One Life. One Shot. No Regrets. Hema Narayanan
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Well, I guess I took an offbeat and unconventional path to pursue my passion for photography and writing. And It eventually ended in an outcome which today is considered to be cool. To be honest the journey was not as cool as it sounds. It was quite an uphill task given that I moved from the technology field to the photography industry which is totally alien. To have photography as a hobby is one thing but to make it a profession it is a totally different ball game. I think understanding the nuts and balls of this industry and making growths into this industry is extremely challenging because we really didn't have a handbook as such in those days of how a photographer gets into this field and makes something out of it. When I quit my IT field, by the way, I'm an engineer with close to a decade of experience in the IT industry. Way back ten years ago when I moved out of IT. It seemed like I was standing in the middle of a vast desert and with no signboards or directions whatsoever. So it seemed like you could have any directions so that was the state and then I think I might have taken different directions. Go one way try out and if it doesn't work out come back and try another direction and come back. And this is how the journey has been. But I think the strengths I gathered in the IT field having played a lot of roles helped me to try to go into different directions and shape up what didn't work out. That's how over a period brick after brick gradually my flight took off.
What is your life mantra or life motto?
Well, these are big phrases I have really not thought about it that way. I think I have just gone with the flow and done what my heart's desire and what has made me feel alive, what has got the best out of me and I think the craft of photography in writing. Over a period of time, I have realized I have got the best out of me and therefore I have stuck on with it. I wanted to excel in this art. I took up a three-year course from Newyork Institute of Photography and that was like finishing school and that really helped. Now that you have asked me about the motto I am reminded of a couple of lines which I saw in the back of a bus in Spain “One life One short Make it Count #noregrets “. Perhaps looking back that has been my motto. Honesty, I wanted to give photography a shot and I think I have made it count and I definitely can say #noregrets.
What is the turning point of your life?
I think it must be the April fool's day of the year 2009. I think when I woke up that morning I did not have anywhere to go which means that March 31st of that year was when I served my last day of corporate area. It seemed like a bliss, a blessing as well as a vain. I knew that I could do whatever I wanted but at the same time, I really had no idea how to go about it. It was a rude awakening in some ways but also a pleasant blessing in other ways. But coming back to the turning point of my life that day is the defining day because it divides the phases of my life. It is a definite divider one as a technologist for over a decade and the next as a photographer and writer. The story has always been drop by drop dipped into the ocean. Like I said earlier there is no handbook as such in the industry of photography so every little step I would use to my advantage. Two of my friends in this industry gave me opportunities to be mentors, one in travel photography space and the other in street photography space. After doing coaching for a bunch of people I realize that I also had a flair for teaching. Simplifying complex things was an attribute I always had to have since my childhood. That's how one of the service lines came under my banner which is photography workshops. Talking of turning points I did not turn back ever after having taken the decision of moving out from an IT career. Honestly, this single-handedly has helped the trajectory of my flight take off in a very unseen and uncharted industry.
What do you consider to be your biggest professional achievements?
Achievements are a very subjective term and to everyone it is different. Yes in the field of photography I have won lots of awards which I am very happy about. It kinda boosted the confidence, acted as a catalyst to the work I was doing. One of my personal favorites is to be shortlisted as one among the 35 worldwide by National Geographic way back a few years back. Having said that the professional achievement which I considered to be important are three important things. The first one being the paradigm transition from the industry of technology to an industry of photography and going endlessly and tirelessly without giving up so that's the first one. The second one is making a small business with a brand name called Wider Angles photography and without having anything under it today I have a few service lines. A lot of people like to travel with me and learn with me. I feel instilling certain values and passion have come a long way since it is a very successful business industry. But I think the most important thing I feel is the most important achievement I feel is winning the respect and regard from fellow photographers and people in the industry. You know when today when I get calls for the panel discussions, speeches by the academic institutions or universities or galleria I felt fairly privileged and humbled that I am considered an established photographer. I think winning the reverence and respect is the ultimate.
Tell us more about your brand “Wider Angle”?
