new delhi, india
Tanvi Mishra is a freelance photographer and curator based in New Delhi, India. She is part of the photo-editorial team of PIX Quarterly, a publication and exhibition space looking at contemporary photographic and literary practices in South Asia. She is also part of the curatorial team for the Delhi Photo Festival, India’s first photography festival, as well as on the team for Travel Photo Jaipur, a yearly photography festival inspired by the idea of wanderlust.
In portfolio reviews you usually have 20 minutes to show who you are as a photographer. What would you tell about yourself in those 20 minutes?
My initial understanding of photography was limited to photojournalistic practices and straightforward issue-based documentary photography. However, it made perfect sense. My prior background in social sciences allowed my interest to automatically move towards social issue based work as those were the narratives I understood best. My interest still lay in stories surrounding women, marginalised communities, issues of migration, the cost of development in the East, and so on. It was just that my medium had shifted from academia to image making. I began practicing as a freelance photographer in New Delhi, India.rnrnMy interests and expectations from the medium have shifted by leaps and bounds. I have veered away from photojournalistic practices, not to take away from it any of its merits but I am now interested in new forms and innovative storytelling methods, some that may make you question the medium itself. I often switch between the roles a practitioner and a curator.
Which artwork has influenced you the most? Why?
Darcy Padilla’s The Julie Project is definitely one of the works that stayed with me for a long time. It is quite incredible how this project shaped the life of the photographer as well as her relationship with the subject, considering their interaction lasted 17 years. The story is such a heartbreaking, but an honest tale of grappling with addiction and at the same time acknowledging the person as a loving human being and mother. It really shows the power of photography, and how Padilla’s making of these photographs also affects Julie’s relationship with her husband. It moves away from the idea of the ‘invisible fly on the wall’ approach, and the photographer herself becomes a subject in her own story.
What do you find the most challenging in your career as curator?
One of the most challenging parts of being a young curator is to dismiss the notion of power associated with being one of the disseminators of work. As I walk the line between being a practitioner and a curator, often the challenge is to switch roles between the two and work with my contemporaries in a different capacity. The idea of practitioners assuming curatorial roles is, for me, to break the notion that curators are the gatekeepers of the industry.
If you could take your career in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, what new thing would you try?
It would be interesting to see the entire industry turned around with the ‘Eastern’ nations being the centres of power and defining the mainstream narrative. Now the industry is American and Euro-centric.
If you could be photographed by any photographer in any place, by whom and where would it be?
My answer would undoubtedly be Raghubir Singh, one of the most prolific masters of colour photography. If I were to be photographed by him, I would have loved it to be in the city of Bombay.
What makes an outstanding image?
An image that manages to conceal parts of itself when one looks at it for the first time, and yet intrigues the viewer to return to it with the hope of uncovering a new facet. Photographs that give away too much too soon, while they can be great for documentation, don’t excite me very much.
How do you give constructive feedback?
In today’s world where everyone is constantly making images, one has to break the norms of what qualifies someone as a ‘photographer.’ With the plethora of imagery that we are surrounded by, it is easy to become numbed by images. So when one is looking at work, even if the story has been told before, I urge photographers to find innovative ways of telling the same story. It always helps to show them work which tackles similar subjects to see how the same story may have been told in different ways. It is also so important for one to find their own voice, and that voice may differ from project to project. I always ask the photographers: “Why should I remember your photographs, having looked at close to 100 images every day? What will you do to make me remember?”
How has photography influenced you as a person?
It has allowed me to understand various socio-cultural and political situations, with a deeper insight, especially in the South Asian region. Looking at work emanating from Iran and Pakistan, or the lack of (local) work from a country like Afghanistan, tells a lot about the socio-political scenario in the country. It also tells about how censorship, and in some cases self-censorship, comes to define the work of individuals or even entire artist communities in the region. Photography affords us a micro look into a lot of these subjects, and with its subjective nature, the viewer can imagine or create her own narrative. I feel it has the potential, in many cases, to question the notions of truth and mainstream rhetoric, by virtue of this subjectivity of interpretation.
Three rules for every photographer?
Find a story that deserves to be told. Think of photography like cinema or music, some of the most memorable acts came from what seemed like outlandish experiments at the time. Don’t let the ‘documentary’ nature of images stop you from a wild imagination – there is great room within it to play with ideas and find innovative storytelling methods.
What would you like to see as a curator?
A lot more work that teases the idea of fiction and challenges the notion that photography is a purveyor of truth. I am interested in looking at work that makes us question what the ‘truth’ within photography is.