In our pursuit to assist the youth to make the Right Academic/Career Choices, we have interviewed several successful individuals.
In this edition we have the opportunity to interview a very creative person, Mr Vikas Shinde, who is in a glamorous but competitive area – Professional Photography.
Mr. Shinde, holds a Diploma in Electrical Engineering from Cusrow Wadia Institute of Technology. Having worked as an Engineer in various companies, Mr Shinde decided to make his innate passion into a professional pursuit…
Read on to find what he has to share about his passion and profession….
CB5: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you and understand more about your profession and career choice.
Given the context that our interview series is about successful people in various professions and to create awareness of the variety of professions to enable students to make informed decisions, would you have any initial comments?
Mr. Shinde: It is a good idea because I have been facing a lots of students everyday who want to enter in this profession of Photography even without understanding its strengths and weaknesses or the efforts required to be put in. These days the cameras have got so smart that people feel just buying a camera would make them “Professional Photographers”. That’s not the truth, there is a lot of hard work, patience and passion and hell lot of imagination that is really required to build up this business rather than just a photograph or camera.
CB5: Right, in fact that’s the common trait, we are seeing with people deeply rooted and committed to professions for decades…. Clearly there is the passion but there is also the hardwork and dedication. It doesn’t necessarily get seen by public at large.
You have always been in photography, what’s your world been like? Right from your formal education to your profession – what’s your journey like?
Mr. Shinde: I was in the 3rd Std when my father brought a camera of his friend and I took some pictures. All the pictures that I took, they came out very well, whatever pictures my father took they were not that great. So, this developed an interest in me and I started following the photographers who came in weddings and kept on observing them. In std 8th my father gave me a camera which was worth Rs. 320, way back in 1982. It was Agfa Isolette II and I started working with it. The moment I understood all the functions I started making money out of it. I used to go in functions or wherever possible because I had to compensate the cost of the film and my hobby. I used that camera from 8th Std to 10th Std, then I realised the limitations of my camera. It used to take only 16 frames and my requirement was way beyond it and it was pretty costly in those days. I told my father I want a better camera, my mother then promised to give me a camera if I get good marks in 10th. Unfortunately, my parents were unable to buy me the camera of my choice because of the cost. And so, I went on Satyagraha for 1 and a half month. Can you imagine that I ate nothing. Finally I got a camera worth Rs.2850, on 3rd Jan 1986 12.30pm or so, I still remember the day!!
That camera it gave me a lot, it gave me awards, it gave me money, taught me lot of things. After completing my Engineering, while doing my studies I continued to take pictures and make money!
CB5: Amazing! So you got into this profession almost by fate / by accident! It was a coincidence that your father happened to get you a camera but you continued to pursue your education; and at the same time you have an ignited Passion! Right?
Mr. Shinde: Simultaneously, I was completing my education and doing projects. So after 10th I went to do a diploma in Electrical Engineering. I made money there as well and I was doing well in studies. Financially we were not very strong at home, so I started working early. The moment I got few awards, in Sakal newspaper etc. it further fuelled my interest and after that I kept on investing and changing my camera because I was getting good money and I had a fascination of technology right from the beginning. Almost all the brands, of 35mm camera, film camera’s in those days, I used them, some canon, some pentax, some other cameras I liked very much because of its lenses.
Further after completion of my engineering, my father insisted on me taking up a job as an engineer rather than doing photography. I applied and got a Central Government job, obviously a more stable job. I worked for 6 years as a government employee., I worked at various locations like Lonavla, Kamshet, Chinchwad, Rajgurunagar, Chakan, Alandi, Mumbai.