Well, with all these skills that I have garnered n the IT field in corporate life I also wanted to give being an entrepreneur a chance and I also needed a brand name when I stepped out as a photographer therefore overnight in back in 2012 If I am right I came up with this phrase called Wider Angles Photography based on one of the lenses we photographers use which is a wide-angle lens. The idea being that over a period of time a lot of things, a wide range of things can be done under this banner or the brand. I think one of my earlier questions I did mention that mentorship came very naturally to me. Teaching was one of the things that I really relished, therefore, the workshop is the first thing I introduced starting with basics and as of today, I teach many genres like street, travel, landscape, architecture, night photography and a lot of them for kids. And also editing like photoshop and so on. And after that started introducing photo walks within the city which focused on certain aspects of photography and one of the things which I always wanted to do was when I got out of the industry of IT was to work with children. And therefore I decided I should teach photography to the children and see how they responded to this particular beautiful craft. The international school of Bangalore reciprocated my idea of introducing photography to their children as well as their extracurricular activities. So since 2012, I have been teaching them from grade 4 to grade 11 every Monday and I believe that is the best highlight of my week. A big stress buster and its wonderful teaching the children. After this came the commercial photography projects I did a lot of shoots and different genres. But one of them out of the box ideas that came up way back in 2013 was a bunch of students used to tell me when I taught them and showed them the images Hema why don't you take us with you. I heard this phrase take us with you often from a lot of students and I said ok let me just take you guys with me and this is how I thought of introducing photography journeys which is very unique and I decided that India will be the best place to do it. Nothing is more beautiful, more colorful or more diverse than what our country has to offer so I introduced my signature which is today well-received by lots of people and that's called Experience India. So at the end of the day, I have wider angles as the only service.
We would like to hear more about your signature tours “Experience India”
The idea behind the photography, it was called experience India initiated when I started to work with a partner of mine way back in 2013. Having traveled widely and all over the world and within India, I always thought India had far better and far superior elements or subjects for photographers to shoot. When I decided I should do Experience India Photography trips I thought about what should go into it so these are uniquely designed and curated programs. The crux of it being can I taste or can I offer someone the experience of a slice of India based on the state that we go to could be the culture of the place could be the architecture of the monuments or festivals or just the people and their lifestyles. So every photograph of India tour is based on a particular state and they focus on a set of things which are definitely very different from photography tours that we go otherwise. The idea is that it becomes one of your journey of a lifetime and definitely a slice of India stays back in your heart. These photo journeys are usually three to ten days sort of duration depending on the places we go to, and the amount of the drives that are involved, the sequences of shots that we want to try. The best part of this kind of journey is that we spent 4 to 10 days over a period of time who didn't even know each other before. They tend to form a very good network of photography. I am very very happy that I have a large set of networks all across the world because I have participants not just Indians but also from across the world. The combination of people from different cultures makes the network even more exciting, more enriching and finally one of the things that I definitely wanna do in some days that is to take up all the offers that I have received from my friends across the world to go visit them.
You are a published travel writer as well. Tell us a bit more about that part of your career
As an avid Traveller, I have done a lot of journeys but I have always had a fascination for words and somehow the travel doesn't seem complete unless I put them down in words either in a book or the format of an article. I had my first break with The Hindu long back. The first time they have given an opportunity to write about the Palatine in Rome and I really felt absolutely amazing getting my features out there. And over a period of time, I started writing for many dailies, many magazines, and journals and predominantly in the space of travel bit on technology but later on, I moved to travel. It takes me to space and a zone which is more like reliving the experience you had months or years ago it is so totally engrossing. Every time you write about the experience it is like a partial trip in a time capsule. I like this travel back in time thing concept each time I write an article. I think I have close to 85 to 90 published features as of today. This has been my career or my journey as a travel writer. I wanna do more of them.
What does a photograph mean to you? What genres do you indulge in? Any favorites?
I think I like everything about photography, all the act of photography, the look and feel of a camera, the way you hold it the weight of the lenses you have in your hands or maybe the pain that induces on the shoulders, the outcome which is definitely is the photograph and above all I love the sound of the click as the photography releases the shutter release button it's like a jingle bell to my ears. What about the photography I like is to me it's a partial time machine it can really take you back into space and time where you wanna go back to. It is a very known cliched quote that photography freezes time. Well, definitely it does because each time you wanna go back see a particular element or an aspect of an experience you had a photograph allows you to do that. This rewinding ability of a photograph is the most brilliant part. One can live through an instance of time you had in the past.
