Nikunj Rathod’s ultimate source of inspiration are the streets of the city he calls home – Mumbai. Like so many other photographers, he is fascinated by the teeming multitudes and the throbbing, pulsing life of the metropolis.
In March 2016, the 29-year-old independent film-maker and photographer chanced upon a crowd of rowdy children at a junkyard located in Mahim Bay. Rathod was walking around in the hope of capturing some silhouette photographs in the evening light when his attention turned to a noisy game of chor-police, an intense version of tag in which one designated policeman is supposed to catch thieves.
“From a distance, I saw a group of kids playing around some junkyard cars, screaming, throwing bottles at each other, fighting,” said Rathod. “When I went closer I realised how reckless they were being.”
He managed to capture the children in action just as one jumped high in the air to hit another with a plastic bottle. The image, titled Reckless Kids, was chosen as the winner of the India National Award at the Sony World Photography Awards, a global photography competition.
“As a child, you always have a place away from your home or family to hang out where you get crazy and do what you can’t do otherwise,” said Rathod. “These kids were exactly at that place I think. In the beginning I just went and captured their activities. Later when they became aware of my presence, they spoke to me a little and I got to know about their game. The winning photo was taken right as I reached the place. Once they knew I was around, their behaviour changed and they became more animated, which reflects in the photographs that were taken afterwards. They are still very interesting.”
In the 2016 edition of the awards, Rathod had won second place in the India National Award category and was shortlisted for the Open People category. That too was an image of a child at play, as he aggressively pulled on a slingshot and aimed for birds in the sky.
“I don’t like to carry any specific goal in mind when I’m out photographing,” said Rathod. “I wait for surprises life has to offer. I love photographing kids and whenever I see them, I do stop for a while. It’s interesting for me to see a childhood that is unplugged. It’s magical and it really connects with my own experiences that I had in my life as a child.”
It took a while for Rathod to find his footing when it came to street photography, which is about capturing the specific character of a place.
“I used to take plenty of pictures of almost everything around me, but later I realised they were just bleak pictures which was taking my work nowhere,” said Rathod. “I learnt that a good street photograph is nothing but candid and fleeting moments around you that you could capture. You normally don’t get time to think. Things just happen and that’s the beauty of it. I think when something really interests you, you see it and feel it in your own distinctive way. Your personal experiences, personality and vision towards life play a big role in that.”
According to Rathod, he never stops photographing. “For me it’s a great exercise to practice this art. The camera for me is nothing but a tool to preserve what I see and let somebody see it that way.”