“…I see pictures everywhere” : Vikram Bawa

Vikram Bawa is a well known Bollywood photographer. He is amongst the top 200 photographers in the advertising photography category of Lürzer's Archive. He has won a lot of awards. Prix de la Photographie Paris, Masters Cup,  The Spider Awards,The International Color Awards, PIEA Award are few of them. We had the pleasure of speaking to the maestro and learn a few of his tricks...   V-Bawa1507
  • Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live and where are you from? How long has photography been a hobby or career of yours and what motivated you to get started?
I was born in Delhi, but my parents brought me to Mumbai when I was less than a year. Photography started as a hobby when I was 16 years old. My mom and dad were hobbyists, and used to shoot beautiful pics. Especially my dad who had a passion for it. He would put a Yashica TLR camera on a stand, do the settings and then shoot some beautiful family images. In fact I think he was one of the first selfie photographers. Photography for me also became a passion, and I realized it at the age of 20. At that point I was running a chemical company as the Managing Director. Hence photography took a back seat. In a way that was my learning ground. The time and the travel allowed me to read and to practice. Photography has been a hobby for almost 27 years and a profession for almost 19 years now. Life and its situations were my motivation. I was at a crossroads in my life with my chemical company. Long story short, I got unemployed and with my parents support I jumped into photography.
  • Did you take any professional course in Photography or went to any of the Photography schools?
Not really. I attended a few workshops with Girish Mistry, Hari Mahidhar, Photography Society of India, and a couple more. I read a lot of foreign photography books, buying them from the streets of Fountain.. lol.. My biggest learning came from hanging around and experimenting with film and processing at the Mitter Bedi studio in Colaba and gaining knowledge from Preeti Bedi and her team.
  • Tell us about your Photography Equipment
I have various cameras and lighting equipment with me. From Hasselblad to the SONY RX 1 ( which is my go to camera for my personal pics). I have  come to realise that equipment is secondary to your vision. Generally if necessary I hire various equipment.
  • Which is your favorite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
I have an EIZO monitor for colour correction. I can’t work without it. My Surface Pro3 laptop which I carry everywhere with me and the SONY Rx1
  • Mac or PC, Your preference.?
PC.
  •    Why?
I had a Mac, but interconnectivity with various gadgets and the price relative to hardware was not practical. I am a very practical person. There was a point many years when I wanted to upgrade my studio, and the cost to replace 7 machines with Macs was prohibitive. So I switched to PC’s
  • Do you have eyes on any particular new equipment which you would like to acquire?
I am a tech geek, so I lust for all new tech. And end up spending all my money on them. Of late I have been controlling my urges..
  • Has portraiture always been a major focus of your photography? If not – why is it something you seem to focus upon so much today?
I don’t think I focused on any genre as such. Portraiture I guess is something people have started approaching me for, so it is something that is showing more in my recent work.
  • You have this picture featured on your website which consists of some of the Bollywood's legendary actors. Tell us about this picture.
VIKRAM BAWA TR VB-1 The first time I did this was in 2001. We were shooting on film and had no access to digital. I had to plan it over a month. The set, the placing, the posing for each person, the space, the lighting. I would shoot a test roll with my assistants in different places, poses, then process the film. Cut up the pics and try to make the image look good like a jigsaw puzzle. I remember shooting the final image in 15 mins with everyone in place. Surprisingly I feel I am quite strong technically, because I have created 10 – 12 images of these types, and they come to me easily then and now. I will be posting a new one soon.
  • Your work strikes me as being quite carefully planned. How much work goes into the preparation of your photography? How you make your model comfortable and make them strike such natural pose? Where do the ideas come from and what steps do you find yourself moving through to bring the idea to execution?
Well not all work is carefully planned.. some tend to flow while shooting. Though I do have shoots which have been planned and executed over 9 months. A lot of it is planned intuitively. VIKRAM BAWA_20150127_CryBytes Interview_003 As far as posing is concerned, it is more through observation and my personal tastes which I bring into the model and the images. Also respect for the model and what she brings to the shoot individually creates an ease for everyone concerned. The ideas come from the desire to do something new and different always. I do not like to generally repeat my style, though that is something not in my hands in case of clients. I like to push myself to create something new, and to give my clients an edge over the others.
  • It is widely believed that there is very little scope of pursuing Photography as a career in India. Your views?
I disagree. I think we have a lot of scope. It’s up to us how we want to proceed in our life and career. Be copy cats or make your own path.
  •  From Amitabh Bachchan to Ranbir Kapoor, you have worked with nearly every Bollywood celebrity. Whom did you find the most interesting to work with and why?  
Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Amitabh Bacchhan

Amitabh Bachchan

Shilpa Shetty

Shilpa Shetty

  So many of them. They all bring something of their own to the table. Depth, learnings,fun… but my favorites are Amitabh Bachchan – for the humility and respect he brings to everyone on the shoot, Akshay Kumar – for the level of professionalism and respect for time, Shilpa Shetty – for the down to earth nature and ease she brings to the shoot, Nawazuddin – unrealistically awesome depth to my images.
  • You've learnt the most from….?
Amitabh – no one is bigger than the job, respect for all – big or small, appreciation for professionals – age or class no bar,  humility above all.
  • Other genres of Photography which you enjoy the most?
Travel, landscape, architecture and shooting every moment. I see pictures everywhere, stairs, shadows, doors, shoes.. its weird, its like overkill..
  • Working with legends, do you feel nervous? How it will turn out? Will they like it or not? Don’t these questions haunt you?
Nope! I don’t think I have ever been scared of anyone. After all they are professionals doing a job. I do my best, and they do their best. As a team we try and create the best. At 18 I was constructing a chemical factory with my bare hands, and was the MD for 8 years. I met a lot of people, rich, poor, famous, and saw a lot of up and downs personally, and the above feelings are really too small in comparison.
  •  How important is the role of Photoshop in your final images?
Very important to my clients, mildly important to me in daily life, but hugely important to keep up with the minds imagination.
  • Editing images is considered as cheating with arguments like “Photography is not an art “frequently popping up. Your views?
We were editing images in the darkroom and with bleached and other chemicals before photoshop. So I do not buy this. Photography and art must move on, always be in a constant flux, else it will stagnate and die. I say bring on all the new technology.. let’s have fun.
  • You were featured in the list of Top 10 Most Influential People in Photography Asian Photography Awards, 2010 and 2011. You were also awarded with 200 Best Advertising Photographers Worldwide, Lurzers Archive, Germany, 2010–2011. What was that one thing that made your photographs stand out?
I have been featured in the list of Top 10 Most Influential People in Photography Asian Photography Awards in 2013, 2014 also. I have no idea. I think it was more to do with the consistency and my practise towards my work.
  • If you could ask yourself one question about your photography what would it be and why?
  How do I keep getting better. So much to learn.
  •  What are the key point’s one must keep in mind to capture a perfect portrait?
Comfort for the model, awareness of your and the models space, mood of the final image. Mostly I think it is what you sense of the person with your heart and mind  and try and capture it on film.
  • If someone says “How can I be next Vikram Bawa?” What would you say?
Don’t copy me, don’t try and copy my lighting, don’t see my work. Make your work your own, criticize yourself, and only compete with yourself. And only try and see how much of my life and hard work I have put in my work. Because at the end of the day, that is what is more important.
  • Why don’t you show our viewers your 5 photographs which are closest to your heart?
   
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