I was known to be someone who always had a camera in her hands, capturing happy and interesting moments. I remember spending all my pocket money I had saved, to buy a camera, and from the time I had enough money to process my films, there was no stopping me. You should know that I never really had any knowledge about the technical aspects of photography, and I have no photography education behind me. Right from the start, when I got to know that I love photography and till this very moment, the only thing that has brought it all together is passion.
There came a time when my love for art pushed me to take up design studies in Singapore, and that was when I realized that photography and designs are interconnected in so many ways. When I was thrown to a stage where I had to understand the fundamentals of designing and drawing – the little aesthetics of art, it, in a way helped to increase my knowledge of art and artistry. That exposure refined my photography skills, and I slowly noticed that my perspectives on the things that I captured was changing. Singapore, for me, was a great place for personal growth in art. For fourteen days straight, I remember strolling in and around Singapore with my cousin who owned a Canon 450D. He was literally freaking out with the photographs that he captured. That sense of joy once again pushed me back to get a camera, and this happened when I turned 30. My mother wanted to get me a diamond necklace, just like any other mom would wish for a daughter. I begged her to get me a camera, and with some emotional blackmail, here and there, I finally got what I wanted. Now let me tell you- that was the best thing that had ever happened in my life. Best thing EVER!
I got into some serious photography to get myself out of depression. I literally stopped talking to people and all I wanted to do was, observe. This might seem like a very clichéd thing coming from an artist, but honestly, those days with my camera, were my therapy sessions. With time, I noticed things change around me; my life changed, the way I saw things changed; all this turned into an obsessive passion towards photography and since then there’s no looking back. What does photography give me back? – The in-depth satisfaction which is simply unexplainable. This art fulfills my sense of aesthetics, and that’s a good place to be in, as an artist. I notice so many young and aspiring photographers around me, and I see them lose their place by chasing technology. I don’t mean to say technical aspects and post production work are not important. Yes, technical elements are important, but, according to me, they can do justice to only 10% of the job. The rest is all about how you see things, your attention to details, and how you capture a moment with your raw and unfiltered photographic eyes and mind. Irrespective of different shutter speeds in which you shoot and the different light effects you use, in the end, it means nothing at all if your shot is not honest and good. And do you know what the bottom line for all this is? You go after the technical details too much, and you miss out on enjoying the whole process, and eventually you’ll miss out on the originality too.
I might sound boisterous but I really don’t rely on others’ validation of “perfection”. Just because 50 people say that I’m really good, it necessarily doesn’t mean I’m good, and just because the other 50 say I’m crap, it doesn’t mean I’m crap. In the end, all that really matters to me is the question – Has my shot pleased my own sense of artistry? But, validation seems to be the only thing that matters these days to young photographers. 200 likes on Facebook, and oh yes, Instagram – the most corrupted platform that many photographers fall for. Aspiring minds should be aware that likes and filters should not be allowed to validate their photographs. Putting it all aside, being a photographer, what you really have to do is, SEE. Learn to see things, and allow the camera to do its job. Understand the principles of design, understand what honestly appeals your eyes, and what doesn’t. Focussing on your object and being clear about what you wish to convey through your photographs is what is important. When I said I love observing people, I would also like to add that nothing more than portraiture quenches that passion. You should know, portraiture is no easy job. Once a subject enters my studio, and it is time for shoot, I know that I have to tear down my own constraints. I talk for at least two hours with my subjects before the actual shoot begins. We pass on comments, talk about art, and some random shit till we get to the point where they start teasing me. My subjects notice me talking, but what I really do is, ease them down. I bring down their guards, I observe them, I notice their tiny nuances in their mannerisms, and observe the topics that tick them on. This is very important when it comes to portraiture. Bringing out a decent photograph of your subject is good, but what really matters is bringing out an honest reflection of the subject. For instance, when I had to do a shoot with RJ Balaji, we went on talking and rambling on various topics for two hours and only then I got a really good shot of him.
With actor Nazer, it took us quite some time to ease him down. Having someone like him in the studio, and trying to photograph his personality, is quite a challenge. Firstly, to be able to talk with him, one needs to be an above intelligent conversationalist. And I, as a photographer, am very picky about my choice of subjects. Call me a snob, but I would still say that I love capturing people of extraordinaryintelligence and brilliance. Portraiture is a vast platform. It all rests on how we see our subjects. I personally admire the international style of portraiture. There, even the subjects’ facial flaws are respected, their emotions are highly captured, their mannerisms are noted and above all they bring together the subject’s personality. I try to focus on all these elements and that’s my style. I’d never want to shoot a perfect-looking wax model. Having said all this, I would never advice people to follow my style of photography. The result will always be different, even if I somehow inject my style of capturing things, and the way I see things, in their brains. We can steal ideas, but we can never see something like someone else does. Aspiring photographers should embrace their unique style, and they should respect it, and give life to their style. You need to be smart and not allow others’ opinion and approach to influence you, because at a point, it might become the reason behind the loss of your originality.
The word “different” will make sense in an artist’s career only if the thoughts and output of the work is original and authentic. Lately I’ve noticed that more people are growing very appreciative of the naturalness in a photograph. People are starting to recognize the real flaws behind photoshopped portraits. I see more people who are concerned about this, and there are people who want to bring out the real image of the subject. This awareness is very encouraging, and that should never go away. I would say, learn the rules first, learn what you are capable of, and only then, explore your style. You need to have an interest in art, any form of art, and in my case, photography and the tendency to appreciate art is what nurtures a photographer. You should know about my team which is everything to me. In every work of mine, my signature doesn’t mean that it involves just me. BHARGAVII MANI is a brand first, and my name later. Without my team doing their part, and without their share of obsessive passion, none of my photographs would make any sense to me or you. I really don’t know where I am going as an artist. But, I am well aware of what I want to do. I’ve always loved observing people, and I want to continue doing that. I want to continue capturing beautiful moments that catch my eye, and remain etched in people’s minds as unforgettable memories.
As told to Priyanka (email@example.com)
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