Bombay v. New York: A Very Short Q&A with Photographer Nisha Sondhe

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Sometimes I walk through my city and think, “there’s no place like home.” I’m a native New Yorker and there are still things about the city that amaze me, such as seeing the Manhattan skyline from the pedestrian lane of the Brooklyn Bridge or how the garbage can pile up and smell like nasty meat corpses in the summer’s heat. The good and the bad, the beauty and the grime: I heart New York.

But what truly makes New York City unique? And is it that unique? One of my close friends, Nisha Sondhe, has been creating a project that has shown me the spirit of my “home” can be found outside of the city. Nisha is a portrait and travel photographer who has been working on Bombay v. New York since 2008, in which she juxtaposes photos of similar people, places, and activities in both cities. She lives in NYC and travels to Bombay once a year for about a month. I miss her when she goes to India, but I know she always comes back with the most amazing photos.

You can view the entire project here. Here’s a short Q&A we did about the project.

Rumpus: What inspired you to do the Bombay v. New York project? Why choose Bombay and New York City?

Nisha Sondhe: An art director once told me, “I know you can shoot exotic things abroad and make them look beautiful, but can you take pictures of familiar things and make them look beautiful as well.” Which was interesting to me because when I would show work for jobs in India, people would ask me why they needed to see “photos of boring everyday things in India.” New York art directors are just like Bombay art directors. In fact, New Yorkers in general are just like Bombayites and the more I looked around the more I realized that the two cities are exactly the same.

Rumpus: How do you come up with the ideas/subject matter of the photos?

Nisha Sondhe: It’s anything and everything that takes place in both cities that can be conveyed in one pair of photographs. I do try to focus on things that most people would associate with one city or another so people can learn something from the project as well. I enjoy hearing “Oh they do that there too?!

Rumpus: Describe the process of creating a photo set, from birth of the idea, how you get/scout your subjects to the actual photo shoot.

Nisha Sondhe: I have a checklist of the things I’d like to photograph and it’s really long. Some of the things on the list have been on there since I came up with the series, some of them have come to me while I’m walking around either city shooting other things. Ideas present themselves all the time. They either come from people who have written to me about the project or from the “Oh my god how could I forget?! There are prostitutes in both cities…How am I going to get THEM??” moments that come to me in the middle of the night.

Rumpus: What’s next for the project?

Nisha Sondhe: I’m really trying to get our NYC Mayor’s Office involved with the project. It’s impossible to tell a story about a city and not include the mayor, the police, and those in charge of running this city. I think it’s the biggest thing missing from the project now and I think that’s what my focus is for the next edit of the work. I have most of that on the Bombay end and I really would like to see it come to fruition for New York. My ultimate goal for the series is to have it up in galleries in each city at the same time. It’s really my dream for this work and based on the kind of feedback I’m getting, I really think I can make it happen.


LaToya Jordan is a native Brooklynite whose poetry has appeared in MiPOesias, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, The November 3rd Club, The Splinter Generation, qarrtsiluni, and other journals. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and mentors a budding young writer with the organization Girls Write Now. She is inspired by crime dramas and often peruses the web in search of true-life macabre stories for her poetry. Her friends are afraid. She blogs about her writing life at www.latoyalikestowrite.com. More from this author →