Suraj Nongmaithem : This Manipuri photographer is making waves in London

By Archit Shetye
NEW DELHI, May 26 : Photographer Suraj Nongmaithem is special. Born in Manipur, India, Suraj has been exploring London’s vivacious fashion scene and independent culture for the past few years. His images are serene yet powerful, and always have a story to tell. His work has been featured on independent magazine giants like Metal, Schon, Hunger, Fucking Young and more. He has also been featured on Vogue Italia’s Instagram twice. From tracing back the roots of his love for photography, to repping North East to the fullest, we had a chance to pick the brain of this young creative. Check it out!
How did you get into photography? What were your early influences?
When I was in my teens, I used to carry my small digital camera (one of those Sony Cybershots) and shoot every sort of thing – from my travels across the country, and the beautiful festivals, to the people I found captivating. My earliest influence was my dad who never left the analog camera and documented every part of our lives. We still have gazillion film rolls from back when I was young. You see, memories can be a powerful source of inspiration. It was only during my time as a media student in Mumbai, that I first thought of pursuing photography as a career. Photographers such a Steve McCurry were my heroes and getting a job at National Geographic Magazine was a dream. Seems like a long time back now.
Why did you pursue fashion photography? How would you define your style?
With literally no knowledge of fashion photography and basic knowledge of documentary photography, I decided to apply for an MA in Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion. To my surprise, I was accepted in the course and it absolutely changed my outlook of fashion, photography and culture.
Two years ago, I decided to finally pursue fashion photography since I believe it gives you the liberty to create beautiful imagery that speaks about culture, clothes, people, social issues and more. For me, the inter-relationship between culture and fashion is of the utmost importance. Image making for the sake of only commercialisation is pointless. It needs to portray a feeling or emotion. It should motivate. I consider my style to be simple and realistic with a breath of experimentation and flair. A lot of my work revolves around storytelling through collaboration, faces, brilliant styling and emotions. Currently, I have been vastly focused on the concept of masculinity in the modern generation.
Do you have a personal favourite picture of yours? If so, could you share the story and process behind it?
Robbie holds a white rose and wears a complete red look by John Lawrence Sullivan and Acne Studio, an editorial I shot for Metal Magazine. I love that picture. Shot on film, I used a Bronica 6x6 camera and Kodak Portra 400 to capture this gorgeous boy in motion. This photo is the best resemblance of my work exploring the idea of modern masculinity and fluidity.
What are some of the differences between the art (fashion, photography, music etc.) scene in London and in India? Are you planning to pursue fashion photography in India?
The opportunities to pursue the arts in London are abundant. It’s also the cultural pot where you meet people from various parts of the world. Your team is always a mixture of people from different nationalities, working together to achieve a common creative goal. London supports liberal, innovative and experimental art, fashion and photography. You can see it all across London with its support and encouragement for art institutions like Tate, V&A, etc. Independent magazines like Dazed, ID and more, create non-commercial experimental content and constantly support emerging talents. While here in India, there is a vast lack of support for creative talent and art. Moreover, the fashion industry in India is extremely commercial and Bollywood-centric. But I am glad to see that changing. Various new creatives in India are challenging the rigid industry and bringing a new phase of modernity in our country’s art and fashion development. Designers and talent are no longer scared of experimenting and spread their work internationally.
I shifted back to India a month ago and plan to bring my ideas and expertise to the fashion industry here. I plan to work here for a while. Let’s see.
Do you think the creative community of North East gets the recognition it deserves? What advice would you give to the young creatives from there?
The North East has an abundance of creative talent, from people working with traditional textiles to the generation creating a new phase of North East art. Sadly, a lot of it never makes it to mainstream pop culture due to the lack of awareness of the North East in general. But I see it changing in the coming years with the growth of digital awareness in the country.
To my fellow creatives from the east, I would love to pass the message of dreaming, dedication and handwork. To dream big and stand your ground. To fight the odds and create art that motivates others. And never forget your roots.