One from the mind
Arvind Chenji has done his bit to make photography a lucrative and exciting profession. What it takes to be successful in one's field though is to be a visionary first, he feels.
AS FAR back as my memory stretches, I remember things visually. The image of my uncle's back as I clung to him on the motorbike on my first trip to school. The spider behind the sofa, which I thought was an overgrown, lazy ant, the aircraft flying overhead, which I fervently used to wish would crash on the empty plot next door so that we could explore the inside. The ice-cream man and his remarkable voice, which seemed to reach us over buildings and across streets, the little cement pond with lotus in the garden, and counting one complete minute on our uncle's watch to really know how long one minute was. The seconds hand seemed to crawl endlessly, perhaps changing my perception of time?
My transgression into photography as a profession happened by a series of lucky accidents of not obtaining admission into any of the "well thought of'' and "must do'' courses like Engineering or Medicine.
It was during a hobby course in photography, where I saw an image appear in the dim red-lit darkroom on a piece of white paper, that I got hooked to photography.
Some of the lovelies Chenji captured on film.
Then began an arduous process of teaching myself the subject. Firstly I would look at all the awesome pictures that I could lay my hands on and try and figure out how they were done.
In the next stage, I started thinking about how I would have done the same subject. This meant understanding the message that was being conveyed and thinking of alternate routes of doing it by myself.
Then came working in a variety of studios, meeting a clique of photographers and trying to surface from this noisy world of random movement.
Somewhere along the way I realised something, which I think has become the fulcrum of my life. Photography, is only so much about photography and is a showcase to the evolvement
of a person. It is a mind game. This is perhaps true for all professionals.
Unfortunately even today the academic courses being offered here in photography seem to teach just the technicalities of the field, but fail to deal with the development of vision.
To make budding photographer realise that anyone can master the technicalities, the mind has to rise to a visionary status before being a photographer.
It was an interesting experience shooting our CM. I am an ardent admirer of his work ethics and vision. But, as a photographer I saw that ahead of the photo session, he was thinking about, perhaps some administration glitch or some new mega project he wanted to propel with immediately!
This wasn't helping the shoot. I did not want a picture of a CM who looked like he wanted this thing over in a hurry. I asked him to close his eyes for a minute (not the same one I counted as a kid, a much shorter one), think of his achievements, family and happy moments.
And then slowly open his eyes and smile into the camera. That when I got the "Dare to dream. Come to achieve'' picture.
Shooting all the celebrities, film stars and achievers has been quite a revelation to me. Invariably, I have met with some of the nicest people in the list of achievers. Nagarjuna, Chiranjeevi, Dr Kartikeyan, Mohan Babu, all are warm, affectionate and truly caring people. May be you have to be that way to reach the top. I now strive to create a substantial body of work, make a film, leave a legacy to the world which will be a benchmark.
Lots of youngsters now want to get into this profession for reason of money, glamour etc., but it doesn't work that way at all. I'd tell them to tighten their belts and pursue this field for the pure visual. This is after all the world of visionaries.
(The writer is a leading fashion photographer.)
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