Every once in a while, someone comes out

Every once in a while, someone comes out and says what the others are thinking quietly. They do it with such grace that you cannot particularly be offended.

I ran into one such character today… a bank manager wanted to know what I did for a living. Having been a client of the bank forever, he needed to update my details as a part of the new program. I told him I’m a photographer and I work for myself.

He continued to fill in my details for a few minutes and then ventured that question that was obviously bugging him – please don’t get me wrong but isn’t it tougher for a woman to get assignments in photography, it being such a male dominated field?

In his mind, he couldn’t recall a photographer as a photojournalist. He would not think of me a food photographer, interiors or any such thing. To him, photograph instantly brought to mind wedding photography and that meant difficulties for a woman. He was truly curious about how I got my assignments and how people treated me. Over a cup of tea, I explained to him that me being a woman actually had its advantages to get assignments, since I had a different perspective into weddings and could hang out in the bridal room without people feeling conscious.

He brightened considerably at that thought.

A moment later, he asked – how many times have you been cheated?

As a bank manager, he is too well aware of the kind of swindles people can pull. He explained that for some reason people think it is easier to swindle women. We were out of time and I didn’t really want to explain my business model to him. But it did get me thinking – do we face more con artists than a guy? I’ve faced my share of people who have refused to pay. As have my colleagues.

But is this a gender thing or is do con artists see no gender?

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Just A Rant

This is what started it off – a message on Facebook that said ‘hi… I’m looking for a photographer to shoot some stuff but I can’t pay. It’ll be a great learning experience for you and you can add this to your portfolio. If interested, please send me your work.’

Innocuous enough… But something snapped when I saw the last line.

There have been plenty such messages. And sly jokes against such people too.

But it continues to baffle me how people expect to get work done for free – for your benefit, of course! – but want to see your work before they hire you. Which translates to – I want really good work but I don’t think I should pay you because working for me is an honour?

Or does it mean – I get to judge you and insult you by not paying. Or I think there are morons out there who do really good work and I’m gonna cheat them by not paying, and using the mantra ‘but that guy said he would do it got free… So why should I pay you.’

I actually don’t get it.

There are several people who use this statement. They want everything free and judge you for it.

For these people I say, if you want quality, you pay. You can’t expect to have your cake and eat it too. you can’t not want to pay but still want to see the work. Someone wants to shoot to learn. Let them. Or do it yourself. Get a friends with a camera and have fun. You’ll learn why professionals charge as much as they do.you’ll learn how much work and love go into it.

And there are people who would give in to it this because they believe this is the way too drum up business and have a portfolio.

Do these photographers realise they are not just setting a bad standard for themselves but are also killing the market? And insulting themselves.

If you want to learn, shoot. Shoot everything. Play with light. Play with the subject. Get close to your camera. Assist others.

You don’t go on a professional shoot without having any knowledge, all by yourself. That isn’t learning.

If you think you are good enough, charge accordingly. Not do free shoots just so you can say you did that. You are insulting yourself and and other photographers when you do that.

Why Do We Shoot?

Why do we shoot?

Why do shoot photo essays?

Why do we catalogue other people’s lives?

What significance does our photograph hold to others?

Why do we try to explain?

These are questions that have been plaguing me ever since I began shooting. I know the answers, in some part of me. But just when I think I’ve almost got the words for it, they fade away.

Today, I think the answer is ‘just because’.

As simple as that. Just because I like to shoot. Because I think there is a story and I want to tell that story. Just because I want to tell that story in my way. Just because I see something and it intrigues me.

Perhaps I will never find a ‘justifiable’ answer that people can comprehend. How do I explain this need to capture something on frame? That I see an image, a juxtaposition, an irony, a memory, a contrast, a sameness, a definition and I want to preserve that moment.

The images we shoot will perhaps lose relevance some day. That someday, someone will see the photograph of the pool I took today and shrug and move on.

Or maybe they will sit and wonder why someone took this photograph. They will wonder about the story behind the pool.

Was there a reason why the cavemen drew on walls of his cave? It was art, it was a message or perhaps he was just sharpening his stone axe and we interpreted as something more.

Art often lies in the art of the creator and explained through the voice of a viewer. And they can and often are radically different.

If we asked Picasso why he painted something, or Wordsworth about why he composed a poem about daffodils, they would probably give us very disillusioning answers.

Art serves its own purpose. It exists. It makes us think. If I drew a line today and called it art, someone, someday would think about it.

Is photography art? Yes, it is.

Even perhaps those over photoshopped pieces that we scorn. Maybe someday an anthropologist will talk about our need for vividity, for starkness.

What about photojournalism then?

Do the millions of photographs we take have any relevance? I know after so many years in journalism that they rarely make a difference. Our generation suffers from a sensory overload.

But I tell those stories to fulfill my desire. It is a purely selfish creation, as art often is. The need to purge something. Once it is done, you feel calmer, think clearer. Sometimes, once it is purged, it is also banished from your frame of thought. Perhaps that is why many photographers do not revisit their work.

