Shantanu Sheorey

 

Taste the thunder, with Salman Khan. Only Vimal, with Sir Vivian Richards. Garden Vareli, with Madhu Sapre and Aishwarya Rai. Nobody makes dreams like Shantanu Sheorey, as Raj Lalwani retraces.

His first Garden Vareli campaign was adorned with a crayon sketch on a print, inspired by the time he needed to make a visiting card on the spur of the moment, and had handpainted on a piece of paper. The second one, pictured here with Madhu Sapre, was a glorious blur.

His first Garden Vareli campaign was adorned with a crayon sketch on a print, inspired by the time he needed to make a visiting card on the spur of the moment, and had handpainted on a piece of paper. The second one, pictured here with Madhu Sapre, was a glorious blur. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

Shantanu Sheorey was the undisputed bohemian of fashion photography in India. A pioneer of many hues, he set the rules, redefined them, bent them and almost always, broke them. Having started his career in the early eighties, at a time when the genre was at its relative infancy in India, his pushing of the medium was constant, incessant, in a journey that is best defined by the fact that you could never really define it. Shantanu has always been a man in a hurry. His maverick ideas are backed by an intricate control over craft, a lot of which goes back to his early years of experimentation in the darkroom, while he was studying offset printing.

Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

Blur, multiple exposures, the use of mixed lighting, and almost every technique that is a departure from the norm, has made its way into his commercial work. His defining style was that he didn’t have one style. “Beautiful images, the quality of which is rarely seen today, have been shot using tungsten lights decades ago,” he says, while embracing the latest of technology, and yet, seeking the timelessness of old.

While his craft was intricate, and techniques, novel, there was always a graphic simplicity that underlined his work. From Miss World Aishwarya Rai to Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, Sheorey’s images launched many a career. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

While his craft was intricate, and techniques, novel, there was always a graphic simplicity that underlined his work. From Miss World Aishwarya Rai to Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, Sheorey’s images launched many a career. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

“I Don’t Like Normal…”

In recent years, he has moved away from the industry, having settled into the role of an educationist. But the spark that always defined a Shantanu Sheorey campaign continues to be mirrored in the gleam that lights up his eye every time he discovers something new. “I discovered the work of Lillian Bassman only four years ago, and there was such a sense of déjà vu that I felt,” says Shantanu, of the iconic art director and photographer whose legacy was only recently rediscovered.

This unpublished photo was where he took the Garden Vareli sarees to Kutch, a landscape that had barely been used by photographers at that time. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

This unpublished photo was where he took the Garden Vareli sarees to Kutch, a landscape that had barely been used by photographers at that time. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

Bassman’s images were characterised by a whimsical elegance that was created by the use of a wide range of techniques, from bleaching, extreme use of contrast, grain, and handpainting in the darkroom. “I was reminded of my early efforts, of how I’d always try to make my work different. I don’t like normal,” he says.

Everyone is a potential storyteller. Just look at things around you, every bit, detail, texture, ray that you observe is a tiny part of your overall vision.

With a double exposure sandwich in post, and a deliberate simulation of film grain, Shantanu’s images have always asked questions, of where and how one can take the straight-on visual. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

With a double exposure sandwich in post, and a deliberate simulation of film grain, Shantanu’s images have always asked questions, of where and how one can take the straight-on visual. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

It’s remarkable how relentlessly he pursued evolution, how constantly he looked for change. From his very first fashion assignment, where he smeared Vaseline on the filter to create a David Hamilton-inspired dreamy look, to eventually moving away from photography itself, seeking to explore the moving image. The ease with which he shifted mediums, though, is not surprising. Even his still photos have always had a sense of fluidity, a grace that is best seen in his now iconic series of Garden Vareli campaigns. “I was tired of sharp pictures, and convinced the client that I will shoot an entire campaign on an Agfa Click-III, a cheap snapshot camera that would often result in fuzzy, but moody images.”

Well before cellphone photography became commonplace and became accepted as a serious and legitimate form, Shantanu was exploring the possibilities and limitations of his phone. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

Well before cellphone photography became commonplace and became accepted as a serious and legitimate form, Shantanu was exploring the possibilities and limitations of his phone. Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

He was eventually urged to use a regular camera, but he arrived at the look nonetheless. A combination of tungsten lamps, flash and slow shutterspeed, with a fleximirror, which when bent, would distort light in such a way that it becomes difficult to figure out where the source actually lies. This was supermodel Madhu Sapre’s first ever assignment, just a few days after she had walked into his studio in a tracksuit. She was a national-level shotput champion.

“Let technology breed vision. Look at what streetlight can look like, now, with the sensitivities that digital manages to reach. Even a cameraphone... it may have its quirks, but how do you make those quirks, yours?” Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

“Let technology breed vision. Look at what streetlight can look like, now, with the sensitivities that digital manages to reach. Even a cameraphone… it may have its quirks, but how do you make those quirks, yours?” Photograph/Shantanu Sheorey

I am fascinated by reflective surfaces. They do not tell you a story, but tease you into it.

He sensed a model… much like he discovered a wide range of faces that now constitute some of the stalwarts of the industry. Shantanu Sheorey is not too fond of the tag of a fashion photographer for he has always explored several genres, but his eye, both for imagery and for talent, went a long way in building the fashion industry in the country.

Shantanu Sheorey has been at the forefront of creating and executing some of the most memorable advertising and marketing campaigns for over three decades, with several print campaigns & over 900 ad films to his credit. An alumnus of the J J School of Art and the Maine workshops, he recently founded The One School Goa.

This story was featured as a part of Fashion Stories Vol. 2

Tags: Anniversary Issue Vol 2, better photography, Commercial Photography, fashion, Fashion Stories, Main Story, modelling, photography, Raj Lalwani, shantanu sheorey