STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT

SOHAM GUPTA’S DARK PHO­TO­GRAPHS OF PEO­PLE WALK­ING KOLKATA’S STREETS ARE HAR­ROW­ING AND POIGNANT

India Today - - LEISURE - —Chinki Sinha

SSo­ham Gupta’s por­traits are not easy to see. Their nar­ra­tives are stark—abuse, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, home­less­ness, mad­ness, hunger and even im­pend­ing death. Gupta deftly chron­i­cles Kolkata and its noc­tur­nal wan­der­ers. Now part of the ex­hibit at the 58th Venice Bi­en­nale, the por­traits, ti­tled Angst are all shot at night. They’re full of de­ser­tion and aban­don­ment, of a harsh­ness that lines the mar­gins.

For Gupta, night is a sort of stu­dio. “Night is when I feel re­ally com­fort­able and also with dark­ness. With its prom­ise of a sort of in­vis­i­bil­ity, it al­lows some peo­ple to haunt the streets, while oth­ers go home,” he says. Gupta’s bru­tal flash ex­poses those who would re­main in­vis­i­ble if it weren’t for his cam­era.

The 30-year-old Gupta started

work­ing on Angst in 2013. He has had panic at­tacks af­ter hear­ing the har­row­ing sto­ries of some peo­ple he has clicked, es­pe­cially of one HIV-pos­i­tive, schiz­o­phrenic girl who was been raped re­peat­edly. All of Gupta’s sub­jects are peo­ple he is drawn to emo­tion­ally. Though he has worked else­where, Gupta chooses to re­main in Kolkata. “Cal­cutta is my muse. It never fails me.”

De­spite the fact that his works are dis­played be­side greats in Venice, Gupta staunchly re­sists the ‘artist’ tag. “Pho­tog­ra­pher sounds bet­ter,” he says. Speak­ing about his sig­na­ture style, Gupta says, “I pre­fer that my pic­tures give no con­text. The dark night helps me erase con­text al­to­gether, with the flash sin­gling out peo­ple. Why peo­ple on the mar­gins? It’s be­cause I’ve been on the mar­gins my en­tire life.”

Gupta suf­fered chronic asthma as a child. An­tibi­otics and steroids did lit­tle to cure him of fragility. “To make mat­ters worse, I was abused sex­u­ally by some­one I trusted. These trau­mas from child­hood led to the break­down in col­lege,” he says. Af­ter he dropped out of Ja­davpur Univer­sity in 2008, pho­tog­ra­phy came to his aid. “The first work I did once I was emo­tion­ally bet­ter, was a por­trait se­ries on the home­less. Men­tally dis­turbed peo­ple liv­ing a hellish ex­is­tence,” he says. Even now, it’s the out­casts he first be­friends. Seen walk­ing with a cam­era at night, Gupta says it’s only the elit­ists who ask him if he is afraid.

Pho­to­graphs from Gupta’s (far left) Angst se­ries

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