Interview by Ekaterina Khaletskaya, based in Moscow
Pinaki Chakravarty, 33, is a photographer, writer and designer currently based in Switzerland. For the last 10 years, he has traveled around the world to capture marginalized stories: the quiet French villages; the Bedouins of Oman, Kuwaiti turtles and Russian grandmothers. Pinaki Chakravarty Official Website
Pinaki got out of his Jeep, parked on a small sandy road, and stepped into Muscat’s heat. We are about to do a little hiking tour around his favorite hills outside Muscat where he lived for five years. He said he didn’t miss the place but during our hike he carefully remembered the way and stopped often to observe the view: brown hills lit up by the evening sun, scattered dwarf trees stretching their dry limbs, which run parallel to the earth, and a few clouds decorating the pink horizon.
Pinaki Chakravarty, 33, is a photographer, writer and designer currently based in Switzerland. For the last 10 years, he has traveled around the world to capture marginalized stories: the quiet French villages; the Bedouins of Oman, Kuwaiti turtles and Russian grandmothers.
We caught up during Pinaki’s visit to Oman and talked about his light bulb moment on his Muharram Procession assignment in Bombay, his inspiration for photography and the meaning behind his name.
Art Zeen: How did you start pursuing photography and writing?
Pinaki Chakravarty: I grew up traveling with my parents and reading National Geographic and books about the world. I always dreamt of traveling to distant places and being with people who had nothing to do with me. It was always the experience that I was after – not pure photography, or writing. They are just tools. I started shooting architecture and portraits in college with my parents “point-and-shoot” camera.
Art Zeen: What was your first assignment like?
Pinaki Chakravarty: I was shooting blindly for many years before I got my first assignment where I had the moment of my life. I was requested to shoot the Muharram Procession practiced by Shia Muslims in Bombay. The shooting had to be done at night, in the middle of the crowds whipping and cutting themselves. They do this to recreate and experience the pain from a battle fought centuries ago.
Art Zeen: What did you learn from that assignment as a photographer?
Pinaki Chakravarty: To focus on individuals rather than everything. The entire street was full of vendors selling knives, as well as people buying the knives to cut themselves. There were hundreds of people and millions of things going on, and I wanted to shoot everything. But I had to stop my naive enthusiasm and focused on the knife sharpener who had the most character. You have to use a single subject as a metaphor for many others. Photography is all about this: throwing things out rather than including them.
Art Zeen: How did your tagline ‘because the best stories are our own’ come to you?
Pinaki Chakravarty: It came to me without my trying. Over time, I realized that one is always dreaming of traveling to faraway places and meeting exotic people who have spectacular stories (all of which I did), but the fact is that everyone has a story, and you are surrounded by people wherever you are. And sometimes the best stories are the simplest ones because they have truth in them, and because no one has ever wanted to listen to them.
Art Zeen: Which story has influenced you the most?
Pinaki Chakravarty: I did many stories in Oman: the desert and the mountains, the Bedouin and the mountain tribes, and their ways of life. But I am currently working on a very important project, which I call the Loneliest Village in France. I am documenting the lives of people whose villages are dying out. These villages are far away from the bright lights of Paris. The village I focus on had maybe 100 people a couple of generations ago, and now it only has 8. I am trying to tell its story.
Art Zeen: What is your favorite question to ask people?
Pinaki Chakravarty: I don’t have a favorite, but there’s a question I started asking in Oman – what does the name of your village mean? Most would think it’s silly: the standard answer is it doesn’t mean anything – it just is. But everything comes from something, and somewhere, and even the little settlements of a few huts in an Omani mountain or desert get their names from the people and the land.
Art Zeen: What does your name mean?
Pinaki Chakravarty: My name means the destroyer of the world. Yes, it sounds crazy but it’s meant in a good way: it’s also the name for the Hindu god Shiva, who destroys the universe so that everything can start afresh. Hindus believe in the circle of time and that the end of an age leads to the beginning of a new one, just like the hours and days we construct today. The name was chosen because it sounded cool, I presume. My family wasn’t religious. I don’t believe in God, or reincarnation, or anything else.