- By Anshul Raj Khurana
Dimitri has a simple yet fascinating way to capture everyday life. His photographs document emotions such that they tell a complete story. In his introduction page, he has beautifully used a quote to define him as a photographer and I personally resonate to it too. Hence sharing with you all.
John Szarkowski said of Garry Winogrand that “his ambition was not to make good pictures, but through photography to know life”
Anshul- You have studied Philosophy & Psychology; how would you relate
both with Photography?
Dimitri- I would not relate them directly to my photography. But I think there are some common underlying factors or personality traits linking my studies and my photography, for example, a deep sense of curiosity and an interest in other people. I think the kind of photography that one does is related to the type of person one is, and in that sense, my studies (as well as my other life experiences that have molded my personality) inform and influence my photography. For example, I am more interested in photos that have some emotional depth and resonance, not in the type of simplistic visual jokes or “coincidences” that some other street photographers seem to like. Some people who know how I feel about this think it’s because I am too serious or lack a sense of humor, but it’s actually the opposite: I love humor, but I like it to be somewhat more sophisticated, a little more “adult,” because I think that is more respectful to the intelligence of the viewer.
Anshul- Tell us something about your favorite project and how did it come in shape.
Dimitri- I am not sure I have one favorite project, but if I really had to choose only one, I might choose my long-term, ongoing project on New York’s Chinatown. I love this work because in some way it’s been ongoing for almost 12 years now, and I am still not at all bored or tired with it. (Even though I did not know when I first started to photograph in Chinatown that this would become a “project.”) I find it very interesting and challenging to be working for many years in a very confined geographical area, and still try to come up with some new and original photos every time.
Many of my projects have developed organically like this – I did not set out with an idea of a project, but the idea emerged spontaneously when I started noticing that I had been accumulating enough photos that were thematically related to form a coherent and self-contained whole. The same thing happened with my Chinatown work. I had been photographing there sporadically over the years, until finally, it dawned on me that I could start shooting in the neighborhood more systematically, in a more conscious and focused way.
Around the same time, I started noticing that Chinatown was changing very fast and becoming quite gentrified. This gave me an additional sense of urgency and impetus to document this unique and lively neighborhood before it becomes too altered. For me, more than anything, photography has to do with memory and the illusory attempt to arrest the flow of time. Photographing Chinatown gives me the illusory comfort that I am preserving some small fragments of life, protecting them from the passage of time and from oblivion, especially some moments from the experiences of everyday people who are often ignored. And, like I was saying earlier, I also like this project because it proves that there are photographic riches to be found just next door, only within the confines of a small neighborhood - this made me realize that I don’t have to travel around the world to create interesting photos.
Anshul- You have been practicing photography for some good years now, tell us one of your interesting experience while shooting on the streets.
Dimitri-I think the point is that one does not have to have the outstanding experience to appreciate the beauty of the practice of street photography. The process itself is enjoyable, even when it is tedious, or there are no unique “memorable” experiences that stand out. This practice of walking, and observing, and being in the moment, of forgetting oneself and losing oneself in the flow of life around you. For me, it is like a zen practice.
Anshul- I see you play beautifully with light and shadows, tell us, how would you define your style?
Dimitri- I try to not pigeonhole myself or just adopt one definite style, as I think this is constricting and can be destructive to one’s creativity. Having said that, it is true that I have a good appreciation of light, and with practice, I have learned to work quite well with it. But I don’t just look for this kind of picture that plays with light and shadow. In fact, in recent years I have noticed on Instagram that more and more people seem to be producing this kind of street photos with strong areas of light and shadow, but a lot of the time it seems to me that these photos are just formalistic exercises, empty of meaning. It’s not enough to go through the motions and only produce any image with sharp contrasts between patches of light and shadow. I believe that a good photo always needs to balance form with content, in a kind of dynamic equilibrium. Strong form by itself is empty. There needs to be some emotional resonance in the photograph, some meaningful human interaction or gesture or moment, not just any random combination of light and shadow or silhouettes.
Anshul- You have presented your work in a lot of solo shows; exhibitions & awards. What would you suggest our readers and new photographers on how they should go about presenting their work?
Dimitri- I am actually the last person who should be giving advice about this. I have not had that many shows or recognition (at least in the micro-bubble of street photography festivals), and I am not very good at promoting my work or networking. I have very little free time for that, and also I don’t think I have the right temperament. I am never comfortable approaching or befriending people just because they might be able to promote my work. I have the impression that in the street photography world, in particular, many people seem to get ahead because they are very good self-promoters and public-relations specialists, even though they may not be great photographers. Still, my work has achieved some recognition, and that is, in fact, the advice I would have to offer: just do the job, and let your work promote itself. One should remain true to oneself and one’s vision and be prepared to work hard and swallow a lot of disappointment. One should be passionate about the work, not about awards or recognition. And hopefully, if the work itself is good enough, some recognition will eventually follow. Let your work promote itself. Life is short, and it’s more important to spend it doing the work, taking photos, than trying to network and improve oneself.
Anshul- Tell us about your gear. What is your favorite lens and focal length & why?
Dimitri- I firmly believe that the gear is really not important. What matters is the photographer’s eye. If you lack that, even the most expensive gear won’t get you anywhere. Some of my best and most well-known photos were shot with a very basic Nikon D80 camera. However, in recent years, I have been using a Leica, mainly because it is small and feels good in the hand, and it also allows me to zone focus and shoot very fast. But more than anything I like the Leica because it is essentially a manual camera, with very few controls. I have no use for all the fancy menus, programs, etc. of most digital cameras. I like to keep the process simple. As for the lens, for many years I have been only using a 28mm lens, not just because I could not afford a second Leica lens, but also because the 28mm feels ideal to me. I like wide-angle lenses, but a21mm is too wide and gimmicky, and a 35mm not wide enough for me. The 28mm is great, because it offers a pretty wide field of view but not too much distortion. In the past, when I was shooting film with a Nikon FM2, I was also using a 24mm lens, and I loved it. But anything wider than 24mm is too gimmicky. The equipment should allow you to take the photos you want, but it should not call attention to itself as a too-wide lens does.
Anshul- Creative block is a critical phase every photographer goes through. How have you dealt with it; what your suggestions on how to deal with it?
Dimitri- I have never felt this since I started photographing seriously, about 12 years ago. I think being disciplined and hardworking is the best way to avoid a creative block. You have to keep pushing yourself to do the work even when you don’t feel like it when you feel lazy or tired or unmotivated. I have discovered that the world is generous and it will always give you something interesting when you go out there and pay attention.
Anshul- Photography is all about inspiration. Where do you fetch yours from? Any favorite photographers and books & why?
Dimitri- Primarily, I get my inspiration from the outside world, from looking around. Everyday life is fascinating. But of course my gaze has been cultivated, and I have also drawn inspiration from many photographers, painters, and other artists. I watch a lot of films, and I think some of the great directors (such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Wong Kar-Wai, Satyajit Ray, Ozu, Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni, and many others) have taught me how to see as much as the great photographers have. As far as photographers go, my first and greatest inspiration, the one who made me want to become a street photographer, is Garry Winogrand, because he made me realize that you can make exciting photographs out of the most mundane material. I have also been greatly inspired by many others, such as Robert Frank, Ray Metzker, Raghubir Singh, Alex Webb, William Klein, Saul Leiter, Harry Gruyaert and Jens Olof Lasthein.
You can see more of Dimitri's work here.