Sohrab Hura (b. 1981)
A photographer and member of the international cooperative Magnum Photos, Sohrab Hura is known for his vivid and at times surreal photographs that present a visual journal of his life and personal relationships. Although his earlier works were made in the mode of social documentary, his later works are characterised by devices such as distortion and manipulation, which caused visual disjunction. The latter mode of image making became a sustained exercise in appraising the role and nature of narrative-making. Several of these works also reflect Hura’s observations of the nation’s changing and increasingly charged temperament.
Born in Chinsurah, West Bengal, he attended the Doon School in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, and later completed his master's from Delhi School of Economics, before embarking on a career in photography. Hura’s first tryst with a camera, albeit a plastic one, was at the age of eight. He began taking photographs while in college with a Nikon FM10, gifted to him by his father.
When he began to wield the camera in 1999, he used it to document his relationship with people and record his notions of self, finding in the exercise a catharsis to his loneliness. This project culminated, several years later, in a series of works titled Sweet Life. The first part of the series, called Life is Elsewhere (2005–15), is an autobiographical photojournal of his personal environment of family and friends that attempted to capture fleeting impressions of his life. The second part, titled Look it’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! (2018), was made when his mother’s condition began to improve. During this period, he produced several other works conceived in the genre of documentary photography, but with a broader outward focus. Two black-and-white series titled River (also known as River of Lost Time) and Land of a Thousand Struggles were made between 2005 and 2006, reflecting two distinct journeys — the first, produced during a personal journey, consisted of images of human activity and landscapes in cities along the Ganga and Yamuna; the latter documenting his campaign journey through central and north India for the ‘Right to Food’ movement supporting National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). In 2010, Hura revisited the village of Pati, Madhya Pradesh, to which he had first been in 2005, tour for the and which exemplified its subsequent success. His photographic and videographic documentation of the village, supported by the Magnum Foundation Fund resulted in Pati (2010/2020) and his extensive photography of the district of Barwani in Madhya Pradesh, also part of the NREGA campaign, resulted in The Song of Sparrows in a Hundred Days of Summer (2013–16). In the white-sheathed landscapes of Kashmir captured in Snow (2013–), he uses the beguiling charm of its winterscapes as a metaphor for the naivete and deceits of an outsider looking in.
In the years that followed, Hura’s image-making became increasingly self-reflexive, emphasising both its own subjectivity and its capacity to influence popular discourse. In The Lost Head & the Bird (2016–19) he splices found-video footage of Bollywood, of socio-political violence and right-wing propaganda with his photographs, presenting a seemingly-absurd montage of reality and fiction playing on loop. A similar tension is also seen in The Coast (2019), made in a coastal town in Tamil Nadu, which opens with an absurd short story, followed by bewildering images of tenderness and violence.
His first significant project outside India was The Levee (2019), which recorded images from his road trip in the southern USA, along with photographers Alec Soth and Jim Goldberg. It consists of juxtapositions of his images on land with those of his father’s on water— both traversing the course of the Mississippi.
His most recent work in 2020, is a series of photographs taken during a nationwide lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. Taken from the rooftop of his apartment in the evenings, Rooftop (2020) is a visual document of the ways in which nature and humans responded to an extraordinary situation.
Hura’s photography was first showcased at the 10th Shanghai Biennale in 2016, curated by Raqs Media. His work has subsequently been featured in exhibitions such as Sweet Life (2017), Searching for Stars Amongst the Crescents (2019) and the retrospective Spill (2020–21) at Experimenter, Kolkata; Eyes Wild Open: Life is Elsewhere (2018) at Le Botanique, Brussels; and Companion Pieces: New Photography (2020) at MoMA, New York, among others. Several of his video works have been screened at film festivals across the world, with his Bittersweet (2019), winning the principal prize at the 66th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany, in 2020. His photobook The Coast won the Paris Photo—Aperture Foundation Photobook of the Year award in 2019. He is the second Indian member to be nominated to Magnum Photos, after Raghu Rai, and the first to become a full-voting member. Permanent collections of his work can be found in Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai, MoMA and Cincinnati Art Museum.
As of writing, Hura lives and works in New Delhi, India.
Abel-Hirsch, Hannah. 2020. “Snow as seen by Sohrab Hura.” British Journal of Photography, January 22, 2020.
Brewerton, Kaivalya. “Upon Reflection: Orienting the Body in Sohrab Hura’s Photography.” Magnum Photos. March 15, 2021. https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/upon-reflection-orientating-body-sohrab-hura-photography/
Gallun, Lucy. 2020. “New Photography 2020: Sohrab Hura.” MoMA Magazine, November 9, 2020.
Genova, Alexandra. 2018. “Sohrab Hura on his Dilemmas Photographing the Marginalized.” Magnum Photos. November 16, 2018. https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/sohrab-hura-photographing-the-marginalized/
Havlin, Laura. 2017. “Photographing India.” Magnum Photos. August 14, 2017. https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/society/photographing-india/?variant=12693951643735&fbclid=IwAR26zYBh0t1gC90ncGkK-wLLTMw5wVYM45DfNYUOLn5zCMYBkSJzm71k9qc
Hura, Sohrab. 2020. “A country on the edge, captured from within: India on Fire.” Huck, March 17, 2020. https://www.huckmag.com/playlist-archive/a-country-on-the-edge-captured-from-within/
Hura, Sohrab. “A Proposition for Departure.” Sohrab Hura. September, 2017. https://www.sohrabhura.com/Recent-But-Not-Quite-There
Hura, Sohrab. “Rooftop.” Magnum Photos. June 18, 2020. https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/rooftop-sohrab-hura/
Kalra, Vandana. 2020. “Sohrab Hura: It is important to constantly question my position in whatever I do.” Indian Express. July 12, 2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/sohrab-hura-important-to-constantly-question-my-position-6500818/
Menezes, Meera. 2021. “Sohrab Hura: Experimenter, Ballygunge Place.” Artforum, April, 2021. https://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/202104/sohrab-hura-85293
O’Hagan, Sean. 2019. “Fights, festivals, fear: Sohrab Hura’s angst-ridden India.” The Guardian, August 5, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/aug/05/sohrab-hura-images-of-a-violent-new-india-nationalism-the-coast
Seymour, Tom. 2020. “Magnum signs five new photographers after its lack of diversity comes under attack.” The Art Newspaper, June 30, 2020. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/magnum-s-lack-of-diversity-is-under-attack
Experimenter Gallery. n.d. “Spill.” Accessed 23 April 2021.
Thomas, Skye Arundhati. 2019. “Sohrab Hura – interview: ‘The only thing I can take responsibility for is my own relationship with the world.’” studio international, August 28, 2019. https://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/sohrab-hura-interview-indian-photographer-new-book-coast?variant=12693951643735&fbclid=IwAR26zYBh0t1gC90ncGkK-wLLTMw5wVYM45DfNYUOLn5zCMYBkSJzm71k9qc