Being A Photographer – 3

I am sure that someday (hopefully) I will look back to this day and laugh about how despondent the times seemed. I will perhaps think of it nostalgically and say “Oh those were the days when I was broke, scrounging for work and quite frustrated with the world in general.”

I know that might happen. But living in the present, being in that moment of frustration, I wonder  how I will take that step forward, make the success happen.

I have plenty of advisors and plenty of great advice. It varies from how to see photography not just as an art, but as a freelancer, as a full time business as well. About how to deal with cranky clients, about contracts and contract violations and being professional.

But in a country where half the population doesn’t seem to know the word ‘professional’ and majority of the other half who do know don’t seem to care about it, how do you function?

I seem to have wasted many of my resources and contacts and all those things that are supposed to be important to running one’s own business. I see people who I know are less skilled running their own units successfully. I see them flourish, get better with publicity and make more money.

A year ago, when I started my journey as a ‘full time photographer’, all I knew was I just wanted to shoot. A ridiculous conversation with a friend sort of highlighted my ignorance and naiveity about the business world. 6 months later, I learnt the hard way what the friend was trying to say.

I made mistakes and I hope to have learnt from them.

But it doesn’t seem to get easier as I get by. I still do not know how to negotiate. I still hate to tag myself with a label – commercial photographer, full time photographer,  freelance photographer, lifestyle photographer, street photographer, fashion photographer, food photographer, wedding photographer and the term I seem to hate the most ‘wedding photojournalist’.

I like to shoot and I often shoot whatever catches my eye. Of course, when you do that for money, you do need to ‘channelize’ yourself into certain, specialized areas. You need to explain to clients or people who do not understand the art about why they should be paying you to shoot photos of a certain thing. And the easiest way to lose a potential client is to say “You should be paying me cuz I want to take those photos.”

And these clients would also need a label to understand my expertise?

There are forms of photography that I love best but do not pay well, and of course, those bills do need to be paid. The tightrope walk between what you like to do and what you need to do to be paid gets frustrating at times.

There are ‘inspirational’ stories I hear about photographers who have shot exclusively what they wanted to and made it big. I am a little unsure about that path. Is it that the age of digital cameras is different, or I’m impatient, or I just do no have faith in myself that the method would work?

They too, we are told, went through these stages of frustration.

I don’t particularly want to be an inspirational story. I just want to figure out how to continue doing what I love for a living and make enough money to pay those bills. Without having to think of terms like marketing, business development and networking.

Any solution?

“When inexperience is an advantage”

This was the title of a column by Richard Branson today… The article stated that you should play up your inexperience rather than turning the focus on your strengths. Of course, later they do elaborate that inexperience also means bringing in a fresh eye etc. Which basically means it is all about how you position yourself.

How important is inexperience and experience in today’s job market?

When I first applied for a job, I did not know anything about the beats I was expected to cover. Halfway through the interview, the person interviewing me asked me why I kept talking only about a couple of points. I figured I had blown the interview and might as well be upfront about what I really wanted. I really wanted the job, the opportunities it offered and I was willing to learn something new.

So I told him that I had never really focussed on the beat and most of what I was talking about was something that I had studied in the previous week. But I was a really good reporter, a super fast learner and I would easily be one of the best in 6 months. I don’t know if I convinced the person or if they basically did not care, but he gave me a run down about what they do and such.

In hindsight, I should have been a lot more well prepared for the interview, studied about the company, the profile and all the small details. It was no excuse that it was my first job interview. I always figured it was stupid to try to pretend to know something that you did not know. Except, I tripped on that very lesson a little later. When someone asked me about a particular field – a new one again this time – I said my expertise was in the other field. Which made it appear like I did not want to learn.

Arrogance kills… when you are inexperienced, you are willing to learn. To experiment. To try out new ways. Because if you fail, you are no worse than where you are. But as you gain more knowledge, you also acquire a certain degree of arrogance.

I’m in a new field yet again. I do not know much about I learn more everyday. On the job, off the job, with feedback, by looking back at my work. Someone with whom I’d been discussing photography for a while now wrote to me today stating that he has seen me grow as a photographer. “There are photographs that I do not like and there are some that I give a standing ovation to” he said… in response to my reply that some of the recent photographs I had shot were more reflections of the people and designs rather than my skill.

Inexperience, knowledge, humbleness, arrogance – these are words we face everyday in work. Particularly in a market where you have to price yourself and compete with others on pricing, it is a constant war about how much you value yourself.

“when you are dealing with prospective partners, suppliers or employees, turn their questions about your inexperience to your advantage” Branson said in the article… and I’m trying to figure out how to apply this to my own field.

