The street is a place of unpredictability. People, actions, gestures: you never know what is about to happen. This is what appeals to the photographer Robin Sinha. The pictures he has taken in different cities around the world, speak of the fleeting moment and of daily life on the street, surrounded by a poetic framework of colour and light.
Your photographs were taken in the most diverse places around the world – was that by chance or on purpose?
It’s generally always with purpose. It’s rare for me to be walking the streets with my camera, without having allocated a morning or afternoon for street photography. I have made a few trips specifically for street photography; while other times I have been somewhere for another purpose, but managed to allocate time for photography.
What is it that fascinates you about street photography?
I think what mostly fascinates me about street photography is its unpredictable nature. Of course, you can get familiar with the streets and eventually begin to see patterns in the way life unfolds, but ultimately there is so much out of the photographer’s control. The characters that present themselves, the gestures, actions, interactions, quality of light, etc. With experience you learn how to play the odds in your favour; however being open to those unpredictable moments is what brings the most enjoyment for me.
What do you look for in your choice of motif?
I try not to overthink my motif. I think when you’re starting out in any genre of photography you feel this unrelenting pressure to establish your style. From my experience, the more you try to force a style the less genuine the outcome. I’ve found it easier to start identifying what my eye is drawn towards in the editing process. It’s made me more aware of any visual style I may have, which in turn makes me more informed while photographing.
What kind of photographic approach do you take?
It’s important for me to respect the people I’m photographing. I have no desire to make people feel uncomfortable. That said, it’s a constant inner battle that I’m fighting when photographing in the streets. I often see a scene that I’m visually drawn too; but after considering the possibility of drawing attention to myself, I may back down and walk by. Over the years I’ve tried to reprogramme my impulses and response: identify scene – shoot – deal with outcome (if any), rather than: identify scene – consider photographing – walk away. For this to work you need to be regularly repeating the process, otherwise your confidence gradually wanes.
How do you approach the people you photograph?
I usually carry the camera around my neck so it’s more visible. I used to wrap the neck strap around my wrist and keep the camera by my side to remain more covert. However, I began to realise that this had the opposite effect in that I always appeared to be hiding something, which in turn would raise alarm! Having the camera around my neck means I’m not hiding anything. I have presented myself as a person taking photos, so generally people begin to accept and forget about you more quickly.
You’ve worked with three different cameras – how do you make your choice each time?
As a Leica Akademie Tutor, I’ve had many years of benefiting from shooting with the Leica M range; and it’s usual for me to be shooting with the latest generation. I have used every digital M camera and I currently have an M6 (film version) and an M10 in my collection. The images displayed here are either shot with the Leica M (Typ 240), M10 or M10-P. Most recently I’ve been shooting with the M10-R and, of course, the brand new M11. For me there’s no better camera than M for street photography – whether that’s a film or digital version. The rangefinder is not for everyone, but if you enjoy the process and increase your skill level, I believe you’ll ultimately reap the rewards.
How have the cameras performed?
I have always been amazed by the performance and results from all the digital M cameras I’ve used. Of course, over the years as the technology has developed so have my expectations; but when the M10-R was launched I struggled to see what else could be improved upon. Then the M11 arrives, and it’s been entirely rebuilt on the inside with over 50 improvements. I’d clearly be useless as a product developer! The appearance of the camera is key. Apart from it being one of the most iconic camera designs, it’s also incredibly discrete. People don’t view it as a threatening piece of equipment, and therefore don’t tend to react to it being used in close quarters.
What exactly is your photographic process?
I generally prefer to keep things manual on the camera in terms of exposure and focus. The main reason being to maintain overall control and reduce the amount of missed exposures. I enjoy shooting in contrasty light, when the sun is lower in the sky. I initially determine rough exposure by flicking into Aperture Priority mode, and once I have the correct ratio of light, it’s all manual from there. I prioritise a fast shutter speed (min 1/250) and a closed aperture for deeper focus. As I’m shooting with manual focus lenses, a deeper focus makes zone focusing possible, and consequently the ability to react to something almost instantaneously.
Your series covers the “street” all over the world. From that point of view, it seems like what’s happening is the same everywhere…
You’re right; and identifying this was a bit of a eureka moment for me. When I started comparing images I’d taken from different cities around the world, I realised that I was photographing similar content regardless of location. I used to feel that I needed to travel to do street photography. This mentality is of course very limiting. I was stupidly ignoring what was happening in my very own neighbourhood. It’s easier to feel inspired when you’re somewhere new as your senses are heightened, but it doesn’t take long to find a new street in your own backyard!
Does “street” also mean “life” for a photographer?
For me, street photography means photography of everyday life in any public place, without any components of the frame being manipulated or staged. Its candid, unposed nature is what defines it as street photography. For me personally and in reference to street photography, “street” does also mean “life”. I don’t think there’s a better place to be, if you want to witness life unfolding in real time. The impulse to photograph it is what’s most intriguing.
Born in Aberdeen, Robin Sinha moved to London in 2003. After completing a BA in Photography, he began assisting at London’s Big Sky Studios. His personal freelance photography career began soon after. Sinha describes his photography as ‘people-led’, working within the portraiture, street and documentary realm. In 2009, he joined Leica UK where he works part-time as an Akademie Ambassador and the lead photography workshop tutor. In 2018, Sinha was shortlisted for two prestigious photography awards: The Portrait of Britain and the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. Most recently he was once again shortlisted for the 2021 Portrait of Britain Award. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram page.