Photos that defy the visual clichés of Indian life

Photos that defy the visual clichés of Indian life

An inside perspective — Photographer Kapil Das turns his lens on India for his new book Something So Clear – serving up a fun, surreal and multifaceted portrait of his home country.

Through the eyes of Western photographers, India has been reduced to a visual cliché: a place of profound poverty and magical mysticism, brilliant colour and heartbreaking pain. Invariably these innate biases go beyond the frame, and it becomes clear that outsiders fail to understand the character of the nation they are so profoundly drawn to document.

In his new monograph, Something So Clear (Steidl), Indian photographer Kapil Das offers us a look at his native country through the eyes of one who knows exactly where to look, giving us an intimate portrait of India from the inside looking out. His work moves seamlessly between metaphor and document, never occupying a single genre long enough to have categorical thinking define his multifaceted perspectives.

“I think of my photography as unfinished inventories of fragments collected from a world of highly coded surfaces and chronologies,” Das explains. “The camera is used to isolate these things for interpretation and reflection. It is approached with the promise of immediacy and transparency – trying to tell how something looks.”


“However the photographic directness is refracted by the obscurity and uncertain status of what is selected and presented. The subject matter tends to be those fragmentary passages that reside within the mundane – the peripatetic spaces of our lives that we see but often do not notice.”

Das pays close attention to the world in which he lives, discovering the quiet and contemplative, humorous and absurd, poignant and powerful moments that reveal the spaces where the sacred and profane meet, mingle, and merge until each image becomes an evocative meditation on the vagaries of life, reminding us that there is far more to India than meets the eye.

“It’s commonly understood here that there is no one explanation for this country,” Das observes. “Its experience seems to up-end all that you think you know. It can be dramatic and a lot of work done here seems to get carried away by this surface level understanding.”

135-DAS_new 128-DAS

“This place confuses and confounds, and that experience is often not found in the works done here. Photography can perhaps be a way to express that photography is not here to redefine anything but only to experience and record, and maybe leave us some clues.”

These clues come together in Something So Clear, a title that further underscores the paradoxes of life. Das made these photographs over the past decade as a way to record what resonated; the book then became a way to bring those frequencies together and see what connected and fit.

“The photographs I make are a grab at culture or specificity of a locale,” he says. “But finally it is a toned down attempt to make a symbolic gesture of my human situation – though not in any deep philosophical sense.”

“It’s a paradigm I’m interested in. Does it give a deeper or alternative understanding of the Indian state of mind? I sincerely feel this is something for the audience to decide.”


Something So Clear is available now on Steidl.

Follow Miss Rosen on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.