time.

The first camera that I really treated as an expressive tool was a Canon Pro1 (digital) that I purchased at the end of 2004. Using it for the first time reminded me of the same energy and excitement I had felt with my first real set of watercolors.

What made you decide to start a photoblog? What inspired your comeback after the recent hiatus?

Starting in a completely new medium, it's important to have some form of a sketchpad and some level of guidance. I started my photoblog to fulfill both those roles. I was free to experiment as I saw fit, and I got regular feedback/advice from other photographers.

Coming back to photoblogging was always a question of 'when', not 'if'. I missed having a creative outlet during the time I was away from it, and finally just reached a breaking point where I needed to return.

Do you try to stick to an overarching theme, or is your photoblog more of a visual journal?

While I do often try to capture a sense of living in New York City, my only real theme is personal artistic growth. I want to be able to look through my photos and see my style, technique, and work evolve as a whole. I don't mind flipping back and seeing some photos that are absolutely horrible (and there are many), or that deviate wildly from the general New York subject matter. After almost four years, it's still a sketchpad and a work in progress.

Do you enjoy the computer/technical aspect of photoblogging, or is it a source of frustration?

My background is in Computer Science and I thoroughly enjoy the technical aspects. I add new posts through command-line FTP and SQL statements, rather than through a web form. I wrote the first version of my photoblog completely from scratch (in Java), just because I thought it would be fun. I later switched to the Pixelpost platform because it was a lot easier to maintain, but I still like to customize their PHP code wherever I can. It's all about maintaining right brain/left brain equilibrium.

What other internet related photography projects have you participated in?

I was very honored to be featured in the Sept 2005 issue of Photoblogs Magazine [now defunct - ed.] - it gave me a chance to expand on a specific topic near and dear to me. I also participate in Photo Friday regularly, and have had a couple of "noteworthies" there.


What is the best photograph you never took? What is the best photograph by another photographer you wish you had taken?

There was a young couple alone on the promenade near the Brooklyn Bridge a couple of years ago. With the sunset and sweeping bridge in the background, it was quite dramatic. I would have loved to get that photograph.

There are countless images by other photographers that I wish I could claim as my own. At the professional level, Steve McCurry's famous portrait of Sharbat Gula (the "Afghan Girl") remains the gold standard of portraiture for me. At the photoblogger level, an image that comes to mind is "double take", by Dave Martinidez of "new york moments". I probably passed that same giant billboard several times without ever seeing the clever photo that Dave saw in it.


What is the most interesting story about one of your favorite photographs?

One of my personal favorites is All Clear. New York City had just recently opened up access to Governor's Island and after a very rainy week, Yuri and I finally went on a beautiful Saturday morning. The ferry ride over was fantastic and I was very excited about making some photos using an SLR camera for the first time. Of course, the minute we set foot on the island, all hell broke loose in the sky and we were suddenly in the middle of a torrential downpour. We took refuge in an old fort, but I thought I'd lost my beautiful sunny day and the chance to learn to use my new camera.

But these clouds were moving extremely quickly, and about 10 minutes later, we could actually see the storm's edge. I ran towards the water and started shooting furiously - the beautiful cloud edge broke up and was gone in less than 10 seconds. I was new to controlling exposure compensation or metering on this camera and the idea of RAW images was totally foreign to me. The result was an image that may not be technically perfect, but definitely showed me that sometimes it's best to just shoot on instinct and not overthink a scene.

You live in New York City, which presents a plethora of opportunities for photography, have you ever experienced analysis paralysis (e.g. trying to decide between so many photographs that you end up taking none)?. If so, tell us about the situation.

This ties back into that lesson I learned from shooting the All Clear photo. Hesitation will often cost you a great photo, and you simply cannot afford to over-analyze in street photography. That's not to say you shouldn't think about what you're doing, but you just need to think and decide really really quickly. New York City is a visual flood, but my subjects have typically jumped right out at me. Even in cases where there are a lot of potential images, one will usually excite me more than the others, and that is the one I place all my bets on.

Enough about your photography, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Bombay and moved to New York at the age of ten, which was quite a transition. I love spending time with my friends and family, even if (or maybe especially if) we're not doing anything particularly exciting. Rollerblading through Central Park in the fall is one of my favorite activities. I used to paint quite a bit, but not so much recently. I have a short attention span and like to foray into many different pursuits, some of which stick and many which don't.

Favorite guilty pleasure?

I can think of quite a few, but the one I'll share is reading comic books late at night while munching on spicy snack foods.

What is your favorite thing to do when not photographing?

I love traveling and soaking in the feel of a completely foreign place and culture. All the better if it involves some kind of outdoor activity.

Have you had any formal training in photography? If so, what did you find most useful? If not, what advice do you have for others making their own way?

The closest thing I've had to formal training was reading the manual that came with my Rebel XT. Some people do well with structured learning, but I am one that definitely does not.

The biggest piece of advice I would give to other self-learners would be to shoot as much as you can and as often as you can, while experimenting as much as possible. Read up on and really understand the basic principles of photography; and then go shoot as much as possible while applying those principles. Digital frames are free and you can experiment to your heart's content. No one is judging you poorly for seeing what happens when you shoot with a tungsten white balance under fluorescent lighting.

Resist the urge to fall into "equipment envy". If your photographs are not coming out well, focus your efforts on what you are doing wrong. Don't just run out and get more expensive equipment.

Do you enjoy the community aspect of photoblogging? Give a shout out to some of your favorite photobloggers and briefly tell us what you like most about their work (e.g. what keeps you coming back).

The community aspect is one of the things that got me hooked in the first place. Fellow photobloggers provide inspiration, guidance, and sometimes a chance to share the knowledge I have acquired. Some of the sites I visit often:

  • Dawn Armfield, of Inchoate: I consider Inchoate to be almost a sister site to "coup d'etat" in a way. Dawn and I both started photoblogging at around the same time, and have traded a lot of constructive and honest criticism on our images since then. I see Dawn experimenting and constantly refining her technique in much the same way I try to do. [Sadly, Dawn is no longer photoblogging at that site - ed.]
  • Jeff Kirlin, of The Thing of The Moment: I think of Jeff as the photoblog clown, but I mean that in the best possible way. I can always count on being entertained with a visit to his site, even if I'm just poking fun at his photos. The strange thing though is that as soon as the carnival folk come to town, Kirlin's photo skills multiply a hundred-fold. I love the passion and honesty with which he shoots his "carnies" series.
  • Dave Martinidez, of Dave Martinidez Photography: Dave's photos of NYC are terrific. The quality and mood of his work is incredibly consistent, and his sense of exposure is brilliant. Truly one of very few people I know that treat B/W well.
  • Hanneke Meier and Elvi: Hanneke and Elvi have both moved on from photoblogging into full-fledged (and absolutely stunning) professional work. But I still like to browse their portfolios every once in a while, looking for inspiration. Even with heavy processing and studio work, there is a very appealing rawness about their work.

What's next for you and your photoblog?

At any given point, I have about a half-dozen different ideas swirling about in my head for new projects. Once in a while, something actually comes of it, but I never know what that will be or when. But I do know that I'll keep trying to evolve, and that "coup d'etat" is going to continue being my sketchpad.



Post a Comment

<< Home