And then one fine day I resigned from my job, I didn’t know what to do. I was ready to do anything and everything to survive, failure was not my option, photography was parallely going, my initial job paid me some Rs. 3600, so Rs. 2000 I used to give to my mom and Rs1000 was for myself, and all the other expenses were borne by the camera. And I used to get 3000 if at all I used to go shoot a wedding or maybe a function, that was my profit in those days. I used to think I can make this money in a day, why should I work for an entire month, travel and take so much pain. That gave me strength. Everybody was against me, my wife, my parents, everyone said don’t leave the job, its a govt job, nobody else is getting that job and why do you want to leave. And yet I quit!! I was not happy there, I was not doing what I wanted to do. The moment I left the job I was on the road, I had only Rs.1.50 left in my pocket, for more than a span of 6 months, I stopped riding my scooter and started using a cycle, telling everyone that I was a fitness freak. So almost 6 months, August- December I had nothing. During that time, I have also trained myself to make vada pav, start off ironing people’s clothes, I was willing to do anything to be a professional photographer.
Photography, that is all what I wanted to do. The end result was photography!
The government job had nothing to do with photography, it was purely engineering. But even while travelling to and fro, I clicked a lot of images, I used to ride a bicycle to Alandi, I used to ride motorcycle to Rajgurunagar or Chakan or Manchal. While travelling I used to take out my camera, click some beautiful landscapes, sun sets, maybe click the bridges, water everything on film cameras, though it was delayed outcomes, almost 2-3 months, after that I used to see the results and then think what else can be improved.
CB5: Wow everything you share, your passion just comes out. But here’s the interesting question, you did not take any formal education in photography, how did/does that work?
Mr. Shinde: No not all! I had access to a lot of books. In those days whenever I used to have money I used to gather all the old books from the scrap collector, and observe those images, try to analyse, try to find out where the lights are, the composition, intention, colours. Those books are still with me, they gave me a lot of energy. When I had money in my pocket, I went to the British Council Library. There I saw good films, good books, and some of those books I loved so much that I xeroxed them and kept it for myself. You get a lot of knowledge, you get a lot of energy, vision how to think. The moment the books direct you then you have your own vision rather than copying things. That gave the real experience, you try something, you prove something and then you realise okay these are the mistakes I am not going to make next time!
CB5: For you the learning was books, there was little guidance, there was this whole thing that I have to do this and keep learning from every single experience. This is almost like Eklavya… Passion driven learning!
Mr. Shinde: Yes, I did not get guidance from one person. Even if I used to see a good photograph lying in the dustbin I used to take it out, wash it and redevelop it. I never thought it was dirty. I still have a Kishor Kumar photograph with Madhubala, I have laminated it and kept because I found that photograph in the dustbin. So you might call it as passion, but I was hungry. I had no other option, this is what I wanted to do and after leaving a stable job, I had cut out all the ropes. I had to go ahead somehow.
CB5: So the question that immediately comes to mind is what makes you want to do this as a 24×7 thing all the time. What about you is oriented towards this profession?
Mr. Shinde: It was pretty simple, whenever I used to click, people used to appreciate that saying they have never seen such kind of images in their life. They previously had some photographers, but the images that I used to click for them using my techniques, my ideas, my compositions, they used to appreciate it very well. The moment I started that as a business the clients got benefited out of it and it gave me a lot of confidence. This is I what I do and the clients get richer and I can try that for myself. From that time onwards, I started with Emcure Pharmaceutical, working for them as a photographer, I used to supply everything to them, those days were the grooming days for the industry and my client was coming up with new products, this was around 1997 onwards. I was doing round the clock job for them, those were the days when I used to make 35mm slides for them. So I used to make 1000-2000 slides a day, pretty busy and good money. The first cheque I got from them was Rs.70,000 out of which almost 50,000 was profit and that boost up my confidence even more. The next month I had a cell phone and a landline. The cell phone bill in those days was Rs.20,000 because the calling was so expensive.
I am a very technology loving person – you give me any positive and beautiful thing related to technology and I try to implement those in my art. So I was the only guy after the directors to have cell phones, I used to get calls from them and I used to work for them round the clock. I supplied everything right from plastic boxes, candles, threads, scissors because whatever supplies they wanted I used to provide.
CB5: What do you enjoy most about your profession?
