Greener Grass



This topic has been in my mind for very too long a time. Right from being an enthusiastic new comer photographer to an experienced professional at the cross-roads of the photographic journey.

At a certain point one begins to gain awareness of the great delusion one has of the greatly hyped advertising field. And yes, the delusion is self created by us.

The world over, the Photography field has been goingthrough tumultuous changes from moment to moment. As it is with other aspects of life, reason seems to have taken a back seat.

Back seat it is for Indian Automobile photography.

Almost 20 years back, Iqbal Mohamed brought a purposeful and substantially classic style of Automobile photography to this country. Although some tried to catch up with his high standards and shooting discipline, none could have packed a one shot punch like Iqbal. Then came the likes of those who started using the great photoshop tool to make their work even more cutting edge albeit convenient. Though at the cost of organicity. Going into the history of Automobile Photography in India would be a different topic. However, something that has remained a constant is the discrimination the Indian Photographer encounters in the face of MNCs insisting or recommending on International Talent.

Companies like FORD, HYUNDAI, RENAULT, TVS, MARUTI, TOYOTA and even MAHINDRAand many others have used Foreign Talent for their campaigns.

Does this amount to discrimination?On the face of it, No. Foreign photographers do have a smashing portfolio. The whole advertising process is based on an idea driven by a concept and powered by a need to deliver quality. The Portfolio one sees is a combination of Great Creative, Great Locations, Great Light, Great infrastructure and a great team that works behind to put this idea through, not to leave out a great client occasionally.

As an assistant to Iqbal I have seen many occasions when facilities, budgets and time provided to a Foreign Photographer has been far more willingly provided than to those from India. 

A few of those I remember of the many instances.:

In 1997, a US auto major was willing to spend a lavish 5 lakhs just on Contracting construction of a Lighting Cove for an Australian Photographer. This was refused when an Indian proposed the same.

In 2010 a German Auto major launched its compact with great fan fare, with a famous German Automobile photographer being hired. The shoot in 2010 cost more that 2 crores, a budget normally reserved for an ad film. The photographer was able to hire and bring a special motion rig.

In 2012, a South-East Asian auto major prefered to go with a Korean Photographer, although the budgets I quoted were 1/3rd cheaper. I presume money going back to their country was a consideration.

In 2013 another South East Asian Photographer was flown in exclusively to Shoot for another South East Asian Brand at the Budh Circuit.

In 2014 a European Photographer was brought in to Do a fairy small shoot for a European Brand.

In 2015 a South East Asian Photographer photographer was brought in to Shoot the New Maruti Soft-roader on recommendation form the Head Office

And this trend continues as we read this letter.

I remember how I went through the challenge to provide a rig based imaging for the Indian Automotive Industry. Constrained by my budgets, I was forced to invest my own money and a lot of time to develop a rig.

Somehow, when there is a Foreign talent potential for the job then there is a quality issue with Indians photographer. If there is only an India Potential for the job, then there are limited budgets squeeze for Indians.

Now, has the quality of imaging improved by using Foreign Talent? The real question is are we Indian Photographers incapable of delivering superior results, given the same support? 

Most work I have seen by Foreign Talents in India does not do justice to their own portfolios they used in the first place to claim the job. This is because clearly they do not have the support they get abroad.

Firstly, light in India is very different. The Sharp Haze-free days a limited to a couple of months, but still cant be compared to the those in different latitudes & climes.

Secondly, the locations are hard to reach. Then there are hard to get permissions, congested city locales that require a lot to clean up. Poorly equipped and hardly maintained Studio floors. Lack of Auto centric equipments.

Indian Photographers, to their credit, have mastered the art of making to do with the little. We understand our light conditions, adjust and are truly innovational in our approach. Jugaad could be an appropriate word. We have provided very comparable results at a fraction of the cost, still working under tremendous pressure of time and delivery.

An example in contrast was a recent shoot for FORD. Where the International photographer had the time to shoot one shot a day. 

Starkly in contrast is how we are bombarded with why we cant shoot more than 4 to sometimes 10 shots a day!!

When a car or bike can be designed in India, Made in India by Indians, Advertised in India, Marketed in India and sold in India, why can’t it be photographed by an Indian too?

There is a growing breed of internet fed Creative Agency Talent that prefers to put its faith in “FOREIGN” Talents for Photography or Filming while having  little or no confidence in their own creative abilities. The need to be inclusive in the creative process has  dissappeared. While the Foreign Talent is sometimes brought in for a quick fix mind numbing of a volatile client, the Indians are left to play the rolls of Suppliers who have to churn out ridiculous estimates in even more ridiculous timelines.

Another sad fact for Indian Photographers is that budgets have dipped to new lows. In 2010 I did an extensive outdoor shoot for Honda Jazz for a cost of 65lacs. in 2011, the same Jazz had a budget of 16lacs. Since then its been a downslide. My friends in the corporate sector confess that it i not that there are lower budgets, just that they don't want to spend it. With 3D & CGI coming in a mass scale and aimed at halving photography budgets, the road ahead seems daunting and dark.

So advertisers neither want to give us time, and money nor want us to give better work despite shacklingbudgets. Just want to keep as where we are and treat us like we have nothing substantial to offer.

Well, here we have it. Most talents who need to thrive will leave the country or change professions. Net effect, those left in India are now fighting a different battle. The battle of who is cheapest!! Quality is of no consequence. Isn't that an irony? At one level we want best quality and hire foreign talent. At another level we throw the breadcrumbs around for the Indians to fight over.

As we live in an era where time cycles change dramatically, one can only hope the up-cycle in imminent.

I’d also to express that I hold no ill-will against the great Foreign Talents. I have learnt many things from some of them and admire their work and style. The field is open and every one has a right to play right? Or so I thought. 

In a recent trip to Australia, I did realise that the field is not so open for others. The Australian Photographic Union has a strong say in matters. Unless you are a citizen of Australia work can rarely come your way unless you prove that your unique services are unavailable there. So you’ll never get a work permit visa. Here, however, many photographers come and work with a visitors visa, which is illegal. The Cinematographers association of India has taken this up in a strong way. We, Still Photographers have no such united forum of support.

Are we Indian Photographers and upcoming young talents letting the Photography field die?

Along with Make in India, Shot in India would take us a long way.  Indian photographers are no less competent or creative.  

As with any aspect of life, it needs a collective community effort to effect a change.

While this piece of writing may sound like too sour grapes and ruffle a few feathers, i hope it provides a moment of introspection into where we Photographers are really at now. Crossroads or Pathless?