Fashion photography can transport the viewer into a surreal world where camels pose easily with models, the hot desert landscape transforms into a glamourous backdrop, and the models themselves look fantastical in their outlandish and stylized makeup and clothes. And yet, somehow it all makes sense at that instant.
Glamour aside, this work comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. "Understanding fashion itself is a challenge, as it keeps changing," says fashion photographer Ashish Chawla. "The biggest challenge a fashion photographer probably faces is creating a personal unique style he or she can call their own."
All the logistics and long hours aside, one of the biggest hurdles that Indian fashion photographers face, according to Chawla, is the long list of restrictions and taboos, and the moral policing. "We have somehow lost ourselves and are a bastardised society where the human body is not celebrated as much as it is in the West," he says. "I feel women liberation is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a society, and it affects fashion and, therefore, the photography of it."
Fortunately, in spite of these obstacles, the Indian fashion photography scene is thriving. Think of Atul Kasbekar's Kingfisher calendars or Prabuddha Dasgupta's notorious ad from all those years ago, featuring a nude Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre.
There are many Indian fashion photographers who have challenged staid social conventions, found success chasing their passion and done the country proud. We got some of them to share their favourite shots from their portfolios.
Among India's first fashion photographers, Rohit Chawla began his journey with the advertising agency JWT before setting up his own design and film production house. He was all of 18 when he shot one of India's pioneering fashion designer, Rohit Khosla, in 1989, and still remembers him as the vanguard of Indian fashion. Chawla loves to combine travel and photography, and has a special affinity for portraiture. He believes that the key to creativity and success in photography lies in reinventing oneself.
"This image of Aishwarya Rai was shot in Namibia for the Nakshatra, DeBeers campaign sometime around 2005, and passes the elusive test of time. I personally outgrew vanilla studio and studied fashion photography a long time ago. Here the magic of the moment, the graphic form, the surrealistic Martian landscape, all collaborated together for just that nano second to create a poetic image," he said.
Having clinched the famous Px3 awards four times in a row, Jatin Kampani claims to have been a "shutterbug from childhood." Dedicated in his mission to establish photography as an art form in India, Kampani loves playing with space and light, and is known for his eclectic shoots with Bollywood celebrities.
"This is my favourite fashion picture: the ever versatile Kangna Ranaut shot for a fashion editorial where she does her own interpretation of Lady Gaga and a fashion forward statement, with edgy use of colour/body language and treatment," he said. "I feel this visual represents an ahead-of-time imagery as far as celebrated Indian actors go, and she carries it extremely well."
Having spent over a decade in an industry dominated by males, Anushka Menon has not only survived as a fashion photographer, but continues to thrive. She says she started out on her own as no one would take her on, lugging all the heavy equipment on her own without any help. And, now she prefers it that way.
"So I would not say this is my best shot, but it is definitely one of my favourites" she said. "I shot this on my first trip to Capetown a couple of years ago, and it is part of a series I did on these incredible rock formations at the beach. I feel this image has got a classic BW timeless edge to it, making it look like it could have been shot many years ago or just yesterday. It's sexy and fun and thought provoking."
In addition to being a fashion photographer, Riddhibrata Burman is also an artist, and often combines these skills in his work. Having trained with noted international photographers such as Steven Klein, he claims that the most valuable lesson for him has been learning how to develop his own signature style or "language" as a photographer. He has worked with leading magazines in India such as Vogue, GQ, and Elle, and says that he is possibly the only Indian to have seen pop-star Madonna with no clothes on.
"One of my most favourite image is from the Le Mill SS16 campaign," he said. "Some of the best work I have often grown to love are images that have happened by accident. It had more to do with the situation that sort of developed into something extremely unique, and I was lucky enough to transform it into an image. This was one of them: (The model) Laxmi is one of my favourite subjects to shoot. And, she was just walking outside, (speaking) on her phone and I was on a balcony. You can make out from the image what happened. My portfolio in NYC opens with this image. That's how much I love it."
Although he started out as an engineer, Tarun Khiwal was quick to realise that photography was his true passion, and chose to pursue it instead. Having apprenticed with noted names such as Atul Kasbekar and Prabuddha Dasgupta, he is recognised today as one of the top fashion and commercial photographers in the country.
"This image has been the closest to my heart because, through this campaign, I wanted to show her journey in life, her connection with the universe and the sole purpose of her being, only to later realize that it wasn't her journey that I was showing but rather portraying my own; seeking life answers and to know the unknown," he said.
This New-Delhi based photographer started out as a musician and had his own band, called Zephyr. For Chawla, fashion photography comes very close to fine art, and that is how he envisions his frames as well. A fan of many photographers such as Duane Paolo Roversi, Guy Bourdin, and Nick Knight, Chawla says he is influenced by artists such as Salvador Dali, but believes in the importance of finding one's own voice when it comes to photography.
"This vibrant image was shot in the middle of the desert at Nubra Valley in Ladakh," Chawla recalled. "I love it because of the model's stance and the double humped Bactrian camel. They are only found in certain remote regions in Mongolia and China. The model was quite a sport, with her gaze, her hair blowing in the wind, while her clothes are embracing the wind and adding to the perspective. The use of mix lighting (flash and day light) added to the surrealism of the landscape. This shoot was done with one of the smallest crew I have worked with -- model, make up artist, stylist and designer -- and it came out really beautiful."
Videographer and photographer Saurabh Dua shuttles between Delhi and Mumbai, and loves telling stories through his photographs. He has won two PX3 award titles (in 2008 and 2009 respectively) and is creating a niche with his still photographs that attempt to capture motion in full throttle.
"There are many images which are close to my heart, but the series (from which the photograph has been taken) recently won the 1st place (in a photography competition)," he said.
The quiet Mumbai-based photographer, who is originally from Chennai, has been making waves in Indian fashion photography circles for over a quarter of a century. He believes that the strength of a good fashion image lies in the ability to capture a lot of motion, something that he is well-known for. Natarajan is also an artist and will be launching an art website soon.
"I love the simplicity of this shot (featuring Yana Gupta), where white is captured on white. its graphic and has a lot of projection, that makes a favourite," he said.
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