Pubarun Basu shares the stories behind his best photographs

ByDavid M. Conte

Dec 8, 2021

Pubarun Basu, 20, is the first Indian to win the 2021 Young Photographer of the Year award at the Sony World Photography Awards. Exclusively for MW, he curates a set of his best shots and shares the intriguing stories behind them.

At only 20 years old, Pubarun Basu, a resident of Kolkata, has managed to position himself in the global photography landscape. What led to this feat? An image he clicked during the pandemic, with a pair of hands hidden behind a colorful curtain to represent the feeling of loneliness during the lockdown. Out of 330,000 entries from around 220 regions of the world, Basu became the first Indian to win the 2021 Young Photographer of the Year award at the Sony World Photography Awards.

“I clicked on this photo in 2020 during the months of total containment. Through this photograph, I wanted to portray a feeling of being locked into one’s own reality. The curtains symbolized the fabrics of space-time and the parallel shadow lines created the illusion of a cage. The two hands outstretched for freedom were unable to pierce this rigid periphery of reality, ”he says.

His enthusiasm for capturing moments has often resulted in some surprisingly gorgeous shots. Basu shares the story behind some of his best work.


The main reason behind the capture of this photograph was the confluence of the vibrant color of the sky with the colors of the saree that the woman was wearing. The fact that this is a faceless portrait but still manages to speak to the identity of the woman is what makes this image special.


This image depicts the coexistence of nature and man. The first thing that caught my attention was the contrast in color tones. The warm artificial light illuminated my subjects against the vivid blue tint of the evening sky. The red tint on the man’s shirt added to the flavor.


I took this photo by the ghat river right outside my house. The sky had projected a myriad of colors, and I couldn’t resist my temptation to capture it. I went down to the river with my camera and saw some young boys playing in the river. They were the same age as me, but their carefree spirit was something to see. One boy was fishing the river bed for coins with a magnet, while another seemed to have his gaze riveted on the colorful sky. The third boy was still busy with his quest for the underwater world.


I was walking along the river when I ran into this kid. He was engrossed in his own world, playing in the streets as if the whole world were his playground. His family consisted of immigrants from the neighboring state and had settled in the slums next to the river, overlooking a crematorium. The child’s blissful innocence made him enjoy life to the fullest. This photo was taken on the street along the Hooghly River north of Calcutta, a place I frequently visit for my photographic escapades.


This photo was taken in Ghatsila, Jharkhand, in April. The Santhal community had ventured into the streets to perform their tribal ritual. Amidst the bright colors and exquisite faces, I noticed that the young women of the tribe performed the rituals under the guidance of the elders. It was a sight to see.


I found this craftsman in a dimly lit alley in Kumortuli – an area in northern Calcutta – home to some of the city’s best sculptors. When I walked into his studio, I could smell the dampness of the mud and hay. I approached him slowly, and asked his permission to take his picture. He obligated happily. He sculpted the third eye on Maa Durga’s forehead. Looking through my viewfinder I realized how alive the sculpture looked, and then it hit me – he was creating the creator.


I was just 13 when I took this photo, but I processed it after four years. I was on the beach with my family and was quite intrigued by the reflection of people on the wet sand. For my young self, the scene depicts the confluence of two different worlds – the interface of two realms.


In my five years of documenting the Ganges River and its people, I have seen many mundane moments transform into exceptional visuals with the infusion of strong cultural elements. This photograph stands out as one of them. The ladies come to the river every day to offer their prayers, but on this day, the backlight falling on their colorful sarees produced stunning imagery. The red band on the lady’s arm is a totem of protection against evil, and the white bracelet on her wrist signifies her marital status. Through this image, I wanted to portray the eternal bond of spirituality that connects people to this celestial body of water.


I captured this photograph in a tribal village in Jharkhand for the sole purpose of documenting their colorful way of life. Looking back, I realize how much of an impact this photograph had on my trip. The waves of color on the walls of the house find perfect continuity in the saree of the woman standing at the door. His gaze seems frozen to the movement of the waves, as if searching for their destination.