13 December 2018


Model: Sanjeev

Indian photographer, Raqeeb, uses portraits of the body to subvert traditional expectations of male imagery and sexuality. His work celebrates those men too often excluded by the homogeneity of mainstream media.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a suburban area of West Bengal, India. It was difficult being different in a society where difference of any kind is looked down upon and mocked.

How did you get into photography?

My tryst with photography started in college where I enrolled into an English Literature program. It was during my college years that I was accepted for who I am, and I started opening up both in terms of expressing myself and exposing myself to different opportunities.

How would you describe the content of your work?

My work is an attempt to deconstruct how we look at male sexuality. Male sexuality in mainstream Indian photography shows only perfectness of the male body with stereotypical muscled figures. I am not saying that it is wrong; however, being at a vantage point, these professional photographers should explore new avenues and see things the way they are. We are all imperfect, and my photography focuses on the perfectness of being imperfect. I make a point of portraying men of variety, whether it be slim guys or feminine guys. Embracing the beauty of how you are is perhaps the running theme of all my work.

Where does your creative inspiration come from?

I don’t think inspiration can come to you from anywhere but yourself. You can be in awe of others’ work, but it is your perception of how you are seeing things that comes out through the work in the end. The inspiration is also a result of the support that I receive from people around me. The models I work with have inspired me in more than one way; I am able to frame the photo series through the conversations that I have with them – that is a major source of inspiration. Support from my partner, Kuku, and his indelible approach of thoroughly critiquing my work also inspires me to work better each day.


What message do you want to convey to your audience through your work?

The only message that I intend to impart through my work is to tell people that they are perfect the way they are. No one needs to change anything if they do not want to. Society always grumbles about how one is too fat or too feminine, but society’s perception of perfectness can never be achieved because it lives in a utopia of its own. Be yourself, be imperfect, and be confident in who you are.


How does your photography achieve this?

I would not be able to answer how it achieves this because that is on the audiences’ part to see if my photography changes any feeling about themselves. I have been told by many of my models that they started embracing their body as it is and became more comfortable in their skin after working with me. It does make me feel better that I am able to bring change in a few people to begin with.


How do you explore the themes of gender and sexuality in your work?

Gender and sexuality, in my opinion, are very diverse things. One cannot restrict them categorically into boxes. Hence, the only way that I aim to explore gender and sexuality is by approaching my models in a casual way: I talk to them and try to get to know them before the shoot. It is their sexuality and gender that is being represented in the pictures, so having that personal perception is very important. In general, I always like to explore the feminine side of men because that is joked about, ridiculed, and seen as inferior. My only aim through this is to deconstruct the idea of the ‘mainstream male’ being the perfect, sturdy and unblemished actor of a film.

Does your personal history work its way into your photography?

Some of my personal experiences seep into the work. In my opinion, personal experience is bound to figure into the work, especially if you are doing the work out of passion and not profession. My experience of diabolic identity, my experiences with my partners, my traumatic teenage years, and the confusion over my own sexuality over the years always figure into the work.

Forbidden Desires

Saatvik & Sukamal

This picture is special for me since it was published at a time when the debate surrounding decriminalisation of homosexuality was at its peak in India. A few months later, Section 377 of IPC was decriminalised and homosexuality was no longer an illegal act. The picture reminds me of the freedom that we achieved to be with anyone we love despite caste, creed, and gender.

Dreaming of a Never Land

This image is from my first series where I compiled landscapes or nature with the human body. This picture is close to my heart as it reminds me of the early days of my page, ‘daintystranger’, when I just started out and received support from numerous people. I loved the juxtaposition of a hopeless human face and the hope that comes with the ‘Kaash flower’ (Saccharum spontaneum) which has connotations of the harbinger of change and festivity in Bengal, where I grew up. The ‘Kaash flower’ seen in the picture reminds me of my days in my native village, and it also states the fact that I have moved too away from that place which was so close to my heart.

What projects have you got coming up?

Many. One of them is already running on Instagram and is titled ‘Urban Spaces’. It explores the position of identity in cities that are boxing every person into a 4×4 room. Another is a personal project based on my experience with my boyfriend, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The struggles, the joys, and the uncertainties figure into the work. It might take some time to come out with the final product since it is very close to my heart.

Thank you, Raqeeb.

You can check out more of Raqeeb’s photography on his Instragram

The original interview was conducted in English and has been edited for brevity and clarity