There’s an urgent need to document ancient monuments and cultures in India, says Anand Sharan
Anand Sharan’s cramped house in Vasantnagar is charming, but hardly seems impressive. That is until he opens the door to his studio. Walls, easels and tables are covered and plastered with photographs, both by him and his students.
The studio is one of the few visible clues that Sharan is, in fact, an award-winning fine art photographer.
Having abandoned a career in the government for advertising photography, and again for fine art photography, Sharan dedicates most of his time to perfecting his craft and teaching it to others.
“I still do advertising sometimes, but I don’t go through ad agencies. My clients call me directly,” he said. His clients include companies such as Nestle, Infosys and Volvo.
Just as his advertising seems to have caught the imagination of foreign companies, most of his work is also sold abroad, “There’s no market in India for fine art photography,” he says. “Even when people are buying art, the question they ask is if the value will double in two years.”
If the appreciation in photography as art is found wanting, on the other hand, he finds that the interest in creating it is almost overwhelming. Several of his walls are dedicated to the works of his students, along with emails praising the course and the teacher. “I have never once gotten negative feedback,” Mr. Sharan beams. “Suggestions, certainly, but never anything negative as such.”
Despite the fact that his programme focuses on fine art photography, he strongly discourages his students from pursuing that as a career. “Most of them are software engineers, doctors, and architects. There’s no reason to leave that kind of money.” In addition, he criticises the obsession with status as a detriment to professional photographers being taken seriously in India. Many of them have gone into advertising photography, however, and are quite successful in that field. “They are serious hobbyists, and they travel a lot.”
Zooming on tradition
His own photography, the Indian aspect of it at least, is focused around the traditional. “There’s a very urgent need to document ancient monuments and cultures,” he says. He talks about his experiences visiting temples in south India where 500-year-old rock formations had been paved over with bathroom tiles, in order to ‘make it seem cleaner’.
His experiences with advertising photography have been enjoyable. He boasts that he is the only person to have aerial photographs of Bangalore. In addition, he has a portfolio from all over the world on display on his walls, including Belgium, France, and Germany. “Any place in Europe is probably my favourite to photograph, where there is a lot of respect for what is inherited in public space,” he says.
He is motivated by a need to preserve the culture he sees, and he tries to instil the same in his students. He encourages his students to ‘break all the rules’, he says, while rummaging around a pile of books. Pausing for a moment, he pulls out a coffee table book by one of his students and points proudly to one of the pages. On it is a blurred, ephemeral photo of a group of bald men huddled together, frozen in motion. “The camera must be an extension of your mind.”
Focus far out
Paintbrushes and sketches hint at his future plans. “I’ve been practicing Japanese Sumi art,” he says, pulling up a few examples on his computer. As for future photography? “I’d like to go to Bali, and do a comparative piece on their art and our own Hindu art.”
Sometimes his ambitions prove difficult to fund. He gestures sadly to an invitation for an Italian photo festival for which he could not afford the deposit. Although his change of career made his dreams more difficult to fund, he is nonetheless happier for it. “Now I can relate with people much better than I ever could as an advertising executive.”