Mahesh Balasubramanian is one of the best amateur street and travel photographers in India. His excellence in portrait, street and travel photography has won him many prestigious awards and mentions. Most of his street work portrays normal people with their eyes glimmering with hope and passion for life, no wonder his portraits speak with the viewers and tell their narratives. Mahesh shoots mostly in ambient natural light and intends to capture the emotions of the individual and atmosphere. His street photography has a layered structure and it’s packed with subtle humour at times. Mahesh lives and works in Chennai, South India.
This feature exhibits the diversity of his work. The cover photo above won Mahesh the prestigious 1x Photo Award in 2013 and it speaks of itself with its intensity. A short Q&A with him about his photography and influences is below:
My name is Mahesh and I am from Chennai, India. I am a software professional and a self-taught amateur photographer. I have been taking pictures more than 8 years now. I love people and street photography. I shoot close portraits and trying to capture daily life on the street. I learn day by day through watching pictures of master photographers and by trying to produce better picture.
I never thought I would get into serious photography until 2008. I started photography in 2008 to stress out the hectic corporate life. But, then it becomes serious passion.
Your journey in the world of photography has been fantastic with so many awards and honourable mentions in a relatively short span of time. How does it feel like after gaining a lot of recognition and how did it affect you and your work?
I think 8 year is really short span of time in photography or any arts to get some kind of recognition. I must say, most of time, I was lucky enough to get such recognition / awards. But all these recognition really motivates to do better works. Apart from this, these awards or publication do not really affect my photography or self. Even If I don’t get awards, I would have continued photography. Moreover, I don’t take pictures to get awards or publications. Sometimes, it just happened to get published or getting some awards / recognition.
You’ve been shooting portraits, still life, landscapes, architecture, travels and a lot of versatile stuff. What do you like shooting most and what type of photography is really very close to your heart?
If you want me to choose one thing which fascinates me to shoot, it’s people photography. I love to take people portraits and their daily life. Portraiture is very close to my heart.
Photography has taken you to perhaps all corners of India. Being a South Indian, what/how is our experience of shooting in other parts of India, specially the North. Which places in North India did you enjoy shooting most?
I have visited few states in North India (Rajasthan, UP), North East states (Assam & Meghalaya), West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. Each state has different culture and activities. There’s a lot to learn from people living in a culturally diverse country like India. I really enjoyed shooting in Varanasi because of its simple life style and culture.
I don’t think there is a single approach that suits me. For example, I don’t plan anything for capturing street moments. It is pure instinct. But when it comes to portraits, I do plan a little. I prefer an interesting backdrop or a dark background for my portraits and sufficient available light.
At a glance, the face tells a story. Anything conveyed by the undercurrent of emotion is character. I mostly take close portraits. I watch people and their character. If I find something unique or something special about their eyes or their gestures or expressions, I approach them. I do a little plan before taking portraits. I look for better environment and lighting conditions.
What photography equipment (camera, lenses, software) do you use and why? I guess you also took up film photography lately. What is your perception and understanding of this medium? I’d also like you know your preferences into editing your work.
Basically, I don’t believe that shooting with high quality camera creates amazing pictures. Camera is just a tool for me. I use different kinds of cameras / media now. I have Ricoh GR for capturing day to day pictures. I use a Canon 5D Mark III and 100mm lens for portrait works. I also use 35mm and 6×6 medium format film cameras.
I took up film photography in 2014. I have used film long back and it was not new to me. I mostly shoot with Black and White film which gives me the results I expect. I will continue to shoot in film whenever possible. As of now, I use 35mm and 120mm films. There is a lot of learning while doing film photography and I keep learning day by day.
My editing is very simple. For black and white pictures, I try to see good balance of white and black in my pictures and for colors I try to get all areas properly exposed. I use Lightroom / Adobe Camera Raw / Photoshop for my editing.
I love contemporary works and there are some great photographers who do fantastic contemporary works in all kind of genres. I think Indian photography is going to a right direction and the number of photographers is constantly growing. There is a lot of exposure for photographers these days than earlier because of internet and social media.
I am not a commercial photographer. So, I can’t comment about making photography a career. I also don’t mind about monetization of my work. I really don’t shoot for monetization / awards / publications.
What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, aspirations etc.?
I do have some plans but nothing concrete as of now. I would like to continue my photography and I need to take more photos & travel a lot.
I admire the work and get inspired by many masters like Henri-Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Raghu Rai, Raghubir Singh, Trent Parke, Alex Webb and Martin Parr. I also get inspiration from many contemporary photographers.
Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:
Believe in-yourself and keep taking pictures.