I don’t think I’ll make a difference. That naive, idealistic girl is far gone, just a few months after journalism school. The photo essay I upload today and is shared a 100 times will be eclipsed tomorrow by a story about Aishwarya Rai’s dress at Cannes.

But maybe we are all closet optimists and we hope that somewhere, someone looks at that piece of art and starts a ripple of their own, their own story.

What else is there to do here but to tell those stories and make a tapestry and be smug bastards? Or depressed bastards. Perhaps it is just an attempt to subdue the futility of it all and a desperate attempt to leave a mark on the seashore.

See? So many answers. It all boils down to just this ‘because I want to take that photograph.’

Link of the Day: Steve McCurry’s Kabul

Purpose of Fashion Photography

So I began delving a little more deeper into the world of fashion photography. I guess I’m still trying to explore what exactly fashion photography means.  Some people I’ve discovered so far have such strong styles that I believe much of the Indian market would not even look at it. I find some of this work impressive.

But as a photographer still quite new to the professional field, which side should one choose? The traditional, commercial and sometimes predictable way to pay the bills or starve and follow what you believe is creativity?

When my bank account is a little flush, I believe in the latter. And then I realise I have no money for at least a cup of tea and figure sometimes, you have to sell a little bit of your soul.

The minute you attach ‘commercial’ to your photographer tag, you become a businessperson and an artist. In the 21st century, it is sort of possible for both to survive in the same person, though there is a lot of disgust, frustration and such things when you are wearing the business hat.

But back to the topic of Fashion Photographers, I found one woman among the names I scrounged from here and there.

Does a woman’s interpretation of fashion differ? Of course it does! Duh!

Then why aren’t there more women in fashion photography considering we understand and love fashion, what looks good on a woman, how to be sensual or sexy or funny or all those things. Or at least you will know it better when you start thinking about it. And as women, we constantly watch and judge other women as well, be it even in a cafe. We check out shoes, clothes, hair, makeup etc. But apparently such things do not translate more than a pasttime.

Regardless of gender, the viewpoint of photographers from Europe or NY seems to be vastly different from their Indian counterparts. I have barely even scratched the surface of these huge photographer fraternities, but among Indian names there are probably a couple that spring to mind. And I’ve never been too impressed with their work.

Is fashion way too influenced by the movie perspective? Or don’t people care enough about it to innovate and are happy to duplicate?

And is fashion photography, or just photography for that matter only about pretty people? Isn’t there more of a challenge in capturing an interesting face?

I took photo of a very pretty friend a couple of years ago. When I posted it on Facebook, I got a lot of oohs and aahs… but I’d stopped trusting FB as a source of proper judgement on photos. So on Flickr, I got truly beaten. “Pretty face but what’s interesting in the photo” was the common refrain.

There are people who I believe have truly traditional faces, faces that seem all angles and shadows that play beautifully in front of the camera. Of course, the model’s attitude is really important too… but when you are shooting candids, it isn’t about the person having a perfect skin tone, teeth or eyes. It is the story those things are saying.

And there I am, back to talking about candids instead of orchestrated photographs that tell a story. The challenge that lies there, working with all the elements, to tell the story you want to in a single shot. The shot that makes people want to be like the men and women in those shots. Dream and aspire. Is that the purpose of fashion photography?

Or is it merely… a tool for enchancing beauty? Work from the 50s would tell me it is the former… but more recent work I’ve seen makes me believe it is the latter.

Maybe it is time for innovation again.

(These are notes on my journey of photography. I’m still learning and there’s a long way to go. My perspectives will change everyday as I discover my style, likes & dislikes and art forms. This isn’t meant to insult anyone or anything… just an opinion that might change tomorrow, when I’m hopefully wiser.)

Photography – Chapter 2

It has been about a year since I began this journey as a ‘professional’ photographer.

When I look back, it pretty much feels like I am only 6 months old. There were so many mistakes and so many answers to find, particularly the answer to the question “What separates a professional from an amateur or a hobbyist?”

The answer used to be that a professional is one who has made it a career. That still stands true, for most part… but I cannot give the clients that answer. They are looking for something more philosophical that would make them feel okay parting with money. Because most people do not see the work go into photography. They do not see the planning of shots, the juggling with lights, the expenses of the equipment, patience required to get that right shot, the jumping around and the hours spent in front of the computer removing a little bit of dust, freckles and pimples on your face.

What they see if a person with a huge camera, shades on his face and a big ass bag and a bottle of water.

So I learnt… I learnt about making invoices, judging the right client, chasing them down for payment, about taxes and expenses and actual profits, about the need of having an assistant, a support and tie ups with various other people I call ‘associates’ and about the need to ‘market’ properly.

