- Perumal Murugan
JCB Literature Prize has an annual collaboration with Vogue India to create an archive featuring the best of Indian writing over the years. They have conceptualized a special series of portraits of the shortlisted novelists by a chosen photographer for the purpose. This year when I was commissioned to make these photographs, I was drawing at similarities in our worlds. I believe that writers and photographers, both work with perseverance, usually over great lengths of time, drawing from their own life experiences, the journey traveled mostly alone.
It was quite a special experience to collaborate with the writers to make their portraits.
The following excerpt is by Sana Goyal in Vogue, India Speaking about her vision for the photoshoot, Khemka said, “The writers are from different parts of the country, with one actually living in Hawaii, and they were all brought in to one location for the photographs to be made. Bearing this in mind, we did not want to give away the city where the photos were made, as that would be misleading. So clearly, in order to keep the location anonymous, I decided to make the portraits indoors and that too in a location that was lending itself to being nondescript,” said Khemka. “It was clear to me that I wanted interesting walls as a backdrop, a room that had a certain character with an old-world charm about it. Having decided this, my whole endeavour was to focus on the writers and bring out a certain nuance in each,” she explained.
And how does one capture arguably the five best writers in India right now? How does one distill the essence of these creators of words into images, and make the pictures then speak a thousand words? “It’s quite simple actually—slow the process down,” said Khemka. “I wanted the writers to see and feel how invested I was in the process of making the portrait, and by doing so, I got them invested as well. I was using a medium format analog camera and made a total of 40 frames each over two hours. This meant that the shutter was pressed only when I felt that I was going to get a moment, and to arrive at that moment meant a certain collaboration between the writer and me. The rest I owe to the beautiful element of chance that photography inherently has.”
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar