The “fictive hellhole” of Soham Gupta’s Angst makes for challenging viewing. Since 2013, with the night as his backdrop, the 29-year-old has been creating a haunting constellation of portraits of those living on the margins of Calcutta society. Drawing on a troubled youth spent struggling with societal expectations, Angst is a despairing, personal reckoning with a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are neglected.
The project started following a workshop with Antoine d’Agata and Sohrab Hura (a BJP Ones To Watch in 2011) in Cambodia, where Gupta was encouraged to move away from his background in photojournalism and build on his innate interest in loneliness and vulnerability. Setting out on his own nocturnal journey through the streets of his hometown, Gupta began photographing and writing short fictional texts about the people he encountered. After instigating conversation, he would then collaborate with them to create a portrait.
“It’s very performative in nature. All of these pictures are staged,” he says. “I’m creating this thing that isn’t just mine; it’s also of the people that I’m photographing.” In both text and image, there is a tenderness towards these night-dwellers that lies beneath the brutal testimony of their circumstances. Though stripped of context, the complex dynamics and many layers of Gupta’s self-described “muse”, Calcutta, are ever present.
Constantly learning from his day job as a fixer and translator for photographers visiting Calcutta, Gupta counts personal hero Don McCullin as an admirer, and his brooding vision has made an impact both at home and abroad. Angst was exhibited at JaipurPhoto 2018 and at Influences photography festival in Beaucouzé, France. Winner of the Cosmos PDF Award 2017, it will also be published by Akina Books and launched in Arles this summer.
Nominator Erik Vroons, editor of GUP magazine, says, “Normally I’m not in favour of photographers encountering people who live in the shadow side of our world as they never asked to be brought to bright exposure. But in Soham I recognised someone who somehow is not a complete outsider. Like Bruce Gilden never was when shoving his camera in people’s faces in New York. Being there among these strangers is what defines his own being.”
Gupta is now working on translating his intimate exploration of vulnerability to other contexts. L’appel du Vide is a series of nudes he created in collaboration with residents of Niort, France, during a 2016 residency. Meanwhile, in his latest project, The Prophecy, he turns inwards, focusing on his own solitude.
soham-gupta.com Soham Gupta’s Angst can be pre-ordered from Akina Books, priced £35 https://akinabooks.com/product/angst-soham-gupta/ This article is taken from BJP’s 2018 Ones to Watch issue www.thebjpshop.com