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EyeEm Awards: Aiyush Pachnanda Tells Us How to Photograph Subcultures

By Guest Author - 5 min read

Photographer of the Year for The 2018 EyeEm Awards, Aiyush Pachnanda, shares his unique advice for shooting the diverse subcultures shaping our society. As jury member for this year's EyeEm Awards, Aiyush tells us what it takes to dive head first into each project and why it leads to results.

As a social documentary photographer that specialises in subcultures and portraits, my aim is always to photography groups of people that peak my curiousity.

I’ve always been fascinated with people who have different interests to my own and coming from London, I grew up surrounded by diverse communities and individuals. But studying at university in Cardiff opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of meeting people who are different, new and therefore interesting.

Creating a Portfolio of #NotYourCliche Portrait Photography

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I started out shooting subcultures by photographing unconventional and wonderful people that I’d meet on my travels. This included heavily tattooed people, musicians and university students. I was photographing them simply because I found them interesting. Eventually I was led to investigate certain threads of society further and feed my growing obsession with understanding what makes people unique.

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Deciding on a topic or particular subculture in focus can go one of two ways. Sometimes it’s intentional and I look for people who catch my eye or have a certain charm about them.

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Other times I come across interesting people through work or life simply by coincidence - for example, the band that I live with. I’ve learnt that you always have to be prepared to network with new people despite your initial impression. If you are always ready, you’ll find you can come across a subculture by accident just as easily as you can on purpose.

Although discovery methods can differ, the end product is what matters most to me.

“…never stop shooting, and always look for people with a story to tell as you never know where it might lead you to.”

One shoot continues to influence my approach. I was at Notting Hill Carnival one August bank holiday when I received a message by a tattooed friend of mine asking if I wanted to shoot. The only issue was that it was on the other side of London.

I vaguely remember running through crowds and jumping on tubes to go and meet him. Once we met, we took some photos and had a coffee. It was the polar opposite to what was happening at Notting Hill. With him, it was quieter, dryer and more sparse in comparison to the loud and packed west side of the city taken over by the carnival.

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“insider knowledge can be invaluable when blending yourself into people’s lives.”

After the shoot I went home, edited my photos, and uploaded them to EyeEm. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Following that I spent the next week in the hospital getting my appendix removed and if I’m honest the shoot left my mind completely.

Once I got home, I checked my emails to find that I was a finalist for The EyeEm 2018 Photographer of The Year. I still can’t believe that the photo that ended up winning was one from that spontanous shoot. It reminds me to never stop shooting, and always look for people with a story to tell as you never know where it might lead you to.

The biggest challenge that I have faced when shooting particular subcultures has been making the initial connection and getting my foot in the door. Once I have gained their trust it’s easy for people, who would at first be pretty closed, to open up to me.

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If you’ve found someone or a group of people that you want to shoot, do your research thoroughly before diving into it headfirst. Insider knowledge can be invaluable when blending yourself into people’s lives.

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I often research words and phrases that a certain subculture may often use and slip them into conversation. Subcultures often heavily revolve around fashion, and so I also always try to compliment the way a person looks before introducing myself. This is something certain individuals take a huge amount of pride in, for example tattooed people. For me it goes beyond the obvious, and I always seek to compliment them on how their tattoos suit their bodies.

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Another challenge that I continue to face is ensuring that I am not being exploitative of the subject in question. I want them to view me as a friend, rather than a photographer or journalist. This is important to me as I can’t do them justice otherwise.

My best advice for anyone starting out in photography?

  • Never leave the house without a camera.
  • Research into important figures throughout photographical history and find inspiration.
  • Shoot everyone and everything until you narrow it down to what you really have a passion for.
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    See more of Aiyush’s outstanding work on his EyeEm profile now!

    Are you taking unique portraits or kick-starting thought-provoking phoography projects? Submit your photo stories to The 2019 EyeEm Awards to become the next Photographer of the Year! Just like Aiyush, your creative career could be just around the corner - enter ‘The Portraitist’, ‘The Photojournalist’ or our 8 other unique categories now!