Interview with Sachin Khona

Interview with Sachin Khona

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Sachin Khona interview cover

Streethunters.net provides a great platform for showcasing the work of many street photographers from all around the world, be they famous and well known masters,  up-and-coming photographers, or even lesser known lights who have flown under the radar. Through sharing their work online in our Facebook group on Flickr, and by participating in our monthly themed street photography contests, photographers have a great opportunity to get their work out there and give us as editors and you our readers and fellow street photographers the fabulous experience of being able to enjoy great street photos every single day. But even with all these ways of sharing your work with us, there’s still a lot of great street photography work that we don’t get to see, which is why we always welcome you guys dropping us an email from time to time, letting us know what you’re up to, and showing us some of your street photos. And that’s exactly what Sachin Khona, a Vancouver based wedding photographer and member of street photography collective The 8 Street, did, when he asked us to take a look at the street photos he’d produced after his month in India. We really enjoyed looking through Sachin’s India street photos, and we figured that many of you would too, so we asked Sachin if he’d like to take part in an interview to discuss his street photography, and much to our delight, he said yes! So get ready to dive into Sachin Khona’s exclusive interview with Streethunters.net…

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  1. Tell us about your photography story – I gather you’ve come from a wedding photography background. How did you get interested in street photography, and how long has it been a passion?

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to get an early taste for travel from my parents and through the influence of an uncle and a few lessons in composition, my interest [in photography] was sparked.

I’m not quite sure how I got interested in Street photography. I’ve always been interested and curious about people and life on the streets in general. Having access to people’s lives and documenting these things, taking the odd portrait or slither of light or details. I still shoot all these things but what I mostly share is the ‘street’ photography images that are spread throughout this post.

I used to mostly shoot film when travelling (pre 2003/4) but when digital cameras came out my education greatly increased and during a solo trip to South East Asia in 2007/8 my main focus was people and the streets.

Annually since I’ve taken trips where I know there will be an abundance of life on the streets and culture unlike my own, where I will be tested (photographically and personally). Being invited to be a part of ‘The 8 Street’ [a street photography collective made up of wedding photographers] was a huge lift and kick in the arse to work even harder on my street photography.

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  1. Did the work of any street photographers influence you during this trip to India? Some of the compositions and colours are somewhat reminiscent of Alex Webb!

That is a huge compliment. Thank you. I adore Alex Webb and his work – his use of light and colours as well as composition and layering is definitely a huge influence.

However I’m also hugely inspired by others within The 8 Street. Their skill level, feedback and critique continue to keep pushing me to be better. Special mention and gratitude to cosmic brother Ross Harvey for his guidance, insights and positivity over the many trips we’ve taken together.

Other street photographers I greatly admire include Henri Cartier Bresson (obvi’), Steve McCurry, Joel MeyerowitzVivian Maier and Elliott Erwitt to name but a few.

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  1. Tell us about your camera setup – is this your usual street photography rig and focal length, or one you chose specifically for your India trip, and if so, why?

My work over the last few years has mostly been with the Nikon D750 + 35mm 1.8 (previous to that the Canon 5D Mark III and 35mm 1.4 (I’m not shy of using larger bodies) and before that the Canon 5D2 or the tiny EOS M and 35mm equivalent lens.)

I recently used the Fuji XT2 and 23mm lens in Rome and this is my new go to set up. It’s exactly what I need for street.

35mm is the perfect focal length for me. Everything I see and experience is at this length. Especially on the streets.

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  1. While not a huge combination by any means, a full frame DSLR is a little larger than some street photographers might prefer. Did this mark you out as a tourist, or did it not bother you anyway?

I definitely am a tourist in any country I visit. I embrace it and just roll with it. The gear isn’t as important as the attitude you take with you when out on the streets. Having inherited Indian roots, it’s always going to be hard for me to blend into say Cuba, Germany, Turkey etc. Even in India, the way I walk and dress, shaved head and beard, I don’t look like the typical Indian, ha!