Well, the last… I know about it but I still haven’t learned it… nor have I learned the art of pricing, which sort of go together in my mind. Sometimes, a price seems too high for what I’m doing and sometimes too low.

Money is a brilliant motivator, particularly when you have none. And when the job is a boring one. I’ve spent hours waiting for the client to be ready, I’ve learned to be on time (almost!). I’ve learned the importance of the position of the sun and seasons.

I love winter… shoots can start at 7 AM, even if it is quite cold them. 7 AM seems a lot better than 5.30 AM.

Now that I’ve gotten through what I’d term “Photography business for Dummies – Chapter 1,” I’d need to read through all the annexures and footnotes before moving onto Chapter 2.

Everyone is a photographer in today’s digital age.

A professional, I’ve realised, is one who dedicates time exclusively to that passion. Knows all the details completely and lives in a world behind the lens. I’m not there yet, completely. I see the frame but the photograph mostly remains in my mind. And sometimes, I am okay with that too.

Now to learn to distinguish between work for money alone and work that is fun and pays.

Inspirations

I was in conversation with a fellow photographer. Naturally, about photographs. Being much junior to me, he respects my opinion, if not all my work.

The conversation moved onto photographers that we admire and we discovered that we knew some photographers in common. My opinion of some of these photographers has changed from ‘awesome’ to ‘good’ in the past year. That is perhaps a result of me discovering more about photography techniques and some of their work.

As we grow older, and more confident in our field, do we suddenly cease to see what we saw earlier. Perceptions change – that is inevitable. But does success being arrogance with it, and a certain kind of blindness?

One of these photographers had been my inspiration. I loved the photographs he shot – bright, vivid and beautiful. Now, I realise it is a lot to do with his characters and processing. I still admit he is a great photographer, just not as brilliant as I had made him out to be.

So the process began, browsing other photographers, some famous and some on their way. Some extinct but memorable.

Vivian Maier, one of my all time inspirations. Ryan Lobo, Steve McCurry.

And then I wondered where was my real inspiration? For those portraits that I loved to take. The challenge that I need to meet, to capture. Most of my inspirations are from the world of street or photojournalism (thin line between those two, methinks). But portraits… for those ethereal portraits? This is one of my favorite ones… reminds me of the photo of the Afghan girl McCurry shot for NGC.

Apart from these two names, I really cannot recall a single photographer whose work simply inspires me in terms of portraits. An image here, an image there. A collection I make.

There is this niggling feeling in the back of my mind that there was someone’s work I really did admire. A link, an image… but I cannot seem to focus. David Terraza, to an extent.

But when I think about these photographs in the Indian context, I come up with a blank. Indian photographs have always been earthy. Can we aim to shoot a dreamy photograph like Sara’s here? I do not know… I have never really tried to emulate that here either. But the skin tone, the colour of the air, the water and the sky do make a difference.

But does a portrait only mean the face? There are emotions, signals, gestures… there was an article on NYTimes about this photographer who shot faces. Just faces. Blank faces. And yet they held a punch.

It is perhaps easier to take photos of inanimate objects. A row of cupcakes, a lens, a pot. It takes vision… but humans are the eternal challenge. Particularly those just out on the street and not being posed in the studio. Or something midway.

Who is your favorite photographer? In portraits or otherwise?

2 Good Photographs

“They take 1000s of photographs and then post some 2 good photographs from that on Facebook. All their friends like it and tell them they are an awesome photographer. Even my 8 year old can do that!” a fellow photographer said to me.

We were talking about the new trend of software engineers turning photographers. Or well, everyone turning into a photographer.

The reason I say software engineers is because I’ve met a ton of them in the past few months who have enough money to buy the latest equipment, shoot inanimate objects or some portraits and hence, are photographers.

But this isn’t restricted to only the engineers. More people are doing this… and the statement by my fellow photographer seemed to nail the problem.

It isn’t that there aren’t some awesome photographers out there. But 2 photos out of a 1000 does not make you one either, and that isn’t being bitchy.

4 days at a mega event, hobnobbing with some truly amazing photographers –  both professional and amateurs and even hobbyists – got me thinking about why exactly we do this.

We had to shoot  fashion shows… elaborate ones over the course of 4 days. At some point, I got jaded… there are only so many ways that you can shoot a fashion show. Is that showing less creativity as a photographer?

I saw people trying to gatecrash the show, desperate to get passes to shoot the event. I was wondering why there was such a fuss… I go back and see the images from the event and mostly, they are similar. Perhaps there is that one photograph that is different… but on a ramp, the same poses, the same looks and clothes. The only difference being the distance and the angle at which we shoot it.

Some photographers said they just want to make money, some enjoyed shooting beautiful and leggy women, some were there because they just like photography.

Everyone has a facebook page. Everyone has a 100 likes on their page. They process the photographs, they photoshop it to beyond recognition. One cannot be blamed for the desire to make money.

But from an artist’s perspective, it seems that art for the sake of art is being lost to commercialism.