This week we welcome Rammy Narula, Bangkok-based photographer and member of Burn My Eye Collective. Rammy has been published and featured widely, and he runs photography workshops and coaching sessions. In 2016 he published his very first photobook, ‘Platform 10’.
Hi Rammy, welcome! Can you share something about yourself and your daily life? What does your average day look like?
Hello! Thanks for having me here. I will say my average day isn’t going to sound very exciting, as I try to keep each day the same. Starting the day with breakfast, coffee, a bit of reading, a bit of walking, a bit of meditation. Then the rest of the morning and afternoon depend on what work I have for the day and who I need to see. I like being on the move and not stuck in an office, so my day can sometimes look very random. Evenings I keep for either family or exercise. I like mornings more than night time so I get to bed early if I can help it.
Sounds like a solid structure, even if your activities vary. How and when do you fit photography into your daily life?
Yes, you could say that. I like routines and structures. They make sense to me. I also used to have a dedicated time for photography. For a few years I kept a pretty strict shooting schedule. I’d go out to different locations but it would be around the same time. It started to feel a bit stale though, because I wanted photography to be a part of what I am and what I do rather than something separate from my life. Nowadays I just make pictures wherever I am rather than only shooting at specific time or location.
Did your photography also change because of this change of approach?
Oh definitely. It’s become quieter I think. More personal. My pictures are now more an observation of people and things I notice rather than creations through compositions, if that makes sense.
Can you point to an example of both?
Sure! Let’s start with this one that was made in 2017.
I was at the park that day specifically to make pictures. I saw the Coca Cola sign and was desperate to make a picture with it, so I spent some time around there trying different things. I formed some ideas of what I wanted the final picture to look like and was hoping something would happen to elevate it. Then the boy came out of nowhere while I was composing and I made the shot. It was a situation I had time to think about and was purposeful with and it differs from what I do more often these days.
This one was made more recently, in late 2018. I was playing with my son when I looked out the window and thought I saw a rabbit in the sky. I wanted to confirm I wasn’t seeing things so I told my son to look out the window as well. He was 16 months old at the time but he could already say a few words and knew what a rabbit was. I told him there was a rabbit in the sky and when he saw it he said “‘abbit! ‘abbit!”. I was pretty excited and took this picture with my phone. It was just an observation. Nothing planned.
I still alternate between these two ways of making pictures but the last year or so I guess I have more pictures of this second type. Some I never shared because they’re just pictures of really minor things that I don’t think anyone really cares about.
To what extent does your (online) audience, and its preferences, influence the type of work you make or post?
Hmm. Not so much. There is of course some wish that my audience can identify with my work and appreciate it, but I tend to focus on what I want to create and what I’m inspired by to make my work. Having your audience understand your work is a happy consequence.
What was the first photo you took and liked in a serious way? And can you describe why?
Probably this one that I made in 2012.
It wasn’t my first photo per se, but it was the first one I felt a reaction to. It was during a workshop and we had been looking at photos by Elliott Erwitt an hour prior. I was very excited when I saw this situation and made a photo of it. I didn’t really know what street photography was at the time, but this picture kind of opened that door for me to look further into it.
It’s interesting to see this (now) classical juxtaposition as your starting point. Do you think this was the influence of Elliott Erwitt’s work? And how have you dealt with the influence of other photographers in your work?
I think because it was easy to understand and appreciate in the moment. You see it, it feels funny, and you make a picture of it. I learnt later that it was a pretty common way of making pictures and I used it myself several more times over the years in different ways. But it also made me want to create something that was more about me and less about what I saw from others. My approach started to change and I dealt with my influence differently over time. There were things I appreciated from different photographers and I tried to combine them into something I could call my own. It’s more frustrating, but also at the same time more rewarding too because I was giving myself a bit of a challenge to communicate my voice clearly.
In what way are you communicating your voice, what is it you call your ‘own’?
One of the things that really drew me to street photography early on was the lack of descriptions and titles. I was told that words are unnecessary if you do it right and photographs are meant to “speak” for themselves. It worked for me, because communication was never my strong suit growing up. I had trouble saying things succinctly and photography gave me an opportunity to just show what I’m trying to say. I didn’t need any words to describe what I saw. How I saw it. How I felt. To me the more you can show what you want to in a photograph the closer it is to representing your voice. I think this is so difficult to do, but it is such a good feeling when you can do it.
How do you say something that’s yours and hasn’t been said by other people before you? Or how do you say it differently? These questions keep me going.
You were also featured on StreetRepeat a couple of times. Who do you think about seeing your work next to comparable photos?
I think there’s a fun side to street photography along with its serious side. When you’re out there making photographs and trying to find something that’s yours and yours alone, you are also considering what you’ve seen and what inspires you. Sometimes you see similar situations and you make photographs of them anyway because they remind you of something else you’ve seen. I never deny myself of these opportunities because it can also serve as a way to practice seeing. It can also be fun while you’re looking really hard for the next pot of gold. I find it funny when I see these photographs compared. In some situations I hadn’t realised there were comparable photographs out there before I made them. In some situations I realised they are cliche moments, but I made them anyway. They’re still my observations and it’s nice to see that there are people out there with similar view points, intentional or not. It’s how we connect with each other among photographers beyond just trying to connect with our audience.
I can imagine the feeling. What do you think about the amount of similarities and repetitions in street photography nowadays?
Well one thing for sure, repeating or not, I believe there are way too many photographs online to look at nowadays. And like everything else, the more something is out there, the less value it has to the creators and the viewers. As fun as they may be, I guess the amount of similarities and repetitions we see nowadays does not necessarily help build the value of photography in general. Though I will say it’s helped me spot the different stuff quicker as well. When I’m going through my stream or when I visit exhibitions, I start to appreciate photographers and creators who spend time cultivating a point of view, and put out there their unique perspective on their lives. Those who don’t really care to conform and aren’t just going for the easy stuff. It’s more and more difficult to be yourself and trust your instincts these days so their work feel much more special to me.
Why is it more difficult to be yourself and trust your instincts these days?
Because on an intrinsic level we all want love and understanding. As human beings we long for that connection with the next person, so if you wanted to be loved and understood, why wouldn’t you do what’s already proven to work for others? It’s a surefire way to get that immediate connection. It doesn’t require much for the next person to understand and appreciate what you’ve created, because they’ve seen it before and recognise it. Like a new song that comes out. If it has a beat similar to an old song you like then you’re going to like the new one pretty quickly. But does what you create really speak to what and who you are? Or is it something you create because it gets you what you want right away? That addictive and undeniable instant approval. It’s tough to answer this question honestly without some serious soul searching and self discovery. It’s a tough process because it takes a lot of trust in the process and also in what you find at the end.
That’s true. It’s probably one of the biggest dilemmas faced by most artists out there. So, soul searching it is. Thank you a lot Rammy!
© All the pictures in this post are copyrighted. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.