Interview Series: Manjari Sharma

NYC-based photographer Manjari Sharma‘s images evoke a combination of emotions when viewing them. You feel a sense of mystery and serenity at the same time, as well as an intimate connection with the ‘real people’ that she photographs. Manjari’s images, which draw a fine line between portraiture and fine art, expertly illustrate her interest in personal relationships and mythology. Her work is captivating, to say the least, so we wanted an interview. We finally caught up with the jet-set photographer, and this is what she had to say:

LF: There seems to be a water theme in a lot of your images. What is it about water that inspires you?
MS: Visually, water has always moved me. Whether it was light on a body of water or a street wet by the rains that fell on it, I was always drawn to it.  Ironically though in spite of the fascination for water, I cannot swim. I’ve always been amazed watching people turn into fish when they are enveloped in water. Over and above that, in the Indian culture, holy water of the Ganges River has a great significance. As it is said, it washes away your sins. I’ve always known that as a concept but intriguingly a culmination of all of the above sentiments for water serendipitously came together in a few projects in the recent past. In a strange unplanned way, the water series was a macro look at the relationship of people with the water and the shower series was a micro look at the same.

LF: In your shower series you said referred to each protagonist and new plot as “a new parable of hurt and heroic.” This is a strong statement. Please explain.
MS: The project was about inviting people to come into my shower but interestingly as people showered it almost felt as if it were a confessional. As soon as the water hit their faces and bodies, they started to relax and would often discuss intimate things like relationships with their parents, love lives and moments of their childhood, or life lessons that you wouldn’t share at a bar or another public place. The way I looked at it, they were all parables… short stories with morals and lessons, some about pain and suffering and others emerging as heroes in their own right. It was as if I was meant to get these little sermons from people that were stories of survival and love.

LF: You traveled in India, your homeland, for six months. How does going back to your roots influence your image making?
MS: Interestingly I am filling out this interview, driving in a car on the roads of Mumbai where I can currently see to my left a woman in an ornate Indian outfit at an lounge playing pool and to my right a young boy perhaps 12  years old dressed as a lord shiva working the streets for some quick bucks. But lets not miss the Mercedes that’s fast approaching the traffic light and the cow that stands in it’s way while a stunning looking Bollywood couple crosses the street to sit down at the make shift Chinese food cart that serves the most memorable lo mein. India is chaotic, crazy, thrilling and unexpected. Things are changing here, sometimes almost too soon. I like it when patterns of life change… they force you to adapt and be ready for anything.

LF: You have worked with well-known photographers Steve McCurry and Eric Ogden. What do you take away from these experiences?
MS: A lot, resilience and persistence from Steve Mccurry and from Eric it was certainly planning and he is incredible at Yoga and really knows how to keep his center on shoots. But beyond all of that Eric is a great mentor, he really takes the time to give you honest critiques and help you hear your own voice better, just a genuine person, I have great admiration for him.

LF: You say in your philosophy “The whole time as we chase answers through our photography, it’s incredible to see that the answers in fact lie within our very own photos.” Can you elaborate on this?
MS: Sure, our greatest education lies within our images. If we take the time to look, stare and learn. I feel if we spent the time understanding our own work better it would help us grow as artists greatly. Every good image is a true self portrait as they say, which means the best image is often one where we being the truest to ourselves; Creating what we feel the greatest sense of belonging to is often our strongest work and that’s where that statement stems from.

LF: You are quite the prolific writer on your blog, you seem to be able to support your photography with a strong voice. What does writing offer you in your work?
MS: Writing, I have learned is immensely important for the health of a project. It helps you flush out what your are thinking, helps you mold your thoughts, give them a dimension they didn’t possess. Usually ideas sort of feel very 2d until they are put in writing and then they start to become three dimensional because they some how get real. It has helped me become a lot more articulate and also encouraged more of an inner dialogue.