Mr. Shinde: I think of lots of weird things about how you live life, contradictions and imaginations about things we fail to understand. I used to show that through my art. For example one of my friend got a frog, the green colored tree gliding frog, the moment it jumps it’s almost 10 feet in a single jump, so I shot that frog. There is a saying in Marathi which translates to “the frog’s world lies in the pond” so I made that image, the frog is in a beautiful bowl and there is a beautiful world around it. I created that image and very few people find it very easy to understand. The moment I started showing it to the international market, they appreciated it very well.
CB5: So what you enjoy is looking at anything around you and then imagining it in a different perspective and then capturing it in a frame and creating a story around. After all, a good picture is worth a thousand words!
Mr. Shinde: It’s very difficult to portray whatever the objects are around, I don’t look at them as objects, I look at them as images. So any object that is lying around, is also a part of my world, which inspires me, so even you are talking to me now, even though you have lots of expression, angles, and lots of lighting that is happening on your face, that attracts me. I keep on observing them. So at the back of my mind, even though I am saying something to you, it’s all going on. The kind of ambience, it’s all going on – I can’t stop it. It’s sort of a curse for me, I can’t see ordinary like other people and that is the problem. I try to see each and everything so perfect, that you are never happy, the family is always upset.
CB5: What is it about your profession that you don’t like?
Mr. Shinde: Impatience, mediocrity and Insensitivity! An artist is supposed to understand something beyond expression, if he understands it well only then he can go ahead with expressing it well so that the entire world understands the real story about it.
I heard a story of a war photographer. While he was shooting, he was shot dead. He was was bleeding so he took a cab and told the driver to take the films he had shot to the American Embassy and ask them to give it to his mother. While giving them he told the cab driver, “my mother gave me a beautiful vision to become a photographer”. Then the photographer died and the cab driver took the films and delivered them to his mom. He finds out that the mom is blind! So a blind person can give you vision, for that you need a sense and mind which is most important. When the images when processed it was a completely different world!
CB5: We talked about your success factors, the ability to visualize differently. Is there anything about your personality which is significantly valuable in what you are doing and contributing to your success?
Mr. Shinde: I don’t call myself successful at all! I am just a part of the entire stream where I am working, I am trying to fix the things or do the things in right way or in a way that I feel is right. Financially I am surviving, I am getting enough money. When I see the best people in the world, I compare myself, I always feel that I am nowhere near. When I see Ansel Adams, I have done nothing like him.
CB5: So you are craving for more and better everyday!
Mr. Shinde: Yes every single day! Everyday I curse myself, and tell myself that this is not what I have done. And you know one of the best photographers has stated that “A Successful photographer is not one who is making money or shooting best, but the one who has got a huge Recycle Bin”. He should be able to recycle or scrap his work everyday and move to next. And that is what I am trying to do everyday.
CB5: This is also one of the Management Mantras, lot of the CEOs will say this, that I attribute my success to all the failures that I faced. You are saying it in a completely different way, that my recycle bin needs to be bigger than my real creative work. So I need to dump and keep making mistakes and learn from them.
Mr. Shinde: Everyday you learn! Till today I fail to understand lots of things, which I understand everyday oh this is like this, I didn’t know this, I am supposed to learn this and I keep on trying. Every moment it’s a challenge, because you can take a picture, but everytime when you are given a single product to shoot in a different way, probably on the 5th or 6th day you will be out of ideas. But that doesn’t happen with me, I keep on thinking in so many different directions and facets that it comes to me.
So your need to ideate, look at things continuously in different light, is a very powerful internal thing that you have.
I couldn’t see a girl, a beautiful place or any beautiful thing around me ordinarily, because I just see images. And that keeps on refreshing my mind, that keeps me happy, that makes me enjoy life more and more.
CB5: What kind of photography do you like?
Mr. Shinde: I prefer portraits and weird still life.
CB5: Do you do exhibitions?
