Tell us about your journey from being a Landscape Architect to a Photographer
For 20 years I worked as a landscape architect. I was in India with my own office, and then I shifted to Dubai for my further development. During that process, of course, I traveled a lot and understood a lot of architecture around the world. Dubai was a hot place at that time where all architects, designers in all fields were working. It was a huge exposure for me. Basically, they came there for the design and there are pros and cons for that too. Some people liked it, some people didn’t, but I was one of them who didn’t. I got out of that and was looking for a better work life balance and had had enough of corporate life. I just shut down everything one night, sent my resignation and went to Ooty. I don’t remember what I said to Anu ma’am, or Iqbal sir. I said either you give me the admission or I’ll be working as a watchman here.I am not going back to Dubai. I just fell in love with Ooty and the one year there was amazing. It was a process of unlearning. I wanted to scratch off and go back to zero. I used to do a little bit of wildlife photography during my travels and I thought I should learn a little bit more sincerely about photography.I didn’t want to become like a trigger happy guy – one out of 10 gets fluked.
Tell us about your journey as a photographer post LLA
First two years I was trying to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. Since my background was in architecture. So I thought architecture would be a good point to start with because I understand a little bit of that, but, because of Mihir Hardikar’s class, I started liking food and then I jumped into food and it was just a kind of hobby initially.
One restaurant approached us and they needed a particular kind of style, so we shot that. When we start looking at food as a type of photography and the commercial approach to it, you tend to need more people around you, like a stylist, prop collectors and other lighting units etc.
I was trying to become more of an independent one-man show because working in India and working out outside India has a major difference. You get a lot of help out there in India, with a little bit less financial burden on you, but if you come to Australia, you are supposed to put a lot of money to get that sort of commercial help.
So yeah, you have to be like one man show all the way from sweeping the studio to cleaning all the equipment, props, everything and then again, you go back to the shoot also. But it was fun to learn. Basically, I was just evaluating between food and architecture. When I started coming into architecture, I felt more at ease there. My architectural knowledge helped me understand the language while talking to architects.
Within the first 15 minutes, we are all on the same page, which was not the case in food because I wouldn’t understand what the chefs are talking about, what style they’re talking about. So I used to research a lot before shooting. So it’s a good thing. Nothing wrong with it, but architecture was a bit easier for me. I’m looking at architecture more from the commercial aspect and have changed my portfolio accordingly. So you can say I am an architecture and interior photographer, but I don’t say no to food projects too.
Tell us a little bit about Architecture Photography
I used to look at architecture as a complete package, but then when I started going into it deeper I realized that there are so many branches. Each magazine requires a different approach towards photography. Architects, interior designers, stylists, builders, plumbers – each one requires a very different approach for their product to be shot. It depends on who hires you. Based on that the portfolio you give them also changes. It’s an important thing to discuss. We meet and then we discuss who is involved in it, who is going to present what and who will be there to show the details. This happens before every shoot.
Tell us about your approach to commercial architecture photography
Whenever I get an assignment I ask the architect a few questions. For 2 reasons – one, because the architect knew that baby from the beginning. So it is important to understand what he wants to highlight because these photographs are going to be representative of his work. He or she has to be on that same level as us. It is like immortalizing that person’s work through these photographs. So we need to talk with him as many times as required. Getting information about what he thought about the lighting conditions. Is there a particular texture to be highlighted? Is that in new material he tried or is there a combination of materials he was looking to highlight? And in that particular light or that particular time. Then when you visit a particular place, of course you will check the light conditions and all those things. But what I like more about it is a human figure against that particular volume, that itself gives a very unique character to that particular house, it gives a scale, it helps understand how large compared to that person who is going to be there and what he thought about it. How that light itself affects that entire room, you know, from a mood point of view or like the texture highlighting point of view or what it is going to do at that macro level.
So these things, we definitely need for two reasons . One, You need to find out the correct light conditions when you’re shooting and when you are both producing that, will you be able to translate that more through your post-production? Of course, everybody does post-production, we try to avoid post-production and do everything organically. That’s a good thing. But sometimes some architects prefer to show everything, whatever is available, it might be an exit sign or a lamp post. Sometimes some architects said that, alright, if we don’t show the light switch that sort of thing, so we need to balance it out. Sometimes we assume a few things as a photographer, saying it doesn’t look good, but if the stockholder or the architects need that particular information from their point of view, we definitely need to cater to that too. So these are the very practical points that you will face when you meet architects and the other clients.