LF: What is it about the portrait that you connect with?
MS: Perhaps I look for myself in every one of them.

LF: There is a very “real” element in your work, where in some images you can see skin pores, etc. Why is it important to you to maintain the reality of a person vs. what is commonly seen today in a lot of images… over-photoshopping?
MS: This work is meant to be raw, its not a soap commercial, real life doesn’t have a clone tool. Over-photoshopping takes the texture away, the crunch of which was very important to my aesthetic. Conceptually there was no need for that, that is needed when you want to create a make believe plastic world when no blemishes exist. In my blemishes actually enhance my story.

LF: You seem drawn to the profile in a lot of your images. What does a person’s profile do for you as a photographer?
MS: In the shower the profile was a natural choice since the window had a fixed position and it was very natural for all the subjects to settle into that groove. I personally like profile, I always have…I guess I never even thought about that until now.

LF: Your vision of solitude in your series Anastasia is spot-on. How long did you spend shooting this series? Tell us a little bit about the experience of expressing an EMOTION through photography.
MS: I actually planned the project over a month or two, with having some extensive meetings with Anastasia, just sketching and laying out what I’d like you do. Anastasia with her own life experiences really came on as a collaborator on this, so a big shout out to her. Just around when I was ready to execute my idea, Jim Rooney of Hasselblad sent a fantastic opportunity my way. I got selected to experience and shoot with $60,000 worth of premier Hassy equipment for about 6 weeks, it was the H4D40 with three lenses and the works. I executed all of Anastasia with it. Anastasia to my fortune had just graduated as a Interior designer and not settled into a long term project yet. I shot with Anastasia pretty much non stop for six weeks straight. As far expressing emotion through photography is concerned, it all really relies on your pre-visualization, if you know your subject and understand your space, you can weave whatever emotion you are going after. The most important part is knowing what you are after.

LF: You moved to New York City in 2007. Why NYC, and what is it about the city that drives your photography?

MS: The city is driven because of the people that live in. There is certainly no place like NYC for art, It is for certain the mecca. I visited New York twice before I moved there and the second around time around, there was no doubt in mind it’s where I was headed. In my head somewhere I felt I had finally found a place that can keep pace with me.

LF: You traveled to Dubai for an AOL fashion series. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience there?
MS: Dubai was stunning and strange all at the same time. A concrete jungle that’s astonishingly abnormally green for a desert. Great food and night life. People are very fashion-conscious indeed.

LF: How do you LIVE FAST?
MS: Ha, hilariously, my friends often tell me that I’m skinny because my mind’s always racing and multitasking so I’m burning most of my calories right up there, so that’s how I live fast, by constantly seeking.

LF: Art Talk: What inspires you? Favorite art or work?
MS: I have a blog titled “Ishaara” (Ishaara is a hindi word that means a subtle gesture). There’s a repeat section on Ishaara called “on my mind” I frequently post artists that are on my mind. Lately I came across a phenomenal book by Richard Bartholomew called “A Critic’s eye,” photos from the 1950, 1960’s and 1970’s, it’s a real beauty.

LF: Sex Talk: What gets you off? Literally or figuratively?

MS: Definitely Art, in specific more than a few pieces at the “Bombay Electric”, which is an incredible store for illustration, records, old posters, fashion, and kitsch pieces of 2d ad 3d art in downtown Mumbai. Also food of all sorts since I cook and love to eat, finally most definitely music live or recorded. So a good combination of the three is my favorite trifecta.

LF: Travel Talk: Favorite destination or travel stories you want to share?
MS: I was recently invited to travel to Spain for a show called Nudage that my work was included in. The show was incredible, great opening and the people I met there were even better! I specifically traveled to a small town called Santander in northern Spain and it was flanked by the ocean on one side and glorious mountains on the other. I ate some of the best seafood paella that I’ve eaten in my life and boy do the Spaniards know how to do a good Flan. That’s my travel story!

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