“I don’t photograph what I see. I photograph it the way I want to see it.
I think that is the way I approach photography and this shows clearly in whatever work I do; personal or commissioned.”
These few lines form the premise on which Delhi-based professional Dinesh Khanna establishes his work. Over the years, Dinesh has assembled an incredible body of work, while continuing to engage in different genres of photography. With a line up of commercial assignments to be executed, for international magazines, advertising agencies and commercial organisations, Dinesh is putting together a pictorial book on Benares – ‘Everything in Eternity’. Apart from these projects, he is currently authoring two book projects; Mothers & Daughters and Urban Trivia. Excerpts:
Bharatnatyam dancer, Rama Vaidyanathan danced in this beautiful stream in rural England. Probably the most unusual stage she ever performed on, it was an absolutely mesmerizing experience.
Food photography almost a meditative process. For it allows one to play with colour, form, texture
and composition in delightful ways.
From an advertising background, how did the transition to photography happen? How did you then select the genres to specialise in?
Photography was a medium I was introduced to quite early in life as my father was a photographer. A camera, some film and a darkroom were always available at home. All the basic skills I picked up were from him. Though I loved the medium, I decided not to follow in my father’s footsteps, as it was expected by my family. So, I meandered into advertising. There I spent 12 years in Client Servicing and really enjoyed the process. However, there came a time when I started resenting the demands posed by advertising, as photography took a backseat. That was when I realised I had to make a choice.
Many thought the choice was a very brave one. For me it was just something I had to do. The shift happened 21 years ago, and I can tell you with conviction that the choice was a right one.
The very first photograph from
the Mothers & Daughters series. Neena Bose (centre) asked Dinesh to photograph her with her daughter and mother, thus initiating the whole series.
Ebrahim Alkazi, erstwhile Director of National School of Drama & noted art connoisseur,
collector and gallery owner. His character makes the portrait.
Viewers can feel a distinct difference in your work, from that of news photographers. Your personal work is all about finding beauty. How do you incorporate this signature into commercial work?
Well, news photographers have to shoot images that inform, whereas for commercial work we have to shoot photographs that influence and entice. In contrast, my personal work is straightforward and the only photographic elements I use are composition and the moment. Patterns, juxtapositions or contradictions present in a situation gain importance. A photograph, I feel, should have layers, that intrigue and force the viewer to see more than just the obvious. That is tougher to do in a commercial shoot, but is satisfying when you achieve what is expected.
How do you maintain your style across different genres like still life, interiors, food, people etc., especially while working with different stylists?
I probably have a distinctive style, but it is not a conscious move. It is important to approach every shot or assignment organically. Over the years I have trained myself to think less about the ‘how’ of a photograph, and to respond more to the ‘why’ of it.
Work done on assignment, or for a project, usually has a specific purpose and reason assigned to it. Clients choose you because they believe you have the skill, experience and most importantly, the style to create those photos. Therefore, I just let my creativity flow in a natural and unhindered manner.
It works for me, and quite efficiently. Different genres pose their own challenges and opportunities, of course, and that is why I enjoy working with all of them rather than specialising in one or two.
Is there any relationship between the aesthetic appreciation for the object and subject that you photograph? While shooting differ-ent genres, do you find that what works for still life doesn’t always work for real life, and vice versa? Comment
As I mentioned earlier, if one can understand the ‘why’ of a particular photograph, half the battle is won. The aesthetic of an object/subject rises from the physical manifestation of it, as much as from the emotional reaction it evokes in the photographer. That reaction is the most authentic aspect of the photograph. If captured well then it is communicated to the viewer with a similar intensity. This is why some photographs ‘work’, and others don’t.
The other major difference between photographing still and real life is the control the photographer has on the situation. With still life one can precisely and consciously arrange what is in the frame, to make the picture perfect. However, with real life, we have no control over what happens in front of us, and the challenge is to capture that perfect moment when all the elements conspire to create the perfect picture.
It is this contrast and diversity that I find inspiring, and it helps me keep my interest alive and evolving.
When you photograph a person, you zero in on the face and eyes, but when you take a picture of interiors or of food, you have got to get the whole thing in the frame, to reveal much more. How do you choose what to display and what to hide?
What you leave out of the frame is as important as what you include in the frame. Keep it simple. Keep it direct. Make it layered. That is my mantra for photography. This, in varying ratios, applies to all my work and the genre or situation one is shooting dictates what one decides for the particular photograph.
My photographs have to look technically simple, but possess complexity in terms of composition, emotion and meaning. While I do strive to control what the viewer looks at first in an image, I also like to make sure that the photo has room for individual exploration and interpretation. When a viewer is engaging with an image, it belongs to that person and they should feel an empathy for it. It gives them a personal sense of discovery. Good photographs don’t just allow communication between the photographer and the viewer, they enforce it.
Loena Nayan, the latest in the
“Mothers & Daughters” series.
The 27th family recorded.
To what extent has “Benares – Everyday in Eternity”, reshaped your approach to photogra-phy in particular? Also take us through some of your other projects.
Ever since I ventured into Photography, I travelled and shot a lot in the streets, bazaars, homes and religious places of India. It is my way of relating with and understanding, both, my country and my photography. In fact, two of my pictorial books, ‘Bazaar’ and ‘Living Faith’ were a result of these travels. In these 20 years, I found myself being constantly drawn to Benares more than any other place in India. So about 7 years ago, I decided that instead of being peripatetic, I would concentrate on one city and record the life that happens in it.
The city of Benares is a microcosm of India and, more importantly, the Indian way of life. All that is good about our nation happens here. All that is bad and frustrating dwells here too. I find observing these contrasts, harmonies and the rhythms extremely fascinating. As a
photographer it is truly enriching, to engage with the ebb and flow of humanity, that resides in this ancient city.
I enjoy working on long-term personal projects. ‘Benares – Everyday in Eternity’ is just one of them. It has been 7 years and I am 15 trips down. I can hopefully culminate all that in a pictorial book by 2014. Besides this I am also working on 2 other projects: ‘Mothers & Daughters’ and ‘Urban Trivia’.
Across these 3 long-term projects, I am able to explore, investigate and engage with different and varied aspects of my life and the life around me. These are not just about photography and making pictures, but collectively they form my vision, illustrate my point of view and help me engage with matters and issues much larger than my life.
I would urge photographers, especially those just starting on their journey with this wonderful medium, to make sure they always have a couple of personal projects which they are working on, even as they do other things to make a living and develop professionally. This will make their tryst with photography more enriching and satisfying, and that is the essential idea of any art practised in life.