Photography is one of the main avenues I use to express myself. The idea of manipulating light to tell a story or create abstract art is fascinating to me.
And for years, I didn't actively pursue photography over stupid reasons like not knowing photographers who can teach me, not having good equipment, feeling awkward asking someone to pose etc.
And on a seemingly normal day on one of my Mumbai trips, I found a free photography meetup. The only criteria was that you should love photography. This idea of purely passion based entry was so novel to me, especially after seeing so many events with weird gatekeeping policies.
So I attended with my Rs.5000 phone camera. And I fell in love with photography.
Over the next few months, I would borrow better phones, cameras and just start clicking. I would buy a daily bus pass and roam around the city clicking random things. When I stopped noticing things that might stop me from pursuing my passions, the journey became enjoyable.
Soon I started posting my work on Instagram and start gaining a decent following.
The Left Turn
While I loved my work, there was a part of me that started longing for attention on IG. I started becoming desperate for approval and as a result my work suffered.
I would post multiple photos a day not to tell a story but to get likes and followers. This strategy got me some followers but it felt very transactional. I soon started buying into the idea that you have to do bold shoots to get more followers, so I stopped shooting things I liked to shoot and started thinking of doing shoots that might gain traction.
I approached a few models for these shoots and my previous work made it easy to find collaborators. While this happened, I started thinking about my legacy and long-term vision for what I wanted to create. It would then take me to a place where I started questioning whether this is what I wanted to do, are my motives for continuing to pursue photography based on vanity metrics on IG etc.
Photography never felt like work before but now it felt forced and it was ruing my love for the art. I didn't want to become someone who does this out of duty or obligation but rather for passion. So I did something that I regretted then but now I am happy that I did it. I called up the models and cancelled all the shoots and in my boldest social media move at the time, I deleted my IG account.
If Instagram was the sole reason I was pursuing photography then I do not want to do it. And I found out it wasn't, even though it took me years to get used to the idea.
I had a few thousand followers on IG that I effectively lost but the approval for my work I needed the most was that of myself. This was liberating.
I soon started thinking about ideas that I wanted to pursue rather than what will get me recognition or fame. Certain genres of photography became more appealing to me when I stopped worrying about vanity metrics and soon I was out on the street shooting random things with any camera I could get my hands on.
Community & Growth
I believed that there were more people like me in my city that are not pursuing photography for the same reasons that I kept away from it. Since there was so much of gatekeeping, I decided that I will create an open community where everyone is welcome to come and pursue the thing they love.
So I started a meetup group and it blew up.
I started meeting people from various walks of life united only by their passion for the art and it was beautiful to watch and experience. There were so many volunteers who were willing to work for the community even if they didn't gain anything material from it.
I wanted to up my game and make the group not only for people to get together and shoot but also grow their passion with a solid foundation. So I organised shoots, no gatekeeping, no charges..nothing. Just come and shoot.
A prime example is a fashion shoot I organised. I was a little worried since there were models involved and I didn't want any drama. But the entire session happened without any complaints. It broke so many preconceived notions for me and other members about fashion photography and what it takes to get started. I wanted people to have portfolios to kickstart their careers and it happened.
And like a lot of events that I organised, the volunteers were critical to its success.
Self-Sustaining + Future
I wanted this community to grow and sustain itself so I decided to hold 1 or 2 paid events a month so that I can continue to fund the meetup group which needed a paid subscription. Again, the community came through and I made just enough to pay the membership fees.
I love this community and it is one of the few things I miss because of the ongoing crisis. We do have a WhatsApp group but since I stopped using a smartphone, I haven't checked on it.
I started a YouTube channel with another passionate photographer and I'm keen to see where that goes. I want to explore different aspects of photography and maybe help people explore those possibilities.
On the personal front, I haven't taken a picture since March of this year and can't wait to get back on the streets. As of this moment, I do not have an Instagram or any place for that matter where I showcase my work. In fact, I have a radical idea to start from scratch all over again.