Mr. Shinde: I don’t do exhibitions. I don’t believe in exhibitions. Because the person who understands image he will never come to an exhibition, that guy is sitting at home doing some other work. The ordinary people just comment “wow, wonderful, nice” they don’t understand the composition. I have lots of weird work, I have taken a very poisonous snake, sandpit viper snake and I shot it live as a dish (cuisine), people kill and eat that snake, decorate it and stuff. It was alive, every moment I go near it, I had a risk, any moment it can just react.
CB5: There must also be images which you clicked just for yourself. They are not for commercials or anything right?
Mr. Shinde: Yes lots of them almost 3 terabyte of images. I don’t show all my work to everyone , because very few people understand them. When I start getting stupid reactions I stop showing them the images, because they make fun of it rather than understanding it, you lose interest. Once there was an image in which I kept lots of coloured pencils together and there was one broken pencil and showed blood coming out. So the message was simple “Unity is strength” if you fall alone you are going to break no matter how many colors and beautiful you are. And whenever I show it to people they ask very funny questions, I get so upset. Seeing those images is a different thing and understanding is different. I can tell you the thought behind it but your imagination will be different, your interpretation will be different.
I had a film camera Sinar which was outdated those days when the digital technology came in & everyone started selling it off. I was so much in love with that camera because I kept my home for mortgage to buy that camera. It was some 4.5 lakh in 1995. So that was huge in those days. And again that was the reason that I want to win and prove it to everyone, I want to repay the loan, work hard. I am still using that camera. So when the digital technology came everybody said this is outdated & nobody is gonna use it. My engineering mind used to tell me, this technology cannot be outdated no matter what. This is the best, so I thought that I’ll keep it in a corner showing it to probably my sons & next few generations.
After a couple of years there was a digital bang, and a 6 Megapixel camera came to me. During those days people were shooting with 3 & 4 MP cameras. I was shooting at 6 MP. And that I engineered a plate to combine the two cameras by mounting it on one another. So even though nobody had the digital sinar in those days I had a digital sinar & i was shooting at 18 MP because of the earlier camera & the plate that I engineered. Going to the milling machine, defined it & took the readings to measure the depths & corners. It went very well.
Technology helped me a lot. People used to say it is not gonna happen but I knew it is possible. How, I didn’t know at that moment, but the technology, the education made it possible. An engineer is always told or taught to find out a solution. I found lots and lots of solutions for photography; I have plenty of technological solutions which I applied in my office itself. Then later I came up with a 50 megapixel digital camera, now I can make upto 300 Mega Pixel images. Which no body else is doing, not even in the country.
I have done an Indian navy job in which i took a picture of Indian Navy completely from the Taj hotel terrace. Those were 55 shots and I stitched them with the help of computer, so that print was made almost 22 feets and that is laminated and framed and kept in Mumbai Dockyard. So a guy has to walk to see that entire image. And it starts from gateway of india on the right hand side and entirely pans towards Brabourne stadium, church gate, queen’s necklace and each and everything in between.
CB5: Can you share what you believe are your significant achievements?
Mr. Shinde: I got three times recognition on Hasselblad.com site. A camera which is made for shooting the moon. I have three Hasselblads and two Sinars. The first time I felt it was an accident, the next time also I felt okay one more accident and the third time I was really shocked, I was a bit happy, that okay there is someone in the world who understands how I think, how I interpret. And after the third recognition, I got a call from London Hasselblad, they took my interview and published on their website. That was the icing and that was my achievement you can say. That gave me a lot of confidence and that also kept me in an upset kind of mind state because I still have to perform better – so not stopping here was the only milestone.
I always get upset, I cannot sleep well after 3 o’clock, I used to get lots of ideas every morning after 3 o’clock, I keep writing them, keep thinking about them and then the next day I bring it on the set and shoot it the way I like.
CB5: How much of the work that you do is individualistic or working in a team?
Mr. Shinde: It’s more individual because all are my ideas. You must have seen so many ‘Gulab jamun’ packets, but every time you see my ‘Gulab jamun’ packet it’s going to be different. So how to present the same ‘Gulab jamun’ differently. So it keeps me challenged how I am going to do next time.