And then of course then you have your own artistic approach for each photograph that is your own style. You do that, but also you need to understand that there are people who are looking at it from this point as well.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Every year I find somebody very different to look up to .Right now I’m looking at Franck Hamel, Vincent Munier. When I look at them, I look at it more as a minimalistic approach and the philosophy behind it. So I never thought that wildlife photography would be so poetic until I saw Vincent Munier’s work.
When I see their portfolio, they are more minimalistic, but with a lot of content. So each year, my legends keep on changing. So this year I’m just following these four, five guys and it just helps me to improve my portfolio
Tell us more about your Food Photography Work
Now I look at Food photography more as my personal work. I get influenced by these influencers and I convert that into my food work. It’s more minimalistic, more of light and more of the basic character of that particular element. So I started working on something called Raw Ingredients. Here, what I found in Australia is that there is something called a Farmers market. We have it in India too. If we go to these marketplaces or the villages nearby. You can pick the things there on the field. So I usually go with my equipment and pick the things which are good for the shoot on the field. I keep doing that whenever I find something weird, a weird tomato, a weird grape.
So it is still going on. It is like an ongoing project, which helps me. If I have a day off or when I’m totally stagnant with ideas from the architectural part of it or anything and I want to do something totally drastic apart from the architecture shoot or the climate doesn’t allow me to go outside. Then I go back to the studio and do this. I have a little bit of a small garden back here as well. So basically it started with some day to day vegetables at home and how you enhance the light on it and get the things out of it. That was how it was. But slowly it became more like a workbook.
It’s good to do some kind of a hobby on a personal level. Somebody, somewhere or someone might like that and it will go to the next commercial approach. I understand that that doesn’t bring food to your table, but it definitely acts as an eye opener and gives a view to work from the client perspective.
Interplay between your food and architecture work
Definitely. Somehow unconsciously, my work became a bit more minimalistic, in architecture and even interior photography. Even though the interior shots had too many props, I was trying to get them as minimalistic as possible, compared to the previous picture. That is the big influence from the 3-4 photographers who I follow right now. It is helping me unclutter.
Sometimes I become a bit rude and tell the clients not to put too many things. I was not like that before, but the photographs are looking better I feel. You need to be like that, to make sure that the things you don’t feel comfortable with in the frame, you get rid of them.
Lot of other elements like light, texture, all these elements become more important compared to the props. That gives a photograph a very different direction altogether. Initially, the photographs were more of an influence of my previous travels, but now I’m a little bit more settled and trying to get rid of all this clutter. So I think that is the next step for me to improve myself.
Any Advice to Aspiring Architecture Photographers?
So, even in architecture, there is something for the real estate projects, real estate agents need everything so fast. Shoot and the next day, within 24 hours you deliver them those images.
It’s good to get money out of it. But focus more energy on the really beautiful architectural structures where no matter how big or small they are, it’s more of the materials used, the details used. If you can discover those, that will bring you up more in terms of your portfolio. When kids come out of LLA, they will need to see what is commercially viable and what is artistically viable. And then you try and balance it out. At the end you will come to know that if I do this particular branch, I will be able to manage both. And that is their kind of a niche. It will work out for them
How was your experience learning photography at LLA?
That one year, I was looking at it in a very different manner. I was 44 then, and the entire batch was in their 20’s.I had to compete with them on a physical level. I had to compete with them on a raw intellectual level, and I just enjoyed that. At my age, the ideas and the creativity is almost frozen. I think all corporate guys at that age should come back to these 20 year old guys and start struggling with them. It keeps you alive. To fight with them on a physical level was the biggest challenge for me. Yes, I could solve the problems much more easily than those guys because of whatever experience I had. But the ideas created by those guys are worth fighting for and to put your photograph next to them was the biggest challenge for me and that is what I learned. They were absolutely great. Each one was amazing.
Your memories from LLA
Oh man. There are so many things, there are so many people,, I just miss it every day!
I miss LLA. Sometimes I just feel I should teleport myself and sit there next to you. It’s like a big family for me.
They’re absolutely great people (my batchmates), great work. And, of course, they were also learning at that point. But apart from what they gave me, there was a kind of childhood. I enjoyed that one year. No matter how much money I pay anybody, I will never get that experience again. So it is absolutely beautiful. It was very peaceful for me too.
I had met a few people there, of course, Iqbal Sir and Anu Maam, the entire akka team and it is a part and parcel of joining LLA. You will get that every year. What I got out of Sudhanva, Mihir, Kavitha, they gave me so much knowledge on all levels. Apart from Photography, day to day life, they just made everything so comfortable there. It is an absolutely peaceful memory man, it is a zen space for me there.
To see more of Vikram’s work, please visit his website: https://vikhingmire.com/