Capturing The World On A Reel: The Long And Short Of Professionalism In Photography

Posted on May 20, 2014 in Alternative Careers

By Alisha Sachdeva: 

“This is such a beautiful sight, isn’t it?”
“Indeed, looks like it’s straight out of a picture”.

Our ideas of perfection, of beauty and of the surreal – come from pictures. Whenever we see something extraordinarily captivating, our mind leads us to believe that it’s unreal. That it must be a picture.

Photography, therefore, has become a tool so powerful that it’ll take us some time to even realize its full impact in our lives. Contrary to what we may be bent to believe, it is not simply an act of taking pictures. Though there are people who after buying an SLR claim to have achieved a photographic mastery, the art and technique that lies behind the act of ‘taking’ a picture is nothing but complex, and is what differentiates a photographer from a person holding a camera in his/her hands.

As Jean Baudrillard explained it in so many complicated words, “Photography is… a drama, a dramatic move to action (passage a l’acte), which is a way of seizing the world by “acting it out.” Photography exorcizes the world through the instantaneous fiction of its representation…The photographic image is not a representation; it is a fiction. Through photography, it is perhaps the world itself that starts to act and imposes its fiction. Photography brings the world into action (acts out the world, is the world’s act) and the world steps into the photographic act (acts out photography, is photography’s act).This creates a material complicity between us and the world since the world is never anything more than a continuous move to action.”

In his book, Photography, or the Writing of Light, the French theorist explains how photography goes far, far beyond the simple act of creating a visual. It is actually a phenomenon in itself, and one that’s taken solid roots in the society today.

In fact, let us consider our own generation. There was a time when taking pictures was an act of posterity — if our parents and grandparents took as many pictures as we did, their photo albums would’ve run into hundreds of virtual gigabytes. Pictures in their time were taken only on special occasions like a holiday or an important family function.

Nowadays however, we don’t need a reason to click a picture. It’s become such a natural act for us that even our cell phones come with a built in camera. Any day and any time is alright to take a “selfie”, and in fact our image culture has gone so far ahead, we have trouble believing the authenticity of any happening whatsoever till we see it manifested as a picture: “Pictures, or it didn’t happen” has become a going adage.

So, now that there is no doubt about the importance of photographs in today’s society and way of life, let us talk about people who consider clicking the pictures that all of us do their passion. What these people share is a common passion for the aesthetic behind the photographic process. It is empowering for them, and a medium of expression (whoever said that a picture speaks a thousand words, is damn right) and creative release.

They’re young guns, but those who believe in their art are ready to explore it beyond the realms of a hobby.

Abhishek Dwivedi, member of the Photosoc of Ramjas College, believes that we are in the best of times to make a career out of photography. Although a regular college student, he’s managed to take his photographical pursuit forward and win at least 6 Photography competitions (along with a monetary sum totalling 25K) in DU this Fest Season very early on in his career as an aspiring professional photographer.

Photo Credit: Abhishek Dwivedi
Photo Credit: Abhishek Dwivedi

He says, “What I have realised being in the field of photography for the last 4 years is, one can be an astoundingly successful photographer and can have a very bright future if he/she continues with pure dedication and honesty. You start by participating in competitions based on different themes which help you identify your strengths: for e.g. Macros, Street, Product, People, Nature, Fashion, Studio, Event, Wedding, Architecture, Landscapes, Wildlife, Underwater, etc., and you explore the field which intrigues you the most! If you’re in a regular college, I would recommend you to showcase your work online as much as possible with a Watermark on each of your photograph as you never know which picture of yours could win a National Award and at the same time put you in touch with numerous professional photographers who can refer you for shoots where you can work professionally. In this broadened and competitive sphere of Photography, things just don’t work out unless you have good contacts.”

Photo Credit: Abhishek Dwivedi
Photo Credit: Abhishek Dwivedi

He adds that a “decent” photographer can earn up to five thousand rupees a month, if he’s willing to take assignments even on weekends.

Anangsha (Rhea) Das, a second year student of Sociology at Miranda House, however is a romantic when it comes to her art. She’s a photographer with a leading campus newspaper and photography happened to her as a beautiful accident. Being a national level lawn tennis player, she didn’t think of photography as a possible profession instantly, but instead, she took her time to fall in love with her “hobby”.

Photo Credit: Anangsha Das
Photo Credit: Anangsha Das

Rhea confesses, “Every time I would spend my wonderful moments with my camera, interacting with people, clicking their photographs, and knowing their stories, I’d fall in love with the process. That wasn’t enough for me though. I toured various places across the city, visited historical monuments, shelter homes and captured some fascinating and mesmerizing happenings in streets. Wherever I tread, my camera follows me. Taking pictures of my college friends, hostel mates, family and colleagues brought me closer to photography and also enhanced my personal equation with them. I can picture myself as a professional in the days to come. Clicking pictures of famous celebrities that come to perform in DU fests, I see a sense and need for professionalism in my art.”

