Dolly Devi, Pretika Menon, Sasha Jairam and Uma Damle share their stories and insights for those looking to enter the industry.
Dolly Devi, 29
Her passion for photography started as a hobby when she was in school. The self taught photographer had not considered it a career option till five years ago. Speaking of the transition, Devi said, “There were a lot of risks involved, I had no savings and just a month’s rent to survive on. A few people who had seen my personal blogs approached me for campaign shoots and it garnered attention that gradually lead to more work.”
Though she initially focussed on fine art photography, she soon found herself involved in the commercial projects that had many creative restrictions. Speaking about her photography style, she said,“It’s difficult to describe a style in words since photography is everything but words. In time, I realised that art is an amalgamation of aesthetic and saleability. Experimenting with restrictive projects allowed me to discover the middle ground between commercial and fine art photography.”
Like Jairam, Devi didn’t assist a photographer because she felt that she wanted to experiment and develop her own style and not be influenced by a mentor. She also feels that photographers shouldn’t seek validation on social media.“Instagram has pushed a lot of people to get a DSLR and just start shooting. Being brought up in the Internet age myself, I can relate to it but I have also come across people who fall into depression when they don’t get enough ‘likes’. It’s important to remember that photography is an intricate craft that needs a lot of practice, patience, and failed experiments. Put in time and understanding the science behind it and never stop learning.” said Devi.
Like most photographers in India, she also feels that commercial photography has a long way to go when it comes to experimenting with newer styles. “New media is almost non existent here and people aren’t always open to creative ideas. We have to understand that there are no rules in visualisation and we can go beyond regular photography and intertwine it with different media, be it digital or film.”
Pretika Menon, 31
Although she was a fine art photography student at the Light and Life Academy, Ooty, India, Pretika Menon initially dreamt of becoming a painter. However, with her mom’s suggestion to take up modern methods of creating imagery, she entered the field of photography and eventually fell in love with it. “I assisted a photographer while doing my undergrad and that’s where the fascination for photography began. After watching him use a flashing strobe – I couldn’t understand why my eyes saw something and the camera saw something entirely different and I was determined to figure it out,” said Menon.
Though she draws inspiration from photographers such as Tim Walker and Elizaveta Porodina, she likes to keep her work true to herself. “I like to experiment and vibe off the model/muse. My style keeps evolving but I do like drama. I need my characters to have a backstory. It’s not my style to just create pretty pictures. I like to shoot subjects who are strange and imperfect. Perfection is really overrated so it’s nice when people show me their other, darker side, the side that’s not trying too hard to look a certain way that’s dictated by media. I like vulnerability,” said Menon.
While she is an established photographer in the industry now, Menon recounts her past experiences facing gender bias in the male-dominant industry. “I think there’s an idea that men are better technically and easier to deal with. I remember approaching a photographer to assist in Delhi whose work I adore. He said that he didn’t hire women because he didn’t want to worry about their safety. Things may have changed now. I stopped worrying about gender bias and just kept creating the kind of work I wanted to do. Eventually the world comes around,” said Menon, commenting on what it’s like for women to work in the industry.
Sasha Jairam, 23
Like Menon, Sasha Jairam began her career with no intention of becoming a photographer: she wanted to be jewellery designer instead. However, her career took a different turn and she considered taking up photography after one of the pictures she had clicked for her friend got selected in the Ms. India contest.
Success came naturally to Jairam when she skipped the regular route of assisting photographers and began contacting people herself. “I wanted to assist a photographer when I came to Bombay. But then I thought that I should just send a direct message to 3-4 models on Instagram and ask if they want to shoot a test with me. And somehow, everything worked out. I shot them and I started posting on Instagram and I suddenly started growing like that. I don’t believe in assisting because everyone’s style is so different. If I had assisted a photographer, I would end up incorporating his/her style of photography and wouldn’t experiment much. Your own unique style comes out when you experiment with and assist yourself.” said Jairam.
Her style is raw and sensual, inspired by music videos and Netflix series. She’s open to shoot anyone. “I work with every kind of face, I don’t have a type. I feel like everyone’s so unique and beautiful in their own way.”said Jairam.
Uma Damle, 29
Uma Damle discovered her interest in imagery while pursuing a fashion communication course from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bengaluru, India. “The process of planning, shooting and editing images fascinates me. There is nothing about it that I don’t enjoy. Fashion photography is such a great medium because you can incorporate a narrative and use it to tell a story, to connect with someone and move people while creating beautiful images,” said Damle.
Her favourite shoot is a fine art series she shot for Kanakavalli, a kanjeevaram brand based in Chennai, India. “They gave me the creative freedom I needed to execute the shoot on my own in Delhi while they were in Chennai. They later exhibited those images in their store. It was a beautiful experience,” said Damle.
Unlike Jairam, Damle believes that it’s imperative for a budding photographer to assist an experienced photographer in order to understand the inner workings of the industry. “Even if you study at London College of Fashion, it wouldn’t teach you the business end of it. Assisting a photographer is unfortunately one of the only ways to get into this profession and people who are able to get into it without assisting are very lucky. It’s like a rite of passage, one has to go through,” said Damle.