Mumbai based photographer, Shashi Nair’s name pops up an awful lot in the world of advertising photography.
He is known to garner attention for his innovative style in the last two decades, especially for the way in which he challenges convention by playing with the viewers perception of form and beauty. Moreover, his photographs are always full of life and action – like this frame here of Bollywood action hero, Akshay Kumar, in suspended animation while skateboarding, shot for a print campaign. Shashi continues to push the creative envelope by ensuring that the transition appears smooth and seamless. Excerpts:
Looking at your body of work, one com-prehends complete involvement from your side. What is the mantra that keeps you motivated, and lets you innovate with lighting, mood and the creative flow in your imagery?
I don’t think that I can think of anything else beyond imagery of any form. Every time I look at the simple things around me in life, I feel that there is a perennial flow in abundance for me to learn and understand – be it lighting, or the mood of lighting, shape and its ability to define and redefine differently every time. This very unstoppable ability of Nature to constantly invent and re-invent, keeps me motivated and obsessive. This drives me to move forward with the thought of discovering new aspects each and every time I venture in to creating a new image.
You are equally adept in shooting peo-ple, still life, automobiles, etc. In fact, how did the advertising photographer in you evolve and how did you develop the warm, natural style that you are known for?
The advent of this happened due to the various books I would go through, that contained portrait painting or portrait pictures. I happened to come across a few portrait pictures, in a small portrait studio close to my neighborhood. This was the starting point, thereafter all my thoughts revolved around the different ways to create a portrait. I quickly acquired a taste for understanding photography. In the meantime, I got to know a few cinematographers and began understanding their different styles. In fact, I have always questioned as to why I as a photographer shouldn’t be able to shoot with content and inspiration for anything – for instance still life, fashion or automobile. Moreover, cinematographers do not have this choice and may also lack the ability to handle everything. However, at the end of the day, my job is to understand the shape, the color, texture, style alongwith the lighting treatment that is required to create the required feel and mood for the image.
After getting the right training and also assisting renowned professional photographers in Chicago, I had a broader vision and understanding of the advertising world. This in many ways was the real start of my journey in photography. Initially, I used to follow the work and style of many popular international photographers, including the ones I had assisted, as well my teachers who had a profound influence during the early part of my career. With time, I broke free and started following my own instincts and developed my own natural style. This gave me the creative freedom to translate my independent thoughts and expression in to my work.
How would you describe your passion for photography? Secondly, what are some of the challenges faced by fashion photogra-phers?
To me photography is an obsession, that continuously fuels my mind to observe and understand, and to view things from an entirely different perspective. In short, it is an evolving process even during the shoot. A great fashion picture happens only because of the large team of professionals working together to make it happen.It is possible only with the support and contribution of every member in the team. Even if one member does not contribute, it can get very difficult. The team comprises of a good professional model, a stylist, makeup and hair people, a designer etc. While shooting outdoors with natural light, it is important to be precise, and to be able to maintain a good control over the whole process all at the same time. This helps in achieving the desired results which in a way helps in deciding between the good, the better, and the best.
Your portfolio has an element of aspira-tional beauty and style attached to it. But the choice of subject and the use of aes-thetics are both disturbing and paradoxi-cal; it is beautiful yet the subject is not. Does it mean that an environmental land-scape photograph has to be beautiful?
Yes , beauty is introspective. It is conceived differently by different individuals, while I see things with my instincts and follow them. My approach to the subjects are most of the time quite natural, or may be influenced by the thought arising after seeing the subject, and also my impressions of what I want the subject to look like. In short, I influence the image by exploring the scenes and thereby deciding which angles work the best. This could involve lying down on the floor, crouching low, climbing a ladder, working diagonally, moving closer to the subject or else by simply playing with the lighting. However, the priority is to focus on the message to be conveyed, and thereby create a composition to reinforce it effectively.
What are the most challenging aspects in automobile photography. What do you predominantly focus on?
In automobile photography one has to grapple with the idea of photographing reflections. A majority of the automobiles are absolutely glossy, with almost all reflective components. Hence it is important to understand and control the reflections, as they may destroy a possible good image. It is also significant to identify the beauty and to converge all the interesting esthetics, and contours that compliment the different elements of the vehicle to make it absolutely stand out. Knowledge about both outdoor and indoor lighting is an absolute must. Besides, a decent knowledge of the vehicle and its unique selling point is mandatory before the shoot commences in order to generate the precise focus of the image that satisfies the client, and drives the photographer as well.
Do you consider yourself to be a technical person or an artistic per-son, and why?
First and foremost, I consider myself to be an artist. However, I cannot escape or neglect the technical aspects of photography which is an integral part that aids good image making. However, I strongly believe that it is vital to have the basic sense of art which comes from within, while the technical aspects can always be developed during the learning process. A photographer can never craft a great image with technical know-how alone because photography requires a deeper understanding which requires the human brain to visualize beyond comprehension.
Is technology and digital retouching reducing the gap between pro-fessionals and amateurs? Do you consider Photoshop a boon or bane to creativity?
Definitely not. For instance, if a badly shot picture is partially improved with technology and used professionally, it need not endorse an amateur getting promoted to becoming a professional photographer. One should primarily create a good image and then rely on technology to further enhance it. It can be used to broaden one’s imagination and creativity also. In fact, digital retouching is not a substitute to badly composed pictures and can never be a ticket to brainless photography.
A thinking photographer can pre-plan his thoughts about how to use Photoshop before the shoot, and plan the shoot accordingly. In short, he needs to be precise and must shoot his subjects accurately, without depending on Photoshop to fill the gaps. Photoshop is a boon, since it allows the photographer to process and modify his imagery. Softwares like Photoshop can work only if the content provided is strong on its own.