Link of the day: Lex Linghorn – The man who shoots for himself and tells people pick what you want and pay for it.

My Job

Here’s the thing.

I think my job is fairly simply. I write stories/articles and they get published in newspapers/magazines/online places and you read them.

It is fairly straightforward to me. Which is why it confuses the hell out of me when someone asks me “What is it you do?”

When more than half the people who ask this question read newspapers every day and are probably  holding one of those things in their hands at that very moment, how can it be so difficult to understand ‘what is it that I do?’

I collect news and I write about it, which you read and then pretend to be well-informed about the world. What on earth about that little thing is so complicated?


Luring Me Away…

It isn’t so much the fact that I want it rather than the fact that I could have had it.

It isn’t jealousy but a twinge of ‘oh damn’.

The emotions I face when I hear about an ex-colleague doing really well. I guess it is only human but it is also a little difficult to admit to myself that I even feel such things. I paused when I heard something today and questioned myself – was that what I really wanted?

The reasons I quit my job are my own. One of them was that I felt that I needed change. I loved the company and some of what I did but the newness had faded and I felt I was stuck. So when I see others moving on, it makes me wonder if I didn’t try hard enough or gave up too soon.

But the real answer is – my goals were different. I never wanted to be in that field in the first place and then I grew to love it, a little. I liked the challenge and I was also good at it. But it isn’t what I really loved. And that was the problem.

Maybe I could’ve worked my way up to where I wanted to be – eventually. But patience is something I sorely lack and the only option I did see at that point was jumping out. Which I did.

But the dreams of that sort of glory and fortune are hard to die… which is why the twinges. And the need to remind myself that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. My goals, which were slightly different to start with, changed quite drastically in between. And I didn’t have the support or encouragement to go at them… it was all corporate-ship and a little… not my type.

So I thought about how it would be if I had that job… I would hate it once the newness wore off, like this one. By many standards, what I am doing is brilliant too. But the old problem still persists – this isn’t where I want to be.

Politics, intrigue, human interest, human rights – those are my dreams. I do not particularly care about currency wars. I wouldn’t have even learnt about these things if I hadn’t worked in those fields, for which I’m eternally grateful. I wouldn’t be able to talk about stock markets, indexes, profit statements, company results, strategies, inflation, GDP, housing, unemployment… I wouldn’t have ever bothered dipping into that world, let alone have such expert knowledge on the field.

Even if I did follow it, I wish I could write like my role model publications.

But it is funny that I need to remind myself yet again when fortune and glory come knocking on my door through a different route.

How many times have we told ourselves – “I’ll do this for a little while and then go do what I want”

I did that for a little while and now it is time to see how I can do what I want and not be lured away by promises of more money.

Link of the day: Photos the CommonWealth Games

The reason I love my job

Well, sometimes. After you’ve been working for a while, you settle into a rhythm, a routine and things get boring. Even in a job that is as versatile as mine, sometimes you get into a rut writing about the same kind of stuff. You are writing new things like a new company’s results, a new product and all of that, and you are learning and it is fun. But it is still… mundane.

And one day you interview someone or just talk and you realise how much of a difference your writing makes. That there are issues much bigger than what you do and the writing contributes to it some small way or the other.

I spoke to someone regarding a story I am working on today. There was a brief I skimmed through before I called him. I knew what he did and all of that. It is an interview and you are prepared, to a certain extent. But during the course of the interview, it came out that he was physically disabled. Of course, I knew he worked for the organization that dealt with such things. But I did not expect him to belong to that group.

It is an issue that most of us do not even pay attention to. We do not have time for disabilities in today’s world.

Towards the end of the conversation, he mentioned that it was really nice I was doing this story and bringing people’s attention to this issue, which needs addressing.

Why was I touched? Because he reminded me of how important my job is… that I do make a difference in some small way or the other. And there are people who are capable of inspiring you, who overcome challenges and obstacles everyday and manage a perfectly normal life.

Maybe we expect people with disabilities to be a particular way… We are steeped in our mindsets that we forget to look beyond what appears to be the picture.

There have been several comments the past few days about how the media did a horrible hatchet job on the CWG. Is it true? Maybe not completely. But somewhere, every television reporter gets caught up in the pressure of delivering news 24/7. You need to fill in airspace and you need to get that edge. So you use  bigger and better adjectives than the previous report and the whole thing gets blown out of proportion.

