Publisher Q&A2: Harsha Vadlamani of Galli Magazine

Last year we posted a "Publisher Q&A" series, featuring 12 short interviews with a range of publishers on their presses and sites and the state of the publishing market (see the site links page for links). It was a popular series, and we've decided to add another 12 entries to the series with more extended questions.

The first four posts of this second series were with Éanna de Fréine of The Velvet CellDavid Schoerner of Hassla Books, Luca Desienna of Gomma Magazine Ltd., Hannah Watson of Trolley Books, Curt Holtz, Photography Editor of Prestel Publishing and Aline Smithson of Lenscratch.

Today we continue with Harsha Vadlamani of Galli Magazine.

Publication: Galli Magazine
Location: India
Format: online

fototazo: What is the back-story on how Galli Magazine formed? Was there a particular need that you saw and sought to fill?

Harsha Vadlamani: Galli was born out of angst. I was preparing to work on my first story at the time and used to spend long hours on the internet looking at several photographers’ works. What surprised me was the lack of spaces that showed photography from India. The few existing sites were not regularly updated or published work that is widely known already. Surely there is more work being made in India?

Also print media is very strong in India but Indian publications traditionally did not encourage photojournalism. Many still use photographs as space fillers and very often it is the captions that speak more than the photo itself. Between Homai Vyarawalla, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of events surrounding the Partition of India in 1947, Raghu Rai and Kishore Parekh’s photos of Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 and Raghu Rai and Pablo Bartholomew’s photos of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, there is not much iconic imagery to look back at. It was almost as if nothing of significance had happened during those intervening years. There were a few magazines that laid great emphasis on image-driven storytelling, but unfortunately they could not survive for long.

I wanted Galli to focus on both these areas- to create a platform for young photographers to showcase their work while also creating a repository of sorts for photostories that tell the collective story of a geographical region called India.

f: What are the particular strengths of what Galli publishes? What separates it from other publishers?

HV: Galli publishes work produced only within the geographical boundaries of India, by both emerging and established photographers, and their nationality doesn’t matter. I find it very interesting to look at work, often from the same region, produced by photographers coming from different backgrounds and stylistic approaches.

I have never thought about what differentiates Galli from other online publications, many of them have a direction of their own and it doesn’t make sense to compare each with the another.

f: What is your process for deciding what to publish?

HV: There are no hard and fast rules. I have been very clear from the beginning that storytelling takes precedence over aesthetics at Galli. I have had to say no to some photographers when they got their facts totally wrong, despite the high visual appeal of their work. At the same time I also accepted work that isn’t visually as strong but tells an important story. I try not to feature stories that I feel have been told many times before, but of course I make an exception when the photographer takes a totally different approach.

f: How would you describe the contemporary publishing landscape - both in print and online - in India both compared with its own past as well as with the general current context?

HV: I’d say it is still evolving and very similar to what’s happening in many other parts of the world. Producing books in print is expensive, and there are very few publishers in India that have the resources to publish - and very importantly market - high quality books. Quite a few established photographers are taking the self-publishing route but the costs associated are a deterrent for the younger lot.

A lot is happening online but personally I’d like to see many more publications, initiatives and collaborations.

f: Are there other magazines, publishers, or sites based in South Asia you would recommend readers to look at?

HV: Indian Memory Project is a wonderful archive of personal stories from the subcontinent. I greatly admire Asim Rafiqui’s writings on photography at The Spinning Head and also his project The Idea of India. Among online publications there are PIX, Aksgar, Emaho, Punctum and Tasveer.

f: What have you learned through the process of establishing Galli that you wish you would have known beforehand or that you would pass along to others interested in publishing?

HV: To have a niche and to not to get too ambitious with the periodicity, especially when you don’t make a living from it.

f: How has working as an editor influenced your personal work and your aspirations in photography?

HV: It did not influence but it definitely did help me in a lot of ways. The process at Galli, especially with young photographers, is to look at a very large edit of 30-60 images and bring it down to 20 or less. We’d then look at the text and captions, fill in bits of missing information and do a very basic fact-checking. There is so much collaboration happening and I get to learn a lot every time I do that.

f: What has been your highlight in working with Galli?

HV: The best part definitely is getting to meet so many wonderful people and getting to look at so much work.

f: What are the next steps for the magazine?

HV: Galli has just announced the Network, editorially independent microsites within Galli. We’re giving anyone planning to do reviews, interviews and writings on photography (in English or regional languages) and even their own curated projects a microsite. Galli will provide them with the technical support and when they think they are ready to move on to their own domains, will help them with that too. I hope this will spawn a whole new set of photography initiatives in India. There are a couple more initiatives in the pipeline but I guess its too early to talk about them.