The man behind the lens


The man behind the lens
For fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar, the most wonderful thing about photography is that no two days are alike, and every day is a new challenge. It’s been 25 years since he first picked up the camera. Does he still feel the same? “The process of making images is one I enjoy even today, after 25 years of being a professional photographer. I never feel like I am going to work when I set out for photo shoots,” he quips.

Of course, when you decide to leave a chemical engineering course midway to pursue photography, it’s clear your heart lies in cameras. Consequently, Atul studied at the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, California, and emerged as the topper in his batch. After training with renowned photographers for a year, it was time to kick-start a career that would involve oodles of glamour and fame.

This 51-year-old photographer took up photography at a time when it wasn’t that well-known. So, it must have been quite difficult to get a firm footing. But no challenge is difficult for Atul. While, initially, he did have to engage himself in a reasonable number of meetings with people in the advertising agencies, he soon bagged prestigious ad assignments for Raymond, Park Avenue, Maruti Udyog and Vadilal.

But he wasn’t destined to do merely ads. He was, in fact, destined to shoot beautiful models in the most exotic locales in the world. And this dream of his finally came true with the Kingfisher Calendar. Currently in its 15th edition, this calendar features in every aspiring model’s bucket list today. What more, this calendar is also known for presenting Bollywood with new superstars (think Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif).

Today, apart from capturing beautiful shots, Atul also produces movies, what with his first venture, Neerja, being a big hit. In a chat with Deccan Herald, Atul talks about his photography style, job challenges and more. Excerpts:

What’s your photography philosophy?
I have always been a proponent of “less is more”. I find that the images that stay with me the longest are usually simple, photographically. They are stronger in concept and aesthetics, which make them memorable. I think, too often, people overdo the use of filters, gadgets, re-touching and post-production in a photo.

How has your journey with Kingfisher Calendar been?
Initially, I had no idea it would become this big. My only thought in conceptualising and producing the Kingfisher Calendar was to get an opportunity where I was not answerable to any ad agency. I wanted to report only to the client and work things out directly. That way, if it was successful or not, it was either complementary for me or a decrement.

I have always been fascinated by the Greek islands, and Mykonos is one of the most frequented destinations in that region. It has incredible light and wonderful temperature conditions all day long in this season, hence leading to very favourable photographic conditions. It was an absolute delight to shoot there, especially for a significant issue like the 15th edition.

Today, smartphones have turned everyone into photographers...
I think the process of photography has become much more accessible because of smartphones. And it has allowed a lot of people to take pictures with their phones, which they perhaps would not have taken if a camera wasn’t that easily accessible. Although I think the availability of so many apps and sensation modifications are taking away the basic editing techniques of photography. Change is the only constant. As professionals, we need to recognise and adjust to the changes that happen.

In an age of photo filters and correction software, do you feel true photography is under threat?
When I started my career, Kodak was one of the biggest companies in the world, and one of the best brand names. That company today is bankrupt and people taking up the profession perhaps have no idea what Kodak was. The key to survive in any business is to adapt and change as per the requirements of the market. The last 25 years have been a tremendous phase of flux, thanks to the internet and the mobile phone which caused a lot of disruption in the market for every product and service. Photography and visual communication are no exception. However, I feel that since access to the various aids is easy for all, the test of a truly super photographer will have to do with what a person does with the software and applications available. One of my favourite lines is — “no typewriter ever wrote a novel by itself”. So, equipment and software are only a means to an end. What you do with it is dependent on you.

What goes into a fashion photography shoot?
I think fashion photography is dictated heavily by the creative producer and the stylist on the job. They are more in tune with what the direction of the photo shoot is supposed to be like. So, the photographer’s job is to shoot, and make their vision a reality on screen. Hence, I have immense respect for creative directors and fashion stylists. The challenge for me is to work my aesthetic and technical skills with the conceptual brief of these professionals. Such challenges add value to the shoot.

Is celebrity photography easy or difficult?
Shooting celebrities is an exercise in efficiency since, usually, the creative work is very simple. The celebrity is paid a lot of money by the brand to be available for the photo shoot, and the quicker you manage to get high quality images done, the better it is. Hence, you need an extremely efficient team of lighting assistants and production people that work quietly, quickly to get the pictures done as quickly as possible. This is, of course, without any compromise on quality. A lot of these experiences have just got to do with making the celebrity feel comfortable and special.

Is fashion photography all about glamour?
I don’t believe this is necessarily true. Some of the work is a lot in portraiture. A very good example is the campaign for American Express, done a few years ago by the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.

What’s your dream project?
I would like to work on a portraiture exhibition. It is one of the reasons I got into photography. I enjoyed shooting faces and I feel I haven’t done enough of it in the last few years.

What are your favourite spots to shoot in?
I fancy myself as a location photographer. I enjoy dealing with the uncertainties of a given location, and trying to create magic there. It requires you to be extremely efficient and quick in your job.
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