It is an evil world out there, and money is the bottomline. I refuse to believe the media is corrupt but our integrity is somewhat compromised by the advertising revenues. Yes, we all watched the movie Page 3 and there is some amount of truth in it. But the thing is… every person who signed up to be a reporter has some idealism in them. At least when we start out. We are all idealists who are brutally abused by the system, or by what we see, and we choose to either go bitterly cynical, or simply say ‘screw it’ and give the people what they want.

The real news sometimes gets lost in the sensationalism. You know the “shock news” thing now. But we get the news. There is always a Tehelka, a Watergate. But to keep the public’s attention – which is more attuned to Rakhi Sawant’s thumkas and gossip, we need to add the mirch  masala. It sucks. It is also reality. It also isn’t right.

I cannot say which way it will finally go. Will shares dictate the bottomline of news? Maybe. But I do know that as long as there are organizations like Reuters, New York Times, and to an extent, some Indian newspapers like The Hindu, journalism will survive. And there is always a streak of ego and integrity in us that will not allow us to go completely overboard. And if we do, there are always the tons of new journos that graduate every year. So, limited their powers might be, but we’ll have good news till the cynicism takes them over.

And then there are some who weather it all to become legends like Khuswant Singh. And some who end up with a cloak of popularity and disgust like Barkha Dutt. But being a journalist, we take it all with a glass of much-need whiskey.

A Slow Day

How much trouble can a piece of stone cause? I mean… some of them glitter and some of them are covered in blood. But as I read more about the Charles Taylor story, I wonder what possesses mankind to do such horrible things for money.

The Naomi Campbell story reads like something out of a Martin Scorcese movie. And I guess the rest of the witness accounts also sound similar. Diamonds, drug lords, weapons, beautiful women and well… lots of money. And if this were a slightly more serious movie, they would also include the children with cut off hands, people shot to death and piled in groups… and much more.

It astounds me sometimes how stupid we people can be.


Some funny stuff about work… Have you worked in a place where there are very few women working?

I perhaps have… though I cannot consciously remember. If I have, it was probably in one of those places where it didn’t particularly matter.

But it does matter where I am currently. Not in the manner of interaction. The people around me are really sweet and anyway, I am rarely conscious about “me.”

It did strike me though when I went into the loo. (Yes it is going to be that kind of a post. Get out if you don’t want to hear it) It was super clean. Too clean. No tissues. No dust bin. And one of the doors stuck. It didn’t really didn’t matter, because nobody would use it. But I wondered who would be the right person to ask to fix these things?

In Australia or US, I would’ve approached the custodian. But in India, I’m not sure if that would work.

The other problem here – food. Having worked in a place where the cafeteria was two steps away for the past 3 years, I’ve gotten quite used to junk food, even if the quality of the food wasn’t that brilliant. If not for the café, ther was always food to be ordered in… KFC, McD, varieties of Indian and Chinese and versions in between.

So working at a place where you have to go out of the building for food is rather disturbing. I mean what is the point of eating junk food if you have to work for it?

Link of the day: 50 Examples of Urban Decay Photography (I found this particularly fascinating. Not everything is gorgeous and some are overly photoshop’d. But it is an interesting concept. Though I generally prefer people to shoot, there is something compelling about old places. They have voices and stories to tell that can be quite fascinating)

I have ten short minutes and so much to say. Where do I start?

It is the end of an era. So many changes. I am 25. And fittingly, I am having a quarter life crisis. As a part of that, I quit my job. And did a few other things which have an indirect impact on me. There is no going back and changing things now. And all I want to do is hide inside my closet or pull the sheets over my head and sleep, so that when I wake up it has all sorted itself out.

But that isn’t the way these things work, so I wake up early and I am having quite an active life.

Most of that is photography. The classes are really fun. I never realised how much I love capturing those images. Well, I realise it everytime I start clicking actually. And I realised it isn’t always the situation that make it interesting. It is the people too. Like today, there were people and there were colours. The entire scene as a whole was quite fascinating. To see the bustle and the jumble and the noise and the smells and the colours. But when you start to pick them apart, they lost their fascination. It was bland and everyday and… quiet. Or maybe I was just sleepy and the smell was getting to me but I did not want to shoot any more flowers or textures. I wanted people… the laughter, the tears and the fun. I got it much at the end when a boy was extremely camera shy and his friends attacked him enough to finally get him to pose. Those moments are what I live for, though I get a thrill at capturing a building from a fascinating new angle.

I am on the brink of a mountain… and I wonder how I should jump. You see, depending on how I jump, I will land in a particular place. And it is freaky to make the choice. Funny… jumping isn’t so hard. The way to jump is what is scaring me.

Time out.

