JONATHAN CHERRY: What is your favourite colour?
MAHESH SHANTARAM: On any given day, it’s red, green, blue, or some combination thereof.
JC: Why did you make the work Airtime?
MS: There’s such a stigma attached to photographing at Indian airports. It’s a big deal over here! Just this morning, I read in the papers that the government is tightening the screws against photography in airports and aircraft, citing a law written in 1937! Unbelievable as it sounds, a ban on carrying any kind of photographic equipment on board an aircraft within India was lifted only in 2005!
So why do I do Airtime? Firstly, wow, this is illegal. It’s no coincidence that the first pictures came about when I made the transition from big-fat DSLRs to the newer compact mirrorless cameras. The year was 2009, I was shooting with an Olympus EP-1, and it was a fun time to be an Indian flyer, unlike today.
And then, there’s something quaint about Indian airports, especially small town airports. Travelling through them does inspire poetry. (Think Taylor Mali rather than Lord Byron.) Sadly (or not), these are being decommissioned to make way for characterless glass-and-steel buildings. Soon, there will only be nostalgia and these pictures.
Airtime is an air traveller’s equivalent of stopping to smell the roses, as it were. It is the experience one can still buy for the price of an air ticket.
JC: Are there any emerging photographers inspiring you at the moment?
MS: I look up and sometimes sideways to Maja Daniels, my friend and former classmate at photography school. Sohrab Hura is doing some very personal work with Life is Elsewhere, his upcoming book project. Akshay Mahajan never ceases to surprise me.
JC: Any tall tales from all the traveling over the last couple of years?
MS: Just as I stepped out of the aircraft, I saw this soldier so perfectly poised in the 12 o’ clock shadow under the wing of the aircraft. See what I mean when I say poetry? Standing right there on the step ladder, I whipped up my camera and fired a couple of shots. Somebody tapped me on my shoulder from behind and said firmly, “No photos! This is Jay and Kay!” I first thought it was an air martial, but it turned out to be a friendly co-passenger who made my business his own.
Jammu & Kashmir is one of the most troubled states in India where it is easier to categorise what is allowed than what isn’t. And people are extra-willing to cooperate when it comes to photo terrorism.
JC: When you are not photographing what can you be found doing?
MS: Catching up on national and global politics. Or swamped in the editing room where dreams are made and broken.
JC: What are your plans for 2012?
MS: Photo books. There’s so much buzz in the world today with regard to photo books and I’m smitten by it all. I’m setting up a photo book library in my home in Bangalore and making it available as a resource to those who need it. There’s nothing like it within a thousand-mile radius. I’m also chipping away at the first drafts of my photo book, Matrimania.
JC: Any words of wisdom to recent photography graduates?
MS: Just out of school and looking for a solid photo project to work on? Pedal back in time and think about what made you insanely angry, curious, or horny. Pull it up to the present and you might have found an answer.