What drives you to keep taking photographs?
Photographs are about memory. I have this obsessive need to document and remember – to capture things before they disappear. Because my community is diminishing, photographs are my way of saying this is who we are.
Man In the Sola Hat, Bombay, 1985 © Sooni Taraporevala / National Gallery of Modern Art
How would you describe the Parsi community?
A tiny minority that has contributed to India beyond proportion to our number. Lives that occur in several centuries simultaneously and paradoxically.
What are your hopes for the future of the Parsi community?
My hopes are that we won’t die out. Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion in the world. It would be a terrible sadness if it went into oblivion. But unfortunately there are people within the religion who will not relax the boundaries. I would like to see more people being able to join our religion. I would imagine that Zarathustra did not want this to be a religion of just 30,000 people …
Godrej Typewriter Factory, Bombay, 1984 © Sooni Taraporevala / Museum of Modern Art
How do you feel about digital photography? Do you work digitally yourself?
I do now, and have become a technology geek. But I went into it kicking and screaming. I do miss printing though – despite the stinky chemicals. But if you are working in black and white, a good silver gelatin print can often be nicer than digital.
How does your film work inform your photography, and vice versa?
I think visually, and therefore I write visually. I try for minimal dialogue, and I think photography helps with that. With writing you are continually stopping and going back, but with photography there’s no stopping, it happens in a split second and with film-making there is no going back either - you just have to keep moving forward.
Together Forever, Bombay, 1985 © Sooni Taraporevala / Museum of Modern Art
Do you think photography is getting more recognition as an art form in India?
Yes, I think it is gaining in recognition. But not enough!
Who are your favourite photographers?
Henri Cartier-Bresson has always been my hero. My mentor was Raghubir Singh the maestro of colour, and I admire the work of Raghu Rai. From my generation of Indian photographers, there are so many – all friends and fellow photographers – Ketaki Sheth, Pablo Bartholomew, Dayanita Singh, Mahendra Sinh, and the late Prabuddha Dasgupta. Amongst the younger photographers my favourites are Aparna Jayakumar, Chirodeep Chaudhari, Dhruv Malhotra, Sohrab Hura, Chandan Gomes and Vicky Roy.
Marine Drive, Bombay, 1981 © Sooni Taraporevala / Museum of Modern Art
How do you feel about the fine art photography market?
I have conflicted feelings about the art market. I come from a tradition of photojournalism, and I feel that photography should be unlimited. Editioning a print means putting a limit on something and making it exclusive. Before, I was very free with giving prints of my work to friends – now I have entered the art market I can’t do that any longer. But, I guess I don’t depend on my photography as my main source of revenue. For those who do, then I can see it’s a good thing; it’s a way of conferring value on something.
Your images show a real love of Bombay. What is it that makes the city special?
It’s the only city in India where you can find people from every community in the country - it has a much larger mix than anywhere else. I find it endlessly fascinating; there are still so many pockets of the city and areas to explore. It’s a city which changes continually and yet stays the same. It can sometimes be a maddeningly frustrating place to live, but I love it; Bombay is a proper city, not an overgrown village like Delhi.
Rashid Irani at his Brabourne Restaurant, Bombay, 1984 © Sooni Taraporevala / Museum of Modern Art
How has the city changed?
The buildings have been the biggest change – all the wonderful old buildings are being knocked down. I feel I should be out there, documenting them all.
Where do you take visitors to Bombay who have a day and have never been here before?
I don’t think you can do Bombay in a day! It’s a city you need to walk around and get to know to really appreciate it.
Persepolis Pillars at Princess Street, Bombay, 1986 © Sooni Taraporevala / Museum of Modern Art
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just read this wonderful book, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And I’m about to start Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing two scripts - one commissioned , the other for myself which I aim to direct. My exhibition PARSIS which was at Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai earlier this year has just opened at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi until 3rd November. I am exhibiting alongside Ketaki Sheth. Both shows are also part of the Delhi Photo Festival and both of us are returning to Delhi to do walk-throughs during the festival.