Amit Ashar: My Way of Seeing

 
Amit believes that photographs like the ones he has made, can be shot anywhere in the world and are not bound by borders. Photograph/Amit Ashar

Amit believes that photographs like the ones he has made, can be shot anywhere in the world and are not bound by borders. Photograph/Amit Ashar

In a candid conversation with Ambarin Afsar, Amit Ashar talks about life, inspiration and beginnings.

Amit Ashar’s voice on the telephone greets me with a “Good morning!” every time I call him, be it at nine in the morning or even at ten in the night.

The same sense of humour made itself evident within a few minutes of the interview when I asked him if it washis day off. “Every day is a day off.

We photographers don’t work!” He has an amazingly light-hearted way of looking at almost everything, which shines through even in his photography. “There is too much sadness in the world. I look for a tiny spark, an element that will make people smile,” he says.

An Orgasmic Chase
I began the interview by asking Amit Ashar what it is that he gets out of photography.“It is an immensely satisfying experience. While shooting people, it is like a chase. You look though the viewfinder, right into the eyes of the person and you know that all guards have been dropped. You are one with your subject. This feeling of chasing something until you grab it right out of a moment in time, a moment in someone’s life, is almost orgasmic.”

That Man in Shorts
Amit made pictures for the first time at his brother’s wedding, after which, his sister-in-law felt that he should take up photography professionally. She took him to meet a photographer. “ The moment I entered, I saw a guy wearing shorts and a ganji sitting in an airconditioned room. There was music playing and this guy was sipping coffee, calmly staring at a product that had been illuminated by two studio lights. One look at him and I was like, he is not working! This is exactly what I want to do!” The notion that photographers do not have to work stuck firmly into Amit’s head. He laughs and says that he sticks to that maxim even today, and leads the good life.

Seeing the Extraordinary
While he does shoot a lot commercially, his personal work seeks out the extraordinary in the ordinary. But, he does not consciously think about these photographs. “If I go looking for them, I do not find them.” So, when Amit is not shooting in the studio, he is out, generally walking on the streets. “I have seen most of these photographs when I do not even have a camera on my person.

Often, I spot something and then go and borrow a camera from a friend to make the image.” The images happen only when he is not consciously thinking of shooting or working. “ Once my mind is free of clutter, I begin to observe the gems around me. They practically fall into my lap.”

A Hundred Pounds and New York at 2am
Amit says he is lazy, and often lets great shots go and does not revisit them. However, there have been times when he has made a lot of effort to make a picture he has finally liked. Once, when he was abroad, he saw a crack on the wall continuing seamlessly into a groove on a parked car. “I had to pay 100 pounds to the cab to take me to the same place and I had to pray and pray that the image was still there.”

At another time, while he was passing by the Times Square in New York, USA, he saw something fantastic—a couple of hoardings changed for a split second, right behind a statue of George Washington, making an entirely new image. But, he did not have a camera.“Three days later, at 2am, I asked my friend to drive me down to New York from New Jersey, where we were shooting. It was-12° C and biting cold. I could barely setup the tripod. The hoardings would keep changing every few seconds and I waited for the ads that formed a sort of a cape behind the statue. It all came together and I shot the image.”

No Such Thing as Luck
Does he get lucky with such photographs? “You could say so. But, there is no suchthing as luck. It is a mixture of preparation and opportunity.” Amit explains how he gave himself assignments when he was starting out. He would tape his lens to a particular focal length such as 24mm or 35mm and would shoot for several days, only at that focal length. The idea was to hone his skills to a level where it became effortless for him to see in a certain way.“

The manner in which I have trained myself to see, is my preparation. Spotting a distinct moment is the opportunity. When I release the shutter, all of this combines to make one beautiful photograph.”

A Love for People
Amit’s portraits are striking. It is his love for people that lets him make emotionally charged portraits. “I need to like a person or have some sort of connection with them to be able to make pictures with them.” He has photographed people whom he did not like and found it to be a very unpleasant experience. He also walked outof a shoot once, just because he thought it was not working out anymore. “You need to see an image happening with the person. Then only can you go ahead and make a portrait.”

Friend, Philosopher, Inspiration
Amit’s love for people brings the conversation to someone he is very fond of—Swapan Parekh—a close friend of his and also his biggest inspiration. He talks about how Swapan’s photography, be it his commercial or his personal work, breaks new grounds each time. He says, “Every image is a grab from life. When he is sitting with you, he would be making pictures constantly, and you will barely notice. It is a different way of not just seeing, but responding differently and getting it right.”

He knows Swapan for many years and feels that every day is a surprise with him. “How many people would have a masterpiece to show for every image they have ever shot? It is unbelievable photography.” I ask him to sign off the interview and without batting an eyelid, he says, “Vote for Swapan Parekh!” With that, and a “ Stay happy, live happy!”

Amit walks out of the café. I watched him make his way down a slope and call out fondly to a dog being walked by someone. I realise that it is not just Amit’s images, but also his genuinely warm-hearted demeanour that leaves a lasting smile, a lasting impression on one’s face.

Breaking Convention: Amit has done stills for plenty of films like Delhi-6, Kabul Express and Rang De Basanti. He says that when photographers make images that are used in the promotion of a film, they need to follow a specific plan that has been created. However, an interesting thing occurred while Amit was shooting for Rang De Basanti. He had shot an image of the four lead characters jumping up, reaching towards the sky. So, he approached the director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and suggested that the photograph could be one of the options for the poster. The director showed the image to Aamir Khan, who was starring in the film and Aamir said, “This is not one of the options. It is the only poster option.” The photograph, which went on to become iconic, is unconventional for a film poster as it does not show the faces of the actors. However, both, Rakeysh and Aamir liked because they believed that the film was not about faces either. Photograph/ Amit Ashar

Breaking Convention: Amit has done stills for plenty of films like Delhi-6, Kabul Express and Rang De Basanti. He says that when photographers make images that are used in the promotion of a film, they need to follow a specific plan that has been created. However, an interesting thing occurred while Amit was shooting for Rang De Basanti. He had shot an image of the four lead characters jumping up, reaching towards the sky. So, he approached the director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and suggested that the photograph could be one of the options for the poster. The director showed the image to Aamir Khan, who was starring in the film and Aamir said, “This is not one of the options. It is the only poster option.” The photograph, which went on to become iconic, is unconventional for a film poster as it does not show the faces of the actors. However, both, Rakeysh and Aamir liked because they believed that the film was not about faces either. Photograph/ Amit Ashar

Tips By Amit

  • Always wear comfortable shoes. Uncomfortable shoes will only distract you from shooting.
  • Do not be a photographer just for the money.
  • Be loyal to the camera you own, instead of being loyal to a brand.
  • Connect the dots and you will spot unusual moments around you.

 

 

 

Tags: Ambarin Afsar, amit ashar, better photography, Commercial Photography, July 2011, Profile