Photo of the day:

Junior Exec, originally uploaded by amulya.

The Answer?

The silences do get longer and longer, don’t they?

The week has definitely been interesting. Just when you think your job is a little blah, something interesting happens. A reporter’s job is never monotonous. Even if you aren’t writing about it, we like to speculate, come up with the most outrageous reasons… it is good entertainment.

3 years ago, my friends were hunting for the graduation dress. They were excited and making plans, inviting their families to come down, or wondering how to party despite the families coming down.

I was sitting on the beach and wondering what on earth was the fuss about, particularly for Indians? For the Ozies, yes it was a big deal. But for Indians… we were expected to study, get that degree and follow the set path. The MBAs and the engineering degrees were so cliched. They were expected to the residency, a cushy dollar-paying job, getting married, raise babies. So why was everybody so excited?

When I graduated from undergrad, my friend proudly said “we survived”

What were we surviving now? I learnt more from outside the uni than in it. I worked as a part time waitress at an Indian restaurant. It was neither sleazy, nor Hollywood-like. It was fun. I interacted with various kinds of people. I traveled. I went on an expedition, one of the few people in the world who can claim to have set foot in the utter wilderness of the Wollemi. I met people from various countries and various cultures. I partied. I learnt to salsa. I learnt to avoid the unwanted advances of some guys. I never learned how to get to the one you wanted. I learnt how to nurse a broken heart. I had my share of the firsts. I learned to travel alone. I learned to really rely on yourself. I learnt the pleasure of curling up in bed and watching a movie.

I learned how it was to live with $3 in my account and yet not worry. I learned that people were funny, stupid, irritating, frustrating, nice, obnoxious and many other things.

And in uni, yeah… I learned how bad it was to procrastinate. Or maybe i didn’t. I did it every semester anyway. I did learn how to put together a project in the last minute. And yeah I read a little more than I had, and some I probably wouldn’t have touched if it wasn’t on the course’s reading list. I fine tuned some other skills. And I had a piece of paper saying “I am now fit to go out into the world and practice on people whatever it was that I learnt there”

And somehow, that didn’t seem much like a cause of celebration.

3 years later, I am at the other end of the spectrum and somehow I felt I was a little wiser then. Or at least… a little braver. Perhaps sprang from ignorance. Still…

Now, I am a little more rigid, a little less flexible to change and want my world to be the way I envisioned it. The funny thing is though, I no longer remember how I saw it at 21. It was all rosy… I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing. And I thought I could make it work.

Oh to be 21 again and not think about visas, family, a boyfriend etc.

So I start on a fresh page. And what is the first thing people tell me? “DONT”

They celebrated the piece of paper which was achieved without much difficulty. And now that I am actually planning to start out on a real test, what I get is “don’t”?

Do we have to follow on the path we set for ourselves 10 years ago? People change, dreams change. And anyway, what would a 16 year old who doesn’t know shit about the world know about what he/she would want to do with the rest of their lives? I mean at 16 being an architect and building things probably sounds cool. But 2 years into it and you realise you really can’t draw. Or even if you can, you’d rather visualize improbably graphical buildings. Or you don’t want to do that for a living. At 16, being a doctor sounds incredibly cool. But you don’t realise the amount of work that goes into it.

Okay… we do know. At 16, you do know what you want to do. Mostly. But what if you want to add something to it? If you want to do something else also?

Like an actress would say, they keep getting younger and sharper all the time.

But “don’t” perhaps isn’t the answer.

Because, I am beginning to think, there really isn’t an answer. Not to what you want to really do, not to what is a hobby and what is a profession, not to who will stay with you forever, or who and what the guy is, or what life is.

I could be wrong. And this could really come back and smack me on the head. But… we have to jump.

Song of the day: Madonna – Jump

The glow of a computer screen and the tapping of the keyboard is curiously hypnotic. I just realised that today.

3 days of 12 hour shifts and working nights at that has been partially good for the heart, if not for the rest of the body. I am exhausted, yet I sit here, typing away because writing is so curiously cathartic.

Working so much doesn’t leave much space to think. But it doesn’t leave space for anything else. A curious zombie like state which I am beginning to enjoy. What is wrong with me? I have barely spoken to anyone outside work, barely read anything more than business-related stories. I barely have any more social skills left. And I like it that way. I guess it is time to call the head doctors.