Rhea plans to launch a Facebook project called “The Humans of Delhi University” photographing the lives of people at DU. Her idea is modelled on the popular page “Humans of New York” which talks about the lives of various people residing in New York City, and has photography as its central plot.

Another photography enthusiast, Raunaq Singh, a member of SGTB Khalsa College’s photography society, is enamoured by the photographic process and admires it for simply being what it is — “ If you believe your camera to be a talisman for you, then photography should be your lifelong love. The very realisation, that you carry the power in your hands, to freeze the ever-so-dynamic world, if only for a moment, is humbling. This is the reason you are willing to languish in inhospitable environments, sometimes waiting for hours for a single shot, and sometimes taking shots in less than a blink of an eye, just to capture perfection and create the beautiful poetry, that photography is. So, if you have that restless spirit nudging your insides to dive into the unknown and assimilate the sheer amazement that the world beholds, then photography as a career can help you travel all over and become a part of the diverse cultures and landscapes. A photographer needs to be an ambivert, striking that balance between being an introvert and an extrovert. It’s because you need to make people at ease as you interact with them, converse as if you are their long-lost friend and you’ll be amazed by the gravity of a single shot, which captures their complete lives.”

Photo Credit: Raunaq Singh
Photo Credit: Raunaq Singh
Photo Credit: Raunaq Singh
Photo Credit: Raunaq Singh

And then there are people who choose to explore their interest in photography through involvement in social projects. Kali Walia, a prolific photographer, works as a photography associate for a number of NGOs and NPOs. One of these NPOs supports the cause of artists seeking to hone their skills in any medium of expression, including photography. According to her, “Not to sound too much of a romantic, but the poetic flow of life and people around me compose my source of inspiration for photography. I do not believe that it is simply a scientific observation ruled by certain laws of physics but an insight of the photographer himself/herself. A twig of a tree or dreamy set of eyes could inspire me to look for that perfect shot. Furthermore, in the field itself, the greatest portrait photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson’s work is truly inspirational for any budding amateur photographer.”

Photo Credit: Kali Walia
Photo Credit: Kali Walia

Returning to Baudrillard, “These would be the successive phases of the image:
1. It is the reflection of a basic reality.
2. It masks and perverts a basic reality.
3. It masks the absence of a basic reality.
4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.”
– Simulacra and Simulation, 1994.

Jean Baudrillard is a post modernist theorist and philosopher, with a keen sense of, as we’ve just seen, images and pictures. No wonder, he was a photographer as well.

Most of us are inclined to think of Photography as a glam job; but as far as reality goes, if you want to take up photography professionally, the road ahead is not a highway, but a pot-holed street. Jobs in the field of photography are usually not very well-paying, considering the amount of physical labour that goes into capturing the ‘perfect shot’. That, in any case, is not a discouragement as initial labour is required to reap the fruits of any profession.

Making money in photography is difficult if you try to find a full-time job in the field. Not only are those rare, but they’re also de-glam. If you think a photographer’s job description is clicking good-looking models in designer wear all day, it’s time you broaden your view and include family portraits in the picture as well because photography, like all other jobs, sees a new crop of talent every season — and in order to make yourself stand out from the crowd, you need to possess, in addition to talent, luck and contacts. In short, a good PR machinery. The sheer number of people claiming to be “professionals” in photography is too high these days, and that makes this area not only more competitive, but also hinders real talent from taking the forefront.

The good news, however, is that the number of interest areas to choose from in photography is virtually limitless. Beginning from portraits and landscapes to sports and advertising, and everything in between, photographers can choose to specialise in any area(s) depending upon their interest and aptitude, and consequently, steer their professional pursuits in a definite direction.

An emerging new field in photography is that of Photojournalism: telling stories through stills and films in a journalistic framework. It is different from photography in the sense that it puts more responsibility on the photographer to create visuals that are truly tell-tale, and focus more on the story than his interpretation of it.

Over the years, pictures have been invaluable repositories of important historical events and more personal landmarks too. And in such a circumstance where there’s “more and more information and less and less meaning” we need driven photographers to add substance to the vast plunder of images we see around us.

Does a degree help? Yes. Infinitely. As Ansel Adams has said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”, a course in photography could help you learn the finer details of that construction. Photography combines technique with aesthetic, and it is in mysterious play of light that pictures come to life. To create proficient individuals in the field, a number of Art Schools have designed dedicated photography courses to give them all the knowledge they need to create magic with their art: that is to say, teaching them the allied skills of photo-editing and story-telling, in addition to capturing beautiful moments.

Universities worldwide offer UG and PG programs in photography and also short-term diploma courses. The oldest photography university, New York Institute of Photography was established in 2010, and offers five courses in photography and video-making.

Of late, companies like Nikon and Canon have begun their own workshop series in India.

Returning to Baudrillard for the final time, for who else could give a better conclusion?

“But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.” ― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

Power to our upcoming Raghu Rais and Dora Maars!