Ritesh Ghosh’s entrée into photography took a somewhat convoluted path. He studied for years to achieve an MBA in finance and then worked in the banking industry, both in Kolkata and the Middle East, for more than 8 years. A trio of unfortunate health issues allowed him the time to pursue a burgeoning passion for photography and the rest, as they say, is history. That said, Ritesh realizes his journey has just begun. I recently sat down with him to find out more about the man and get his thoughts on his photography.
Michael : Welcome Ritesh, before we get into our discussion – if you don’t mind, take me back to the beginning. Tell me about home, the environment you grew up in and your initial connection to photography.
Ritesh : Thanks, Michael, for inviting me over for this discussion. I love talking about my work and photography in general and appreciate this opportunity. Well, let’s see, I was raised in a nuclear family here in Kolkata. My dad was a government officer and my mother taught English and Science. As a child I was always creatively inclined. I liked to draw, play the guitar and recite poetry but I wouldn’t discover photography until much later on. After completing my MBA, I joined HDFC in Kolkata and worked there for 7 years before accepting a new job with Al Fardan Exchange in Dubai. My introduction to photography happened during that transition and what started as a part-time hobby quickly developed into full-blown passion. That odd set of circumstances with my health spurred me into moving back to India to pursue photography on a full-time basis. It was risky to be sure, but I felt it was something I had to do, I was answering a calling.
Michael : That must have been an interesting conversation with your parents after all those years studying and working in finance!
Ritesh : Laughs – It was difficult yes, as I’m sure you can imagine. Especially so after investing those 8 years in finance and all the time (and money) spent on my education. Of course, it wasn’t a spontaneous decision I made overnight. The health issues I referred to earlier actually flared up when I returned to India for my annual vacation. It became fairly serious and required an extended leave of absence. Unfortunately, the company didn’t approve my request for leave and I was compelled to remain in India. During my recuperation I found solace in photography, which I am positive helped me heal faster. I was already addicted to photography and it was then that I decided to commit myself to it completely. I haven’t looked back. My parents were initially very concerned with my decision but after seeing the confidence I had in myself and the growing body of work, they eventually decided to go ahead and support my calling. They’ve been great.
Michael : You’re a storyteller and I think that must have begun with your street photography. Most of your recent work has been presented as documentary. What is it about the documentary approach that appeals to you?
Ritesh : I’m glad you addressed me a “storyteller” Whether I’m shooting street or documentary photography, my primary objective is the same, to narrate the story behind the images. If we are able to create visually compelling images, ones that leave lasting impressions on the viewer, that moves the photos from snapshot to art. The street-based documentary approach helps me achieve those goals. I want to engage the viewer with my images, allowing me to narrate the stories in a concise and hopefully, visually stimulating way.
Michael : How long did that take, the discovery that the documentary approach was going to work for you? It certainly seems to be a good fit. What can you recommend for other photographers trying to find their own niche?
Ritesh : I think I got there relatively quickly. As I said it suits my goals as a storyteller. As for advice, it’s a pretty competitive world out there, with thousands upon thousands of photographers trying to get noticed. Remember that what works for you may not work for someone else and what works for someone else might not work for you. It can be frustrating trying to figure it all out but you can’t stop trying. It took me a good three years to realize that. My advice to any aspiring young photographer would be to strive to be original. Be a good human first, be kind and helpful and it will surely help you in developing yourself and in becoming a better photographer. Oh, and don’t judge yourself based on the “Likes” you get on social media. Let your content do the talking.
Michael : Much of your photography focuses on stories about Indian culture. Is there a particular reason, other than location?
Ritesh : As an Indian photographer I think it’s my responsibility to showcase the diverse range of cultural events that make India such a photogenic country. I hope viewers around the world might learn more about our country and culture through those stories.
Michael : Do you have any formal photography education, or are you self-taught?
Ritesh : No, I’m a banker turned photographer and completely self-taught. Observation has been my mentor and guide so far.
Michael : Aside from observation, any particular photographers who’ve influenced you? Any favorites?
Ritesh : Sure, many in fact. A few that immediately come to mind include Vivian Maier, Steve McCurry, Zack Arias, Vineet Vohra, Manish Khattry, Prashant Godbole and Raghu Rai.
Michael : You’ve had a lot of early success getting your work published. How did that evolve?
Ritesh : You know, I’ve actually been really lucky to have had some of my work get a bit of recognition. During my early days I used to post regularly on various photography pages on Facebook. It was there, in one of those groups, that I was approached by Tomasz Trzebiatowski of FUJILOVE MAGAZINE. He asked if he could include one of my images for publication in the maiden issue of the magazine. I was of course very excited and enthusiastically obliged. Later, I very casually expressed an interest in having a complete story published in the magazine. To my surprise, he spontaneously agreed! That was my first break, with FUJILOVE. I shared that first published piece across social media and that led to invites to write for a host of other national and international journals. Features in FUJI X PASSION followed soon after. I’ve been associated with both those publications for more than four years now and I look forward to more.
Michael : Is there any particular story you’ve worked on that sticks with you? Something that affected you deeply and shaped the way you now go about your work?
Ritesh : My recent journey to Kerala to document Theyyam, the traditional dance ritual of Malabar, has inspired me deeply. Witnessing the rigorous practices involved while preparing for the event taught me to be patient and disciplined in life. Part of the ritual involves running through fire without any precautions or protection, which in turn taught me to be fearless while taking risks. It is something which I would definitely like to imbibe going forward.
Michael : We’ll look forward in a bit, but I wonder if you might look back for a moment. If you could turn back the clock, is there one piece of advice or insight you’d like to give yourself as you were beginning your photographic journey?
Ritesh : I’m a person who believes in looking forward in life, so I would not like to travel back in time.
Michael : Really, there isn’t anything you would have told yourself as you were beginning your photographic journey?
Ritesh : Chuckles – Well, there is one thing. I would have urged my younger self to not completely quit working in the beginning. I probably could have looked at that a bit more rationally!
Michael : Okay, so what’s up next? Where do you want to go from here?
Ritesh : I’m continuing to work on documenting Theyyam, in fact I’ll return to Kerala in December. I’m taking a family trip to Bangkok in November; we’ll see what Thailand has in store. Documenting life in China, Cambodia and Cuba are all on my wish list. As for the long term, everybody loves to be recognized and I’m no exception. It would be a dream come true to be selected a Fuji X Photographer. I’d love to be able to present my work to the wider audience that association would afford. Getting published in National Geographic would be great of course, another dream come true kind of thing. Having a few books to my name is also on my list. Laughs – I guess that’s a pretty full list.
Michael : I’m hoping all those things happen for you. I know I won’t be betting against you! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Ritesh.
Ritesh : Thanks for having me over for this wonderful session Michael. I’m really glad I could be a part of this series.
You can follow Ritesh Ghosh’s work on Instagram: Here
In conversation with Michael Steverson/ Senior Contributing Editor APF