So it doesn’t bother me. I’m always going to look like I don’t belong but I am human so I try and stay positive when I walk the streets and simply smile and be open. Thank you Rossco for that tip. It’s been huge.

There’s no need to be fearful or afraid when on the streets, it doesn’t serve you in any positive way.

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  1. Describe your technical approach for us – auto and program modes or full manual? Zone focus or autofocus?

I keep things pretty simple. Aperture Priority mode (I rock exposure compensation) and Autofocus. I shoot at small apertures so most things are usually in focus.

I would shoot manually if the light is consistent but I walk a lot and get lost in thoughts and compositions and moments – the light can change quickly and the last thing I want to do is figure out settings while a moment unfolds in front of me.

Aperture Priority for the win!

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  1. I noticed you shot this trip with a friend. Is that normal for you, or are you more of a lone wolf on the streets? Or a mix of the two?

Most of my street trips over the last few years have been with photographer friends, but prior to that they would be with family or friends.

After joining The 8 Street, 4 of us decided to do a longer trip to Asia and our first trip was to Myanmar. Our unofficial collective name is Myanmen. The four are Kristian Leven, Matt Tyler, Ross Harvey and myself.

Since this trip, the 4 of us have been to Cuba together and the latest trip to India was Ross and I.

When on the the streets we usually either pair up and then find areas to work individually, meeting back up after 45 mins or an hour. And repeat.

In India, Ross and I would work really well together being in similar areas, but we would never be in each other’s way and respectful of the others space. So many great memories from India. I can’t wait to go back.

Overall I feel I’m a better photographer solo but I love the connections made when walking the streets together and the banter. Shooting solo the whole day is tough but very meditative for me so it has its benefits.

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  1. Several of these shots look meticulously arranged. Are you an instinctive and fast street photographer – or a slow and patient one? In your face, or super sneaky and subtle? Are you the kind of photographer to patiently wait in one location for ages and ages until you get the shot you want? Do you grab a single shot, or shoot several frames of a similar composition or site?

All of the above?

My method is to just walk. I’m fairly patient and try to stay as open as possible to see moments around me unfold. The more I walk, the more inspired I get. It may be a whole morning or afternoon until I find my flow for the day. And I’ve got better at dealing with that. I’d like to also work on my patience, staying in one spot and really working it.

I feel like mostly I am friendly sneaky + subtle. I engage with the community I’m around so they usually are aware that I’m shooting. I don’t just grab a photo and leave. I hang around, shoot different things (not always street, a texture or detail may inspire me and I’ll photograph it) and ultimately the people around me become the subject of my frame and work their way into a street image.

Sometimes however, I may find some light and a scene that needs a subject to fill it. I’ll wait until something or someone interesting enters the frame but this isn’t as much of my style.

Finally, when I know the perfect moment is about to line up I’ll shoot several frames. I use digital cameras so I may shoot around the arc of a moment and maybe even past it a little. That way I’m confident I’ve got the frame that I could see in my mind’s eye.

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  1. It was interesting to see an evolution of your style from your trips over the last few years. You visited Myanmar 2 years ago, then Cuba and now India. In that time your composition has become much more meticulous, graphical and minimalist, and your use of colour more powerful. Is this something you’ve been conscious of, or has it been instinctive?

Honestly, being surrounded by an incredible set of photographers within The 8 Street and Myanmen, you can’t help but to grow your style and vision.

My first 5 or 6 days of street photography in Cuba wasn’t great return wise. I had it in my mind to try and improve on Myanmar but things weren’t working out. The moment I let go of any expectations and stopped forcing images to work and ‘be better’ than the previous trip, things started falling into place.

I’m over the moon with the images I took in Cuba and the lesson of letting go and being in the moment is a huge takeaway for me from that trip. It’s something I try to channel more and more. In India I found my groove far quicker.

