Street hawk

Published: 27 November, 2011 09:23 IST | Lhendup G Bhutia |

Well-known street photographer Eric Kim tells us how he shocked the wits out of a Mumbai lady cop

Well-known street photographer Eric Kim tells us how he shocked the wits out of a Mumbai lady cop

On November 5, when Mumbai was seeing its own mini-version of Occupy Wall Street at Dalal Street in South Mumbai, a US citizen of Korean descent was searching the streets for interesting pictures to capture on his camera.  

During Occupy Dalal Street on November 5, Mumbai. Eric Kim
sneaked up to take a candid photograph of a policewoman talking
on her cellphone

Gradually, the crowd gathered, which according to media reports numbered less than 100 in comparison to thousands who had gathered in the US. And then Eric Kim saw it. A policewoman speaking on the phone, but with her hands partially covering her face, making the phone disappear. He went right up to her, and to her shock, picked up his camera, used a strong flash, and photographed her.

For Kim, this is one of his most memorable photographs from India. It is street photography at its best -- concentrating on one single human moment, otherwise mundane and everyday, at a decisive or poignant moment, that makes it something else altogether.

Kim is a 23 year-old Los Angeles-based street photographer who runs a popular blog, and conducts workshops across countries. Having parked himself in India for two weeks on the invitation of well-known city photographer Kaushal Parikh, Kim held workshops on this lesser-known genre of photography with Mumbai's photo enthusiasts. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you get into street photography?
I was about 18 when I started taking photographs with a point and shoot camera. Initially, I clicked everything that caught my fancy: mountains, birds, trees, people, anything. Then I realised that the pictures I had taken of people on the streets were the best. I began enjoying that sort of photography more. From then on, it has always been street photography for me.

A woman caught off-guard while crossing a road in Los Angeles

What is it about the genre that appeals to you?
No other genre can put a viewer in a subject's shoes. It's a form purer than any other. Here, candid human moments from everyday life, whether it's dropping your kid to school or jogging on a stretch of road, are captured in a way that it showcases human conditions. It is less about the image and more about the story behind it. People don't realise it, but it also plays a crucial role in documenting moments in history. Today, a street may look a certain way, but in a few years, it may transform into something completely different.

How suitable are Mumbai's streets for street photography?
They are ideal. What one essentially requires is a subject, or person. And here, there are tonnes of them. So many in fact, that there are too many to choose from. The streets also provide great colours and juxtapositions. Bright yellows and deep reds exist side by side with black and whites. Also, the massive gap between the wealthy and the poor, provides for an unfortunate but compelling contrast. Just the other day, I saw this massive apartment (Mukesh Ambani's Antilla) on Peddar Road, and then there are the slums.

What about the subject, the people?
People here are a lot friendlier than those in other countries. Street photography is often dangerous, because you have to take candid pictures and people don't always like that. So far, no one has been upset with me here. Maybe it's because I am a foreigner, but people here appear nicer. Everyone has always laughed when I have taken their picture. And unlike other countries with strict laws on what one can photograph and not, India is relaxed. In the UK, you cannot take photographs of children due to their paedophilia-related laws. Here, it's all free.

How would you describe your style of street photography?
I will have to quote Robert Capa's (Hungarian photojournalist): "If your picture isn't good enough, you are not close enough." So, often what I do, is I creep up on the subject and without them knowing, take a really close shot using a strong flash. Coming that close, creeping into the subject's zone, you are able to connect emotionally with the individual. You can tell by looking at the pictures, they look open and 'real'. I don't enjoy the zoom. I prefer using a wide-angle lens. It allows the street and its flavour to enter the picture.

Any tips on how to become a street photographer in Mumbai?
For starters, always carry your camera. Ninety five per cent of the time, people come across great moments, but don't have a camera. Like Malcom Gladwell (author of Outliers) said, one needs to spend 10,000 hours doing something to perfect his/her mastery over it. So take plenty of photographs. Mumbai has great images, just walk around a little and you will find plenty to shoot. I spend a minimum of 30 minutes walking every day.
And look out for that decisive moment, say for instance, a young child jumping out of a car.

You can follow Eric Kim's work at

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