PUNIT SHAH

Interview by Sarah Natow

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Sarah Natow: Do you have any previous experience with photography?

Punit Shah: This is the first studio photography class I have taken, but I have had an interest in photography as a hobby through high school.

SN: What was the inspiration behind this project? Did you know what you wanted to photograph at the beginning of the semester? 

PS: My final project for this semester was to put together a photo book entitled “Zzzzz’s,” which looks at people sleeping.  I came into the class with no idea about what I wanted to photograph. Over the semester, I began to think of a few areas where I could capture emotions in some everyday activity that we don’t give much thought to but that we’re doing all the time. I explored the topics of waiting and people taking snapshots of each other, but in the end, I settled on sleeping. I think the project evolved over time as I came to find increasingly interesting settings where people slept. I deliberately avoided shooting pictures of people sleeping in beds; I only included one of those and even there, its as if the person just came back in their day-clothes and collapsed on their bed. Instead, I looked towards other, unique settings such as busses, libraries, restaurants, or classrooms.

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SN: How was working with Chris and Kent?

PS: Chris and Kent each provide a different perspective while I formed this project and defiantly are a great team to work with. Chris is great at getting me in the mindset to capture the right moment for the project. Beyond the standard help with composition and other technical aspects to photography, he provided me with a lot of confidence to go up to someone who is sleeping and to not feel self-conscious when snapping the photograph. Kent was really helpful in making me experiment with where I could take this project. He encouraged me to try some radical ideas in putting together the book and not feel constrained to create a book that looked like many other photo books.

SN: Do you feel as though the project has achieved a successful conclusion?  Do you envision continuing to work on the project?

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PS: I feel good about the final project given that finding pictures of photographable sleeping people takes a good deal of effort. The vast majority of the pictures in the book are not staged, and had I not been on a spring break trip with a large group of exhausted students, I would not have been able to capture both the number and variety of images I did in the final product. I feel the final book I produced does justice to the topic of sleeping and I’m not sure I would like to revisit it in the immediate future.

SN: How do you think this project has changed the way you see photography/art?  Has this project changed the way in which you observe your environment?

PS: I’m certainly more conscientious about subjects in the background. After doing a whole project on people sleeping, you notice how the subjects who are not so obvious and vocal can still yield interesting content.

SN: What was it about the situation that inspired you to take a picture?  Did you know while holding the camera that the image would work, or was it a mystery?

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PS: I would usually start taking photographs immediately after I saw someone sleeping so I could catch something before they awoke. Because I worked in digital, I took many photographs on the spot and then selected the few ones I wanted to use later. For each subject, as I took more photographs, I would eventually start to work on composition, lighting, and all of the other technical components of photography. I never knew beforehand whether a photograph would ultimately work as part of the project, but again, as I worked in digital, I could easily review the photographs and perceive where I could use the photograph for the project.

 SN: Do you think you will work in this way in the future? How has this project changed (or not) the way in which you photograph?

PS: I’m sure that as a result of this class, I will be more observant of interesting subject matters, human emotions, light, compositions, etc. that I see through the viewfinder as any photograph does. However, while I have learned a lot through completing this project and class, there is plenty more I have to learn about photography. I don’t think I’ve developed a sort of trademark photographic “voice” or style yet, but I think this course has certainly peaked my interest in various types of photographic themes that could eventually form that voice.

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