Ace photographer D. Ravinder Reddy a good photojournalist should not worry about permission, respect and restriction but focus on capturing the moment

It is futile to prepare questions for an interaction with a photojournalist who is also a wedding photographer specialising in portraitures and has four books on photography to his credit. His abundant experience and the stories that he gathered needs no prodding. D. Ravinder Reddy made photography his passion and profession at a time when parents refused to look beyond engineering and medicine as a career choice. Having spent a lifetime chronicling events and people, he now has his own studio and gallery and nurtures the dreams of many young photographers in the city. He still finds time to go in search for a muse with his camera, though.

Life size photos taken by him line the walls of the staircase leading to his studio. The studio is bustling with activity with people engaged in editing, cropping and framing. As he begins to recount his early brush with photography, stories, funny anecdotes and thoughtful observations keep pouring out.

“My first camera was Agfa Isoly a gift from my father. I was in standard X and my father even suggested I join the photography course in Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU) later. But I was too young to take career decisions then,” says Ravinder Reddy. During his graduation days he came across a bank employee in his neighbourhood who had a darkroom and experimented with condensers and enlargers. “I used to wait outside his gate until he came home and observe him work in the darkroom until he started avoiding me,” he adds with a smile. Family pressure drove him to take up M.A English literature in Ujjain but he continued with his passion, taking passport photographs of his friends until his professor and vice chancellor of the university noticed his work. “My professor wrote a letter to my father very categorically stating that my real talent lies in photography and not academics and I should be encouraged to pursue it,” he says as he shows a framed picture of the letter which he has preserved.

A proud owner of Zenith camera, he then enrolled in photography course in JNTU. “I used to go in and around Charminar everyday starting at six in the morning and take photographs,” he says. During his college years he also started working with a local newspaper and then slowly moved on to freelancing for news magazines and papers. The photojournalist traces his journey and says, “My first major assignment was covering the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and an interview with Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, the late communist leader and the founder of the People's War Group of Naxalites and the Latur earthquake in 1993.”

He has plenty of stories to narrate from his adrenaline-filled days. “It was high tension situation. Lakhs of people had gathered around the Babri Masjid demolition site. I saw a naga sanyasi sitting on a tiger skin and waving his trishul in the air. It was a magnetic site, I wish I had the time to take his picture,” he rues. It was also the first time he was saw his idol Raghu Rai in action.

A photojournalist is often asked ethical questions like where does one draw the line between voyeurism and news? What comes first a good picture or saving lives? Ravinder Reddy, however, simplifies the dilemma, “During the Latur earthquake, there were thousands of bodies buried waiting to be recovered. I had to immunise myself to take pictures so that the rest of the world could realise the intensity of the devastation. Of course, I would help people but my duty first is to capture the situation.”

After a life threatening accident, he started taking up more editorial photography, portraits and photo series. “News photography is physically demanding and you need tremendous energy,” he says. “With editorial photography you have time to build up your photographs,” he adds though photojournalism remained his first love.

He has done photo shoots with Telugu film actors like Ram Charan, Mahesh Babu, Allu Arjun, Junior NTR even before they became stars. The photographs capture their vulnerability and eagerness, a stark contrast to the larger than life image that they portray now. He also claims to have taken the only smiling picture of TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu and was the first one to release the picture of the helicopter crash of the late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. “You can't be a photographer and still have doubts about privacy and respect. These thoughts restrict your mind. You have to take fast decisions or else you miss the moment. You have to be fearless. How else will you capture a candid moment?” he questions in his own disarming way. He also brings latest technologies like Giga panorama in his works which successfully captures even the minute details of wide angle shot and feels internet is an important medium to learn photography.

Ravinder Reddy feels that it is a good time to learn photography but he says just a DSLR camera and a fancy lens will not make anyone a good photographer. “Visualisation is important,” he says. “Camera is only a tool but a photographer must have a vision in his mind as to what he wants to capture. It is a process which comes along with learning, experience and good communication skills,” he advises. It is with this philosophy that he started his photo gallery and studio. “Painting is cheaper than photography. Camera, frames and print are expensive. I want artists to be able to maintain their freedom of expression through this gallery,” he says.

Just like Henri Cartier Bresson had said “I'm not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I'm not all that interested in what happens next.” Ravinder Reddy says, “The search is the success. The hunt for that perfect shot defines success and not the final outcome.”

Preserving memories

D. Ravinder Reddy feels that Indians are quite poor when it comes to documentation. “There is hardly any pictorial documentation of people and places by the Indians,” he says. That is when he started compiling his pictures in books taking inspiration from Raghu Rai. His first book was India – Andhra Pradesh for which he received the Incredible India Award and the National Tourism Award. His next book was dedicated to the city titled Hyderabad – Portrait of a City. He has also worked extensively with the weavers of AP and published his works in Threads of Hope – Handloom Textiles of Andhra Pradesh and a pictorial book on Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. He is currently working on a book on Tirupati.