Pooja Tripathi photographs with a gentle, but probingly curious vision, as she muses on how a dream would be unveiled under the dim lights of your childhood bedroom. The images she introduces the audience to aren’t sharp or suggestive of sharp edges - rather, they’re soft in atmosphere, and offers snapshots into a world founded completely on an almost poetic, golden simplicity, where girls climb fences under the light of the slowly setting sun, a granddaughter can hand-catch fish with her grandfather, and sisters intuitively understand each other. Tripathi doesn’t forget how to be lonely, and with each of her nostalgic pieces, she makes sure that you don’t either.
In this interview, I had the opportunity to ask Tripathi about vulnerability, raw fish, and the confessional nature of her photography.
Does nostalgia hold any special meaning to you, in any intellectual, emotional, or intuitive way? Would you associate nostalgia with childhood?
In high school, I spent a lot of time feeling nostalgic – for the feeling of having close friends who I could talk to for real. Somehow, I broke a lot of those ties. I really exhausted myself with sentimentality and the conviction that things should “be how they were”. When I got to college, I fullforce rejected the impulse to be nostalgic for things, and kinda acted like I had nothing and no-one to miss.
Nostalgia and other photos from that time period are about being very alone – struggling to make peace, find refuge, build strength from that loneliness. At the same time, they really begged for company, so much so that it was more like how can I stop wanting this?
What draws you to photography? What sort of role does it play in your life?
Photography was a way for me to think about the way I used my setting, body language, expression, etc to tell someone something. I really relied on photo-documenting my thoughts during high school...paranoia. People interacting with each other seemed like such a phenomenon, and I didn’t get it, so I was fixated on it. I criticized myself and all of my separate spaces.
Photography was a way for me to keep track of whatever I felt and make it important, since I didn’t feel like I had people around to spill my guts to or think through stuff with. Now I think I focus more on making images I haven’t seen before, and ensuring that the way I depict people and places are respectful, or indicative of how I feel about them.
Who are your significant role models?
People I’ve met at school, who have very different ways of being than I do. South Asian artists who can talk about culture without being reductive - my dad, cuz he doesn’t believe in much.
Is there a mission statement that guides you?
Come up with different questions / Many things to remember… / do you.
How confessional is your art?
It used to be very confessional – like very blatant, in the self portrait photo kinda way. Now that I’m in school for this, I’m getting more guarded. I still make work that emerges from personal history, but I’m a little more wary of making myself vulnerable. It would be a good thing to return to, cuz I’m sure I’m just scared of it - but I’ve also enjoyed using things besides my emotions to drive my works – like things I read, or weirdo ideas I’d like to pursue, for whatever reason, for the hell of it.
What is the sort of world you seek to create within your photos?
Kinda separate and “liminal”, even though that’s such a dreamy cheesy word. I like using poetics and nonlinear narratives.
Is there a recurring character who you find yourself continuously making the subject of your photos? Like, someone or something - or even the absence of such elements - that you find yourself returning to?
Working with my sister feels really intuitive. She’s in a lot of my photos. I also have many place-attachments (the source of most of my nostalgia/sentimentality these days!) that enter my work. And then the people in those places.
What is the one thing that you wish people would stop taking pictures of?
Bodies without being critical about it. This includes (for example):
White bodies made real pretty
Non-white bodies without their consent
“femme” photos that exclude non-cis bodies
There’s one particular photo series that kept drawing my attention: Mizoram. Who are these people? What happened to the bowl of raw fish heads? What is this series about?
Mizoram is the state in northeast India where my mom is from. The people in the photos are family, and others who work cooking/cleaning in my api’s (my grandmother’s) house. When I went to visit, taking photos eased the tension I felt from not knowing the language. I could focus on what I saw even at the margins of situations, or reassure myself that the knowledge gleaned had experiences attached to them.
I caught the fish with my hands. Apatea (uncle) caught one in each hand. They were cooked.