I have always thought of street photography as a deeply meditative act. The act of wandering and training yourself to see. I’ve never met Manu Thomas (instagram) but when I first saw his photographs of Bombay, I could see a meditative quality to that exploration. Pages and pages of complex compositions, with such poetic organisation of spaces. Manu Thomas whether in Bombay or Kerala inhabits a perennial Indian suburbia, the India at the edges. I have spoken to him since and he has always struck me as very unpretentious, deeply down to earth, and quite a loner from the looks of it. And all this feeds into his work. So we decided to do a little interview with Manu and talk to him about his photography.
Q. What first drew you to street photography—and how did you discover it ?
MT: I have painted since childhood, until for some reasons I abandoned it completely (around 1998). Between 1998 and 2007 I tried a few times to restart it without success. By the end of 2007, I thought of buying a dslr camera to take hi-res reference photos of the city as an alternative to on-the-spot painting and give painting one last try. My perception of photography used to be that of an inferior art form as it seemed all about receiving, while painting is about creating something from a void. While searching for cameras and pictures, I happened to come across different kinds of photography and a possibility of creativity in photography began to dawn upon me and I saw how challenging but exciting it could be. Like most brand new dslr owners I went through a phase of zoom photography which lasted about 6 months. During this time I came to know about the style of photography called “Street Photography”. Search for practitioners of the genre led me to many contemporary photographers in platforms like flickr. Further searches led me to masters like Raghubir Singh.
Q. What do you actually do for a living ?
MT: I program games for a living.
Q. Who do you become when you walk the streets with your camera ?
MT: Photography is a wonderful sanctuary, it’s solitude a great comfort. I find peace within the bounds of frames. Often it is disappointing and exhausting and confusing, but at the end of every every mis-decision, I hope there awaits a picture. Anticipation of that discovery keeps me walking and makes me wait patiently until the right picture slips out of the folds of time.
It took me a long time to realize how I am related personally to my photography, why I am doing it. It was probably the fascination for a new found passion to begin with. But it was never really clear why I took the pictures I took. Now after almost 6 years, looking at all those photos, I sense a feel of self discovery. Like, photography was a medium I’ve been given to see myself reflected. I believe, in those transient, “pure” moments the shutter you press serves to open the curtain of your mind and if done without any preconceived notions, it can happen only when you connect yourself with what you witness, at an emotional level. A transference of emotion, empathy or joy or fear or disgust or fascination for a place / thing / idea takes place between you and the scene and the photograph is the permanence of that emotion. As a photographer I am lucky to have a record of those fleeting moments of recognition.
Q. Flickr or Instagram?
MT: I am more serious about Flickr than Instagram, as a platform for sharing photographs. Having no website of my own, flickr stream is more like a portfolio for me.
Instagram is more than a picture sharing platform. With minimum processing burdens and other delays, quick and fun without editing complications. I mostly use it to grab a quick snap of something which I find interesting and post it immediately and also to provide continuity for my photography process when I don’t have access to a better camera. I started using it for notifying my flickr posts also recently. It is a great visual exercise tool / visual diary.