When you have lived long enough, you can connect the dots. When you do so, the butterfly effect becomes apparent.
It was well over quarter of a century ago, 27 years to be precise, some of us were trying to establish an association of photographers and design what was arguably India’s first photography festival in the form of a seminar. The association was called Advertising & Industrial Association of India (AIPA) and the seminar was called NEWSCHOOL. It was a tough time for photographers. The customs duty of camera and accessories were a whopping 250%. Owning more than one camera without import papers was illegal!
Shantanu Sheorey was the reigning emperor of advertising &fashion photography and TV commercials and deservedly so. He had transformed the visual language of advertising photography and brought in new aesthetics. We wanted him to be a speaker at NEWSCHOOL. It was difficult to meet Shantanu those days. You had to knock on the outer door of his studio, one of his assistants would open the door and you would see another door. Of course if you didn’t have an appointment you would be turned away. If you did have an appointment, he would go inside, check with Shantanu and then let you in.
I was all of 24, a member of the core team organising the workshop. I was in Mumbai trying to meet Shantanu. I couldn’t even get to speak with him on the phone. I called Sudhir Ramachandran who was the president of the southern chapter of AIPA and expressed my frustration. He sent a fax to Shantanu, a scanned copy of which is reproduced here. I myself was amazed that I had a perfectly preserved copy after 27 years! The fax urged him to meet me. So finally I did meet him and we had a wonderful discussion. Shantanu was a part of NEWSCHOOL – 91 later that year in Bangalore and spoke about his work to a jam packed hall of over 300 people at West End Hotel, Bangalore. In the process of this interaction, we became very good friends.
Over the next two decades we kept in touch. I used to drop by at his studio whenever I was in Mumbai. Much much later, sometime in 2012 we met in Pune. In the intervening years, Shantanu had lived in Australia and had just then moved back to Pune. That meeting was an important dot – soon after as fate would have it, we began working together to set up India’s first photography school that offered a 3 year programme – The One School Goa. Teaching a in an institute (as opposed to doing small workshop) has added a new dimension to my life. Seeing the raw, wide eyed youngsters transform into artists and visual communicators is an enriching experience. The bonds you form in the process help you to give and take real love. After spending 2 years in Goa, I returned to Bangalore and now teach at Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology.
This is a butterfly effect, a meeting in the mid 90s sets of a series of events that bring about a major positive change.
Well, I would like to discuss another subject actully – history of Indian photography from the 70s onwards. When I started off in the mid 80s, most of the photographers in India were people who ran studios – photographed portraits and weddings. Well, they were the most wonderful craftsmen and did some really good work. There were few photojournalists . Advertising & Industrial photography was catching on. As I mentioned earlier in this post – it was us, members of AIPA who worked extremely hard to bring down the duty of cameras and accessories and make them affordable. Most of the current generation wouldn’t know the struggle of the 80s and 90s – and the contribution of our generation. Of the many photographers of that era there are only few of us who are continuing to practice photography in many forms. Many of the pioneering commercial photographers and photojournalists are forgotten today and so is their contribution.
I was talking to my friend Raj Lalwani few days ago at about 2 AM and telling him that we must put together the history of Indian photography – perhaps it could be a crowd sourced oral history project? It would be great if people can be a part of it.. would you like to be? let me know please..