It was 1984, if I remember correctly, when I first picked up a camera. It was my cousin sister’s marriage and Achan (my Dad), a professional photographer himself, had given me an Electro 35 film camera loaded with B/W film to shoot. I was too shy to actually go around with the camera during the ceremony but I did take some shots. Curiously enough, I remember I was anxious about the results. I don’t remember the pictures but some of them must have come out OK, for he used a few in the wedding album we gifted the couple.
Then I got caught up with my studies but my first, very own actual camera was a NIkon FG SLR which I got in 1989 when I got into College of Fine Arts Trivandrum. Which is when I actively started ‘practicing’ photography. The FA course too offered me lot of space. By then I had started helping Achan in his dark room in processing and printing (any excuse to not hit the books!). But then still photography was not for me, I was more into the thrill of motion cinematography, a throwback from my childhood days and toy cameras (self-made with cardboard box and glasses ). We used to make short skits with a friend and his sister acting in front of the camera, mostly stunt scenes though. But that’s for another time….
In college I realized I need to shape up the basics of my visual knowledge. Along with my regular photography exercises, the real teachers and inspiration came from the Trivandrum CFA and Public Library reference room. Some of the books there like the Black Book for Advertising thrilled me no end, the still life, nudes, portraits. But I never could achieve the same results and was slowly becoming frustrated. A reality check came from Achan who told me you needed high-end equipment like good flash guns and premium quality lenses to achieve the kind of results you saw in the books. Which we couldn’t afford then, so why not concentrate on painting studies rather than photography.
I was disappointed to say the least wasn’t one to give up. I start making my own light stands which I got welded into place and used it with high voltage tungsten bulbs. I even shot for a couple of print commercial, a bakery and a restaurant–all mainly table-top photography. Achan was a silent observer in all this but was always sharing useful tips. So, in a sense, he is my guru in photography.
Seeing my efforts, he started letting me use his ‘prime ‘cameras like a Yashica G124 (medium format) and Nikon (35 mm film camera).
I unconsciously start realizing that travel, people, real life stories made more sense than tabletop advertising photography. The inspiration always was the library books on photography at the Collage, giants like Raghubir Singh, Steve McCurry. By then, I had started travelling a bit and slowly start using. these cameras on my journeys to other parts of Kerala. Most of the time half the roll would be unusable.
I was growing up in an age where newspapers–like The Pioneer, The Telegraph, NewYork Times , National Geography,Life magazine, –too had realised the importance of the good picture, which diverted my interest to people photography ( later understood that this is Photojournalism). Even went to cover a few news events, like landslides and floods in Kallar (near Ponmudi) in Trivandrum. Occasionally to the fisher folk settlements in Valliyathura and Vizhinjam, the coastal areas in Trivandrum. I even took a couple of trips to towns like Thrissur, Kollam, Alleppey. Still, I was never completely happy with the results, blame that of my ‘fungified’ lenses or my obsession with the Steve and Raghubir Singh style photos.