As one of the leading photography academy of India, Apex offers a unique opportunity for its diploma students to work as interns and assistants with eminent National and International professional photographers, so they can imbibe and experience practical situations. In this episode we introduce you to Mr. Shobhit Pillai, a Diploma student of Photography, at Apex, who accompanied, Mr. Justin Hession, a Swiss photographer to the Kumbh Mela, in Allahabad, to assist him in his personal creative project.
Apex Coordinator: How was the experience of staying in the tents for 9 days?
Shobhit Pillai: It was a refreshing change, a much-welcomed break from Delhi’s proper, well-organized life…for me it was a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to know what living in a tent is like!…I felt as if I’m living in a military regime, where one had to wake up at 7 in the morning and get straight to work…and on my last day, my heart felt heavy at the very thought of going back to the city concrete jungle.. But again, I was going back with a bundle of new takings and happy memories to share. And I must mention that the food there was good, if only that they had used onion and garlic to spice it up!
Apex Coordinator: What was it like assisting Justin Hession, the photographer from Switzerland?
Shobhit Pillai: Assisting Justin was simply an experience that’ll stay with me for years to come! I never expected that I would ever get such an opportunity, to assist a Swiss photographer. In the beginning, I thought that the interaction might be a wee bit uncomfortable, but all those his humble persona made me throw all those distractions to the wind!…he was so Indian in his ways; that I think really broke the ice between us. His way of thing, taking, eating Indian food and even happily living in a tent rather than in a 5 star hotel; everything about him made him easily approachable! And needless to say, I learned much from him, both professionally and personally.
Apex Coordinator: Was it really hard to convince people for the shoot?
Shobhit Pillai: It was not too hard to convince them for a quick photograph but it was very hard to convince them to come inside the tent because they were understandably suspicious of why we couldn’t click photographs outside the tent…so yes, convincing them and assuring me that all will be good was a formidable challenge. I tried to assuage their concerns by telling them that it’s a project for a book on Kumbh or a book on different people coming to Kumbh. And in the end, it all went smoothly so, no complaints!
Apex Coordinator: What challenges did you face while shooting the portraits in a tent?
Shobhit Pillai: The challenges we faced while shooting inside the tents were lighting problems; we didn’t have proper studio equipment at our disposal, so it was difficult to capture technically sound frames. But we innovated well and devised alternatives to ensure our stint was worthwhile.
Apex Coordinator: How many faces did you find in 9 days and how many good face portraits were you able to find in 9 days?
Shobhit Pillai: We got some what around 72 faces in nine days, out of which 50-55 were good enough to be considered for the project…
Apex Coordinator: What kind of lighting did you use? Was it natural lighting, artificial lighting or both?
Shobhit Pillai: Essentially we wanted to play around with artificial lighting as we were looking at churning out something different. While most photographers were out on field, our focus was on shooting portraits of different and interesting people at the Kumbh with proper studio lighting.
Apex Coordinator: What was the average number of people you found in a day for the shoot? Did you shoot day and night as well?
Shobhit Pillai: On an average, we had about 12 subjects. We primarily shot between 8 a.m till 6 p.m, hence it was only a day time shoot throughout.
Apex Coordinator: Usually a photographer choices his own faces from the crowd for the shoot and there is a certain taste that he appreciates or is looking for. So did your choice get well along with the photographer’s choice?
Shobhit Pillai: From the word go, Justin had told me about his preferences about the kind of subjects he was looking at exploiting. Most often than not, he was happy with my sense of picking the subjects, so yes, I’d like to believe we achieved common ground and that is sure to reflect in our photographs as well.
Apex Coordinator: What kind of faces or face structure or expressions, were you looking for in the crowd. Any particular example.
Shobhit Pillai: It was not just about a particular face or face structure for us; it was more about capturing striking, interesting people at the Kumbh…in addition to that, we paid much attention to the props that they were carrying with them, like most sadhus we photographed were adorned with rudraksh beads. In short, it was not just about the subject’s face but also his/her over-all persona.
Apex Coordinator: What was the most fascinating face that you found in the crowd, that you are most proud of?
Shobhit Pillai: The most fascinating faces I stumbled upon at the Kumbh Mela were those of two kids, who were rag-pickers at the gathering. I convinced them to come to our makeshift studio (tent) and I’m so glad I did! The subtle drama and innocent romanticism their faces had will be any photographer’s delight to capture! In fact, we developed a friendship during our brief encounter; they even took my phone number and told me that they keep in touch with me! And of course, their portrait shot is a personal favorite and a sight that overwhelms me with great memories each time I look at them.
Apex Coordinator: Share an interesting experience or incident from this trip (while convincing the people for the shoot or while shooting).
Shobhit Pillai: One particular experience that stands out for me is when I picked a Naga Sadhu as my subject and after much persuasion, convinced him to accompany me to our tent. The problem began when he took the drugs inside our studio (tent) and after taking a quick dose was unable to even stand upright! Things only went from worse to worst when in a fit of anger, he grabbed my neck and began manhandling me. To placate him, we handed him Rs. 500 and asked him to leave (phew!). So yes, this was one crazy encounter I’m unlikely to ever forget!
Apex Coordinator: What did you learn from this experience?
Shobhit Pillai: Quite a bit to last me a lifetime! Earlier, I was hesitant in approaching and communicating with people but now, I feel much more at ease in doing so. Secondly, I was always unsure about playing around with the different lighting techniques, but now I feel I’ve loosened up and am no more reluctant to experiment and explore. Most importantly, I’ve realized that a photographer must never be content with his shots; the possibilities are always endless and there is much to explore under the top layer of everything in my line of vision.