At the Delhi Photo Festival, Mahendra Sinh on His Beginnings in Photography

22 November 2015
Mahendra Sinh
Mahendra Sinh

On 1 November 2015, the biennial Delhi Photo Festival—a non-profit initiative of Nazar Foundation—hosted a series of artist talks. One of these was conducted by Mahendra Sinh, a photographer based in Mumbai. Sinh elaborated on what prompted him to join the field, before moving on to the journey he charted from his hometown, Ujjain, in Madhya Pradesh, to Mumbai. He spoke of the years he spent in editorial photography, and concluded by explaining his decision to move away from commercial work to making pictures for himself. In this interview with Sukruti Anah Staneley, the assistant photo editor at The Caravan, Sinh tells Staneley about his foray into photography, his editorial work and the impact of music on the images he creates.

On his foray into photography:

MS: I had no clue what I’ll do, honestly. Luckily in the last two years of my being in MSc, I had got very excellently involved in photography because fine arts I used to like—I had this temperament. Classical music I used to listen through my father, I got this thing of listening to classical music, Indian classical music. And then I was interested, I was also in a fine arts school and I used to play violin. I went to, couple of years, I learnt violin you know, classical music and violin. So some pictures that I took with my father’s box camera and my cousin’s professional camera—35 millimeter—so those first few rolls, I mean, stunned lot of my friends and people that I could shoot like that. So obviously you feel good about it, so that kind of encouraged me to shoot more and more, and one thing more I must tell you, before that I hated to study in academics. So often, I’ll—instead of going to my university to attend the classes—I’ll cycle down—I used to cycle to my university—and I was like kind of daydreaming person, so I’ll see the beautiful landscape and I would just, university was on the outskirts, so I will get into a very different mood and instead go to the university library, sit there to browse through Life magazine. They used to get there, and it is very surprising that in a small town like mine and in a university that limited, they had Life magazine coming there.

So the moment I finished my masters, I suddenly declared to my father that I want to go to Bombay and do photography. So my father, parents, they were all horrified that I have no experience in photography and how can I suddenly go and do photography in a city like Bombay, where I had no contacts, no one. I had one friend though, with whom I stayed for a month.

So in Bombay, I had no camera also that time. I did weird things; I didn't want to take much money from the house or no money at all. So I used to paint also—so you know I told you—so I painted a miniature. I used to love miniatures, Indian miniatures very much. So you know whatever I had planned, what I’d planned is that I reproduce and make greeting cards out of it and go door to door and sell those greeting cards and raise money for camera. It was a crazy idea, but yes I did that. I went door to door selling those cards and some people were very impressed, some didn't quite understand. So half of the money I raised, for a camera, to buy a camera—those times the cameras were very cheap. So that’s how I got into photography and JS [The Junior Statesman] magazine. I chased JS magazine editor, Desmond Doig, which was phenomenal versatile editor and mountaineer and naturalist and authority on Himalayan art. And I did lot of work which he liked, Desmond Doig, so that’s how it started.

Keywords: Mahendra Sinh photography Delhi Photo Festival