Stockholm based filmographer/photographer Neha Hirve manages to make normal engaging. It’s an art akin to making white paper interesting-it’s like photographic origami.
Initially lured by the moving image, Neha Hirve gained a BFA in TV and film production in 2014. Three years later (as creatives do) she found a further passion in still image. Qualifying in 2017 as a photo-journalists, she has seen instantaneous interest in her work.
This year National Geographic featured Neha Hirve’s work. In truth #itchysilk and National Geographic were competing to showcase her images. It was a battle we could not win. It’s understandable however. When a publication that influential comes calling you take the opportunity.
For us it was a positive. It was vindication that our wish to feature Neha Hirve was indeed founded.
A question we always ask-can you chart your journey to photography and how photography became this passion as it were?
I was a cinematographer before I became a photographer, because I thought it was a more practical career. Eventually though, I came back to documentary photography because it was the perfect mix of self-expression and telling other people’s stories. I didn’t have to rely on a whole film crew to work on projects I was passionate about. It provided me with more control over how I worked and the end result.
We note that you recently received your masters in photojournalism-but you actually gained a qualification in television production three years earlier. Has cinematography always been the first love or is that too much assuming?
Cinematography has always been a love of mine but the projects that I work on are hardly my own. With photography, I get to be the director as well as the camera person. Film and TV has influenced my photography in many ways. I focus on narrative, editing and I love to stage portraits.
Generic question but who (past or present) has inspired you into your work be that a cinematographers or photographers?
Different photographers have inspired me as I’m at different points in my experimentation and growth. Right now, photographers like Alec Soth, Max Pinckers and Vasantha Yoganathan are big inspirations-Pinckers and Yoganathan are masters of bookmaking.
You are evidently a creative-talk a bit about writing and what you have done?
I am interested in mixing media. I used to write absurdist short stories as a hobby. Now I am primarily interested in using writing to expand on photographic works–sing texts in photobooks, writing on top of photographs, writing poems to accompany works.
Photography and cinematography have natural synergies but what does cinematography add that photography does not aside from the obvious of movement?
Cinematography adds the cinematic, the drama, the colour, the lighting, the story behind the photograph. Every photograph has an imagined cinemograph. What came before and what comes after? A photo doesn’t necessarily have a plot in terms of a beginning, middle, or end, as a film. There is a before and after, it’s just implied.
How would you describe yourself and indeed how does that character shape the images that you want to take?
I would describe myself as a child who doesn’t understand anything about the way the world works, or how human relationships and connection works. My act of taking a picture is an attempt to come to terms with what I see. When I take a portrait of someone I am looking at them, trying to grapple with the distance or the closeness I feel with this person.
Photographs are an experimentation of my own personal boundaries and an attempt to understand the chaos of the galaxy.
On your bio it states you want to explore man’s relationship with the natural environment. It sounds self-explanatory but can you elaborate more on that statement?
More and more, I’m drawn to personal projects that have something to do with the environment. Perhaps it derives from a childhood love of natural sciences—the culture of storm-chasing, for example. To me, it’s boring to work on a project that’s purely environmental. The romance of science comes from the human relationship to the world around us. The people and the environment together are what’s exciting.
Travel/diary like images of those travels seems to feature a lot in your images-America, India and the UK appear to have been destinations you have been to-just talk about the destinations you have been to and what inspired you to capture images from those places?
I’ve never really been sure where I’m going with the travel images I take. Perhaps one day it will fall into place naturally as a part of a larger project about searching. Having moved around so much as a child, travel has always been ingrained in me and I’m always struggling with the idea of a place to call home. I suppose it’s only natural that I am compelled to explore this in my work.
In your series Heaven you capture drug addicts in their natural environment (or maybe it is unnatural?)-what attracted you to document this and how did you go about gaining the trust of the subjects?
I was tired of seeing the same old images about drug addicts in the media, portraying them as criminals and suchlike. There was a need to challenge myself by approaching the topic in a completely non-judgemental way.Many of my subjects where met on the streets, in parking lots, in hospices, so it’s very much their natural environment. Honest about my intentions, they were surprisingly trusting and opened themselves up. I thought it would be harder but most of the people I met were extremely kind and accommodating it taught me a lot. It probably helped that I was naive and didn’t know much about heroin and its culture.
In that series, there is a real sense of you trying to add subtle humour but also showing at times there seemed a tenderness.
Exactly that – a tenderness. The series is as much about how these guys treated me, as about their own stories. The humour is part of that. It’s insider, ‘heroin jokes’, which imply a sense of camaraderie and trust within the drug milieu.
In the series, Up All Night-isolation seemed a strong theme.
I have strong memories from childhood of the night watchmen in India. We lived in a quiet neighbourhood and they didn’t really have much to do all night except wait until sunrise. That loneliness and boredom created this idea of creating this world with no people in it. These surreal men are standing sentinel but over what exactly, I’m not sure.
What does family mean to you and how does that feature in your work?
I’m kind of a lonely photographer. My family and the people I love the most have never really featured in my work. I photograph them as part of a personal record. Right now I feel that they’re never good enough to be anything more than a record of my very personal love. It’s something to explore in the future. I’m much better at photographing people I don’t know very well. Perhaps it’s easier to see their essence. They’re more complex the more you learn about them.
Love your play on Aldous Huxley’s book-Brand New World. Explain that initial idea and some of the shots you subsequently captured we like image 7 on the website.
After long black-and-white winters, stuck in a small Swedish town, I itched to break out and open my eyes afresh. I spent much of the spring and summer travelling around Europe with heightened sense of curiosity. The colours green and blue, a man holding a tomato, sunbathing crocodiles suddenly co-existed, they were vibrant while I was still blinking sleep away. The constant wrestle of the flora and the man-made world are the stage. The people I met became characters in a dream play. Everything became possible. Little motifs become secret jokes. These pictures are an ode to the coming of spring, a waking from a dull and fuzzy hibernation.
We saw that you spoke about dreams playing an important part in your creativity-explain that a bit more and can you describe a dream that helped create a body of work?
I’d say that dreams play more of a part in influencing the atmosphere of certain works. Especially in my night photography, the high contrast lighting is something I remember from childhood dreams.
What further projects do you have coming up explain a bit about them what can we expect?
I just received a grant from Women Photograph for my project Full Shade/Half Sun. I think next on the table is to go back to India and continue working on that. Women Photograph is an initiative by Daniella Zalcman and is so important in raising the voices of female photojournalists internationally. I graduated from an all-female MA class, so it’s not that women photographers don’t exist, but they’re severely underrepresented in most major media outlets.