In focus Friday - Mud wrestler training

05 January 2018

SIG: Documentary

This week we hear from James Valls-Enriquez who submitted this striking image from his photo book project for the August round of the Documentary Group's bi-monthly competition (link). Look out for more images from this series in the next issue of Decisive Moment.

Hi, James. Can you give us a little background about the shot?

The photo shows Guru Jwala weight lifting during a mud wrestling training session at the akhada (training grounds) in Mullick ghat, Kolkata. This photo is part of a photo book project titled Akhada. A collection of photos I took during the course of two days whilst visiting the wrestling arena at the Mullick ghat, in the river bench of the Hugli river.

What was your plan for the day?

This photo was taken on the second day of the photo shoot, I spent the first day mostly taking general shots and getting to know everyone at the akhara. I spent the previous evening putting a general plan together of the kind of shots I'd need in order to tell a story, thinking of images that would give context to the project, scenarios that would be worth shooting, styles I wanted to try, etc.

what essential piece of advice would give your noviceself?

Be kind and respect your subjects. Take time getting to know your subjects and build a connection before shooting away.

What’s your routine just before heading out with your camera?

Because photography comes second to creating a relationship with the subject I like to breakdown the story and plan the flow of the story with post-it notes for potential images I'd like to take, context, etc. If I'm abroad I lay it all out on my hotel room wall and review it before I head off so I'm confident I have a plan to follow (although I also leave myself enough space to improvise and allow for the unexpected to happen).

While you’re out what makes you press the shutter release?

Mostly lighting and the potential of an interesting composition, this is what tends to spark my imagination, then I tend to hang around until I see an interesting composition.

Where can we find more of your work?

I like sharing photos on instagram ( link @vallsphoto) I share photos I'm proud of, outtakes from projects and daily snapshots. I also keep a website ( which I'm currently overhauling, not enough time in the day to keep everything up to date!

What’s the best purchase you’ve made for less than £100?

TieHerUp camera straps on the hardware side (link), love the colours, very comfortable and well built. I'm also a big fan of VSCO film plugins as well (link).

And finally, which camera has been your all time favourite and why?

Possibly the Fujifilm X100 series, small, almost invisible to your subjects and with great film emulation. I'm not a fan of post processing, these cameras let me take shots with the look I like and share them online via wireless transfer, perfect to share your work quickly, without the need of a computer.

Thanks, James. Best of luck with the photo book!