|Ryan Paul Lobo
|SHAI HEREDIA: Do
you feel that making documentaries with National
Geographic has influenced your personal photography
of people and social structures in India?
Yes, in some ways it has. But National Geographic
Television itself has had nothing to do with it.
The experiences I’ve had with different cultures
and places have.
I come from an upper middle class background, well
off, privileged. Having left this nutshell, having
travelled to all those countries making my films
and experiencing all those different circumstances
and versions of humanity, one begins to see things
differently once one is back home. The world grows
larger and one grows smaller. One becomes more aware
of one’s own mortality and the smallness,
if you will, of one’s community and its history.
I had the opportunity to field-produce a film on
an American supermax prison in Minnesota.
It was one of the most soulless spaces I’ve
experienced. A place with very little hope for most
of its inmates. The prison guards seemed just like
the people from my neighborhood — my parents,
friends, neighbours. They went to church, supported
their families, then went to work within the gigantic
walls of a super secure prison where most of the
inmates “just happened” to be black.
The prison, strangely enough, reminded me of my
neighbourhood in Bangalore.
The prisoners — black, Native American, and
Hispanic, mostly —lived in some kind of limbo,
in a world without hope. Once one is part of the
prison system in the USA, it’s very difficult
to get out.
In India, we live within different walls and the
bricks are our histories and class and caste structures.
I look at neighbourhoods I come from and see how
removed they are from other economic classes and
So, such were the parallels that I observed. In
the same way, in India, most of my friends are upper
middle class or middle class - I identify
with them, empathize with them. We rely on our communities
and families a lot in India for protection and support.
Communities are very strong forces here and they
are separated by invisible walls. What’s interesting
to me is that these different histories and philosophies
live with each other, independently, alongside and
mostly oblivious to each other.
So, yes, my travels do make me see all these lines
far more clearly. When I travel and immerse myself
in a story, I begin to see all these other systems
and societies in other places. And then I come back
and, all of a sudden, I start noticing how things
are different. I see things I’ve never seen
before and I realize I am a part of it all and that
I am not really as socially independent as I imagine
myself to be. It’s sometimes painful but liberating
|SHAI HEREDIA: Your
home city — Bangalore — has clearly
been a significant character in your personal photography.
Stylistically, can you compare the recent series
“Traffic” with the earlier “Koshys”?
|RYAN LOBO: Koshys
restaurant seems to have remained a constant in
a very fast evolving city. It represents a Bangalore
that has long disappeared. And the attraction to
Koshys, for many old Bangaloreans, is nostalgia
— the colonial-era bearers, silver pots of
tea, high ceilings, the menu — these don’t
really exist anywhere else anymore. Sometimes I
think that pouring yourself a cup of tea in Koshys
is a retreat from what seems to be chaos outside.
When the “old” Bangaloreans disappear
into the ether, Koshys will too or perhaps it’ll
be the other way round.
Bangalore is changing fast and not just architecturally.
Hungrier people are at the door. People from all
over the country are moving here for work and a
better life. At one time, I would think I knew everyone
who belonged to a certain English-speaking class,
if you will. Now it’s very different. Billboards
dot the roads; the traffic jams are horrendous and
beneath all these ads for products most people cannot
afford, the vast majority of Bangaloreans, the lower
economic classes, walk and ride to work every day.
I was surprised at the violence after the death
of the Kannada actor, Dr Rajkumar. It was unbelievable!
And what intrigued me was where this came from.
I don’t think it had anything to do with the
man but more to do with the vast majority of Indians
awakening now, with whatever’s on offer, to
a state of mind where they want more.
Koshys and what it represents will be the first
casualty of that awakening.
|SHAI HEREDIA: Do
you prefer to shoot digital or 35mm? Do you make
an aesthetic or practical choice when you decide
to shoot in one format and not the other?
|RYAN LOBO: I
shoot mainly 35mm, but it depends on the project.
I believe that the impact a photograph has on a
viewer is most important. It depends on what you
want to achieve with your images. I’ve seen
images shot with point-and-shoot digital cameras
that were amazing. Some photographers own the most
expensive cameras but take terrible images.
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