The parent company of my client KSB Pumps is German. So whenever I am making an image, they always say that you are always challenging yourself and we don’t know what you are going to create next. I get a lot of emails and appreciation from the German company saying they like my image.
I do have international clients, a lot of international friends. I present there. And these companies call you if anything new is coming up.
CB5: What were some of the sacrifices you had to make to reach to this level?
Mr. Shinde: Lost good family life, health, lost contact and relations around including parents, personal time. One has to sacrifice because you cannot achieve both the things, you never know when I have to pack my bags and go for shoot. Once my father was in the hospital going through a lot of pain while I had to do work during the day and go to the hospital at night. I can’t just lock my door and go there. Even though you understand there are commitments you have to follow. That really hurts me sometimes.
CB5: So for the young readers and the viewers who are probably thinking about photography as a career choice would you have some advice, both, from the perspective of what’s the enriching part of it and what would be the potential pitfalls?
Mr. Shinde: Difficulties are going to be there, the world has become so smart. The world has become one nation. You can deliver your work at any part of the world with the help of internet and you can learn technology. If you have sensitivity, logic and imagination, then only you should/ can go ahead.
There is no option to Dedication, passion and hard work. And the best and worst thing, you could get more money and you will never say a photographer died getting paid less. But it is fluctuating. If you have a comfort zone, then you will never struggle, so it has to be fluctuating. Unless you have the hunger you won’t do anything. Because if you give me 5 crore rupees in my bank I will stop working. But when I know next month if I don’t do anything I won’t have money. Then you will start craving for it, not just to create money but there is some motivation for you to work.
CB5: But if financial liberation happens, would you stop looking at things the way you are?
Mr. Shinde: No. I don’t want that. I might have the best cameras in the world. Technically I may be the best, but then do I have a rich brain to work on it. You can’t have all the things. If I have money, I will stop thinking. I will stop walking down the lane 10 kilometers taking pictures because then I will have a car then I won’t stop it, then I will have people to do the job. So the fun is gone. The pleasure of taking the camera out, standing in the dirt and taking beautiful pictures is gone, the satisfaction is gone and I don’t want that. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to be such a money making guy, that next day I feel I don’t want to work and let me have a nice sleep. But the next day when I get up at 3 O’clock in the morning with lots of ideas and I am so hungry to execute, I don’t want to lose that urge and I feel money will do that.
CB5: Any advice for the students?
Mr. Shinde: It is very simple. Never give up your passion, no matter what. And second thing is that never stop coming out of your comfort zone.
If you keep relaxing, if you keep enjoying your comfort zone you will never be the best. So every time you have to tell yourself this is where I am not gonna stop. Otherwise the young generation is intelligent enough to understand its pros and cons, technology is with them, unlike us, we had very limited resources. But unfortunately people are looking at it with a different perspective as a money making machine. A photographer is highly paid for his ideas. He never dies penny less. He is rich enough to enjoy life.
CB5: Anything else you want to share with us?
Mr. Shinde: Anyone if at all, wants to learn anything about photography they can come to me, I can guide them, but I cannot teach photography. You cannot teach photography, you cannot teach imagination, you can learn how to use a camera, you can learn to drive but you cannot teach anyone how to drive in a race or a highway, or use that space to take over the vehicle.
Every day you enrich yourself by reading, by experimenting, by going out, by talking to people, by understanding the world that’s happening around you. Youngsters today immediately google an idea/concept and try to produce the same thing. I really stop them from doing this because this is not what you are, instead this is a copy of someone else. So use your own imagination, let it be at any stage. Your imagination is gonna take you ahead.
CB5: We are sure that our readers will benefit from your open sharing and enjoy reading your experiences. We are also sure that some of them will be motivated to choose Photography as a career!
We sincerely Thank you for the sharing and giving us your time.
Until our next Blog on another interesting profession…
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