  1. What’s your favourite photo from those you shot on your India trip? And why is that? Does it have a story?
Sachin Khona interview 'Haridwar Dreams'
‘Haridwar Dreams’ by Sachin Khona

This is by far my favourite image from the trip. Haridwar is an incredible place, very spiritual and many Indians go to the River Ganges to offer prayers, bath etc.

Simultaneously there is a lot of poverty. People on the sides of the Ganges begging for food or money, living in awful conditions and have experienced incredible pain. You can see it in their faces.

I noticed one man in the river, going against the flow, head down with goggles on and a large broken piece of glass in one hand, and a stick in the other, fighting the current and working his way up. Instinctually I captured it the way I saw it and then he became my subject as I tried to layer in other scenes around him. But it t wasn’t quite working.

Every now and again he would come up for air and I noticed his mouth was full of coins. At the end of the stick was a magnet he used to collecting coins on the river bed, storing them in his mouth and giving it to a young girl, possibly his daughter, waiting on the banks of the river.

As I continued to work my way around Haridwar, I ended up noticing a different man working his way upstream, as I stood on top of a bridge. This is the resulting image.

I love this image because of the weirdness behind it. Out of context and without the backstory I feel it looks very odd but beautiful. Dream like.

  1. Tell us about The 8 Street photography collective you’re part of. It looks like you all meet up together and shoot photos in various cities which must be great fun!

Yes. A ton of fun, lots of banter and a solid crew.

We hit different parts of the streets each day, meet up for lunch and dinner and repeat.

Each evening we edit our selects, review and discuss images, drink wine and listen to the best music. This is where most of my evolution probably comes from. Reviewing the images with everyone, seeing what they captured, discussing areas we visited and critiquing each other’s images is huge for our growth. I love these moments.

Personally this is where I would set goals for the next day, visualise myself achieving those things and then wake up the next morning, letting go of all expectations and seeing what the world brings me that day.

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  1. 8 Street photography is an interesting concept – a group of wedding photographers as street photographers. Do you think wedding photographers have an advantage in this genre? Arguably a wedding photographer’s ability to work quickly under pressure and grab lots of candid shots of strangers is a huge help in street photography!

Yes. Definitely. Wedding photography (great wedding photography and storytelling) isn’t easy. You have to be fully present, in the moment, reactive and open to seeing things before they unfold in front of you.

Of course there is a timeline and a structure to the day but anticipating moments between the couple and their family and friends is a great skill. And training your eye to see things line up helps your street photography and vice versa. The more you shoot (weddings or street), the better your eye becomes.

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  1. Of all the locations you’ve travelled to so far for your street photography, which has been your favourite? And why would you recommend that place for fellow street photographers? And on the flipside, have any locations been harder to shoot in – a nightmare for awkward situations or confrontations?

India. 100% is by far the best place I’ve been too. Diverse, interesting, weird, chaotic, peaceful, painful, blissful. It has everything. If you haven’t been, you should go.

Cuba too. As I mentioned earlier, it was initially hard, but I think I found my rhythm in Havana later.

I’d like to head back to Turkey, in particular Istanbul.

Harder areas:

Cuba [see above]. I found certain areas either very quiet without much activity or mega touristy. Rome was difficult too for the same reason. But I learnt a lot from both these experiences and on the flipside the food, wine and history in Italy was amazing.

In all the places I’ve been to, I haven’t had any major confrontations. Safety is always a priority but not to the point of fear. (I’m more afraid of insulting someone or their culture or accidentally trespassing, than I am say of getting robbed. Ha!)

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  1. Where to for you next? What new projects are on the horizon? Any more trips planned?

Japan solo or with the Myanmen.

Budapest with The 8 Street.

Other Projects: Vancouver – It’s home and an area I need to work on more. I’ve been inspired to shoot here after the trip to Rome.

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Want to See More of Sachin Khona’s Work?

If you want to check out more of Sachin’s street photos from India, Cuba, Myanmar, Istanbul and more, make sure you visit the street photography category of Sachin Khona’s website.

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