The Way We Were

Delhi photojournalist Srinivas Kuruganti’s first photobook is a visual archive of youth, intimate friendships, and young love in the ’80s, a time when taking a photo did not carry the intention of seeing the world as a photographer
The Way We Were

As the car moved off, she and I held hands and I had tears streaming down my face. It was hard to let go. I kept in touch with my friends from Berkeley but many of these ties faded over time, with distance. And more than three decades later, I’m okay with that,” writes Srinivas Kuruganti in his debut photobook, released this summer.

Affectionately known as Srini among his friends and acquaintances, Kuruganti is a Delhi-based photographer, a former photo-editor at The Caravan, and a photography teacher.

A decade-long engagement with his personal photography archive, which accompanied him in metal trunks from California, New York and London to Mumbai and then Delhi, has come of age in this book, offering nostalgia as a practice of poetic creation. Pictures in My Hand of a Boy I Still Resemble is a visual archive of youth, intimate friendships, and young love.

It traces Kuruganti’s early years of experimentation with the camera, without the deliberate intention of seeing the world as a photographer, and clicking only as much as he could afford. “All those years, I never thought of myself as a photographer.

I just felt that I was taking pictures of my friends. You take a picture of me, I take a picture of you, and I would get two prints made — one set for them, and one set for me. It was a fun thing to do, taking pictures of girlfriends, closest friends, and the places we would go to.”

Srinivas Kuruganti
Srinivas KurugantiPhoto | Harsha Vadlamani

A boy in the ’80s

In the 1980s, in his late teens, he left Delhi for California to pursue an engineering degree—a decision primarily driven by a desire to escape a typical south Asian household. “I always did badly in school, but I knew I had other talents that just weren’t allowed to flourish because, at that time, those things just weren’t seen as something a child could also do,” he says.

Living in another country, building tight-knit friendships, working jobs to support himself, and having fun along the way was a life-changing and empowering experience. The full-spread images of the photobook show what life for a boy can be outside the stereotype of “diasporic life in the US, often rooted within metrics of achievement and aspirations of the immigrant experience,” writes Tanvi Mishra, a photo-editor and curator, in a note on the book. The photobook not only broadens the idea of freedom, joy, indulgence, love, and friendships but also presents the period of the ’80s and “relational ways of being”, says Mishra.

Stream of consciousness

These are photographs without any premeditations or reference points suggesting the reader ponder over why we capture what we capture in the everyday. “I thought to myself why do I have a photo of my desk in the archive and, of course, it was to send it to my parents, saying here is my desk. It was a proud moment to say to them, ‘Here is my workspace’.” remarks the author.

An impetus behind producing a photobook from the personal archive could be to make space for an aesthetic rooted in the past to reside in the here and now as one cannot possess the present but one can possess the past through possessing the image, as American critic Susan Sontag said.

Tender portraitures juxtaposed with moody captures make the spread dialogic. Cinematic edits of zoom-in, zoom-out, jump cuts, montages, and repetitive motifs bear upon moments of love, recklessness, and a newfound self-exploring body and sexuality while flooded with the exhilaration of learning and living exuberantly.

‘Experience the images’

The first six years of Kuruganti’s American life condensed in this body of work as sobering and gentle image texts, demand from the reader a moment of reflection. “I wanted the images to be very fluid— not break it with text. I want the images to hold, I want the text to hold, individually and still collectively work together. I wanted the spectator to experience the images and then read the text and then go back to the images looking for who this person I have spoken about seven times is. Let them figure that out because it also makes it a little interactive,” says Kuruganti.

This archival photobook project transcends the classifications of a traditional archive. It abandons linear time, recording moods and seeking pasts that language cannot reach. The format of the photobook disrupts what it means to read a book, one without text, and evokes a desire for stillness amidst the rush of Instagram swipes.

Five years ago, during the lockdown, Kuruganti started this project by scanning the negatives at his friend’s home in Goa. It was a complicated encounter with time and past relationships. “During the photobook-making process, you realise that though those friendships didn’t last after a point, they are still feeding me because I felt that at that moment in time, it was bliss. It was hard; it was really brutal, and there were deep insecurities, growing up—not having a base, not having your parents around as a support system, and being on your own…. So, you looked to your friends for that support, and that’s in there.”

Pictures in My Hand… is tied together by a sense of nostalgia for the gentler rhythms of dreams, a nostalgia that loves details, cherishes fragmented memory and is situated between a longing and a critical thinking about memory and record-keeping.

‘Pictures in My Hand of a Boy I Still Resemble’ is available to order at srinivaskuruganti.com

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