I need to get my plan in place. The weekend will mostly involve sleeping and as much as I wish for a week away from work, that doesn’t seem possible in the near future. So yet again, it will all have to be crammed into the space of 24 hours. Of which I intend spend 3 in watching a movie. I want an action flick – things being blown up, people’s faces getting punched… Angelina Jolie style movies… Wanted, Mr & Mrs Smith. They aren’t intelligent movies but man! they make compelling viewing. But, there is never an action flick around when you want it. So all that is around is soppy romantic comedies which I really do not want to watch. Particularly not with Jennifer Aniston in it. I just never liked her. Not her character on Friends. Not her. Her clothes as Rachel – maybe.

I meant to write about the weekend, which seems so curiously far away right now. Yes, it is i guess, considering i’m facing one right up.

So I’ll just write about this question my friend asked – if you were to go for a woman (if you are a girl), what would you go for?

Seriously, I don’t know. I do find several women sexy. But I have never consciously thought about it… The traditional things which are supposed to be “hot” and sometimes, I do think are, aren’t really what I would want if we are getting down to business. Except for Angelina Jolie of course. I just have her stuck in my head. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps because the only people I have been reading about are like Steve Jobs, who – let’s face it – maybe a creative genius but also looks a little creepy. Like Nicolaus Sarkozy. Don’t ask me why. They just do.

That’s it. Time for bed.

Song of the day: Sleeping Child – MLTR

A Typical Work Day

It is a sunny day but the room is cool. The fan slowly stumbles to a stop, thanks to the ‘scheduled’ power cuts and my eyes open reluctantly, an hour before I planned to be awake.

I lie in bed for a bit, wondering if I can still manage to sleep and slowly my hand creeps towards the cell phone to check the time and the messages that have accumulated from people having normal lives.

That pushes me out of bed, down to the living room where I grab the gossip page of a newspaper which should be a tabloid anyway. The electricity is back on, and I curse the short break, grab the remote and plop myself on the couch, changing channels every few seconds, nothing of interest but unwilling to switch off those flickering images.

There is work to be done, emails to be sent but I put it away till the real scheduled power cut occurs. And it is time to head to work.

It feels weird sometimes, walking in so late… watching everyone already at work. Or to walk into an empty room and start the day. But it no longer feels weird to drive the other way when the traffic is facing me. It no longer feels strange to be leaving home at 7 PM instead of AM. It feels bad – particularly when you pass that brightly lit pub filled with people unwinding after a long day.

I wish I could go in but I know I will have to order a plain coke instead of one mixed with rum. I settle for icecream tonight.

You wander in, those little red figures jumping on your screen… people busy with their blue screens, their white screens, with news flowing all around you that you catch only snippets and scatters of the day. You hear about that earthquake and you ponder for a second. You hear about that scandal and you laugh – for a second. And then it is history. There is so much news that you wonder when what really begins to matter.

There are stories to be told still… for that space of a heartbeat when it does matter and you work for that. Some days you wonder what is the point of it all when nothing is permanent. Nothing even stays in your memory.

And then something triggers and you realise somebody out there reads you – maybe – and that is motivation enough for another week.

You yell, you shout, you curse, you nearly punch some people and pull half your hair out. You bitch about the politics, you eat food that tastes like stuff you do not want to know about. You vent and get back to it all. You dream of the day you get out of here and do what ‘you really want to do’ and know that it is just a dream, a fantasy you make up.

You are too lazy, too comfortable. And then something pops up that shakes you… makes you remember why you became a reporter. You are excited – in a way only another reporter will understand – that juice, that excitement… it lasts till you blow through… and slowly bleeds into frustration about the red tape and the questions. After all, hey, who would want to be questioned about their baby.

You slowly wind up… scrounging the cafeteria for some edible snacks… hunger is so much a part of you. Or maybe it is the boredom. Or maybe you are just addicted to junk. Like the fries from McD you order every other day, the cheesecake, the icecream, the burgers, the pasta salads, the tandoori chicken, the KFC burgers, the rolls, the pizzas… whatever anybody suggests.

You pack up for the day, with the vague thoughts of things still to be done, with the knowledge that you broke your promise to self about ‘no more junk food and have to save money’. You bitch about the savings and wonder where your money went.

You think about that movie you went to before coming to work… a couple of hundred for the ticket, another couple for the junk food (oops). All that fuel for the car. Or the cab fare. And the quick shopping spree of a book, a top and a pair of new shoes.

You shrug. Tomorrow, you tell yourself, will be a new day. Right now, all you hope for is to get home before the milkman and fall asleep before the cock crows and your neighbours start their morning rituals.

But hey! you are a vampire and can barely sleep… so you toss around, watch a movie and read a book and do all that you feel like pottering around… till you finally fall asleep, a minute before the milkman knocks on the door.