Coming to the genres initially when I started off the genres I did everything or I was open to everything because I feel as an artist having a boundary is very restrictive. So I have never restricted myself. I enjoyed doing each genre even till today every nuance is different. Every challenge is a different challenge and recently I also tried to dab in my hands with creative sides like glassware and Macro as well as astrophotography but if you were to ask me what are my favorites I feel there are two genres that are totally contradictory or contrasting at least in my experience. One is street and the other one is architecture, these are the two ends of the spectrum. I will tell you why because in architecture as photography you are trying to breathe life into something static. As supposed to the street there is a lot of life happening and you are trying to make something static cause you wanna freeze it so life happens on the streets while in architecture it is totally the opposite so I like the contrast and these two genres are very close to my heart.
How do you define your personal style of photography?
Initially, it was never defined there was never a boundary, I just started to experiment it was restrictive to kind of say that I could only do this or this was my personal style but over a period of time being on streets for a long number of times experimenting with live scapes happening out there, it was very evident to me that the one thing I wanna cherish the most about street photography is storytelling. I look forward to creating a photograph each time which is basically narrative and nature. Why does a photographer really take a picture right, It is because he or she wants to communicate a message which he or she is experiencing and in the street, it is even more magical because everything that happens can never happen again. So the revelation or the revelatory aspect of the street is what I find most fascinating. You know you step out there into the streets and without making an announcement the street just unravels itself in front of you. So the revelation is what I think I wanna capture all the time and try to bring subtle or hidden messages through my photographs.
How do you make the emotions flow inside the frames, how difficult is that and how do you achieve it?
Being present in the situation helps a photographer what I, mean by that is if a photographer can be immersed in a scene that is happening in front of him or her that actually has an impact on the way you feel and I think personally to me photography is not just about looking at the same but is more about feeling and it is very easy to say so but it is not very easy to practice. But think of it this way if you don't feel when you take a photograph you can't make the viewer feel anything out of it. So especially in streets where people’s expressions are involved, it is very crucial to be able to photograph the way you feel rather than the way you see. I believe there are two things that this can do when you feel the scene rather than just seeing it one it changes the perspective in which you see the scene and indirectly or directly that alters the composition in which you photographs so the image not only has the emotion but also brings about a variation in perspective in the composition of the images and on the same lines talking of which emotions is a photojournalistic genre because emotions sometimes when you take photojournalistic projects are almost automatic because you go into some of the very tough situations to shoot maybe in very poor area poverty-driven or stricken slum area where the emotions are easily free-flowing as in a photographer than in areas which are not. But I think this is the way, I have spent a lot of time in the streets, especially when I wanna capture expressions I stay in the same place for a very long time.
What is the most rewarding part of your career as a photographer and writer?
The first one I definitely think is utter independence, the freedom and the ability to create what I want just because I moved out of the 9to5 job. That definitely is very refreshing. The second and the third is directly involved with the act of photography or the act of writing you know the spaces I go into when I'm a photographer I feel I have evolved over a period of time and the reward truly is in the engaging of the photography or in the art of the process of writing. Having said that, one of the biggest rewards in my experience is I am a travel buff and it gives me a lot of opportunities to travel, travel and travel. And I think it is very important to travel because the knowledge that you gain is far better than sitting in a corner and reading books but that doesn't mean one should not read a book, so personally traveling is like oxygen to me so it is a very important aspect. My profession in photography in writing does take me to different places. One of the key things which I personally love is that it allows you to witness phenomenal and rare events and experience some unique reality, meet some sensationally different people which you just don't get to if you never travel. One of my favorites is a phenomenon that I experienced in Ladakh called Nacreous. It happens in the stratosphere and suddenly the entire cloud, it is almost like a cloud burst, the whole clouds are filled with colors and apparently it's a phenomenon which happens very rarely similarly and another phenomenon as well. It happened when we were flying over the Himalayas. From the airplane very very unique phenomenon very very few people can see so things like this which are very rewarding you know you just pick up your bag and camera and travel. And I think that process also has business around it.
What tips or advice do you have for other aspiring photographers?
There are quite a few but I will just pick three. The first one passion is a good word but perseverance is a better one. In my experience, I think passion without perseverance is totally non-consequential so all of those aspiring photographers go out there and put in their efforts and put in their hours in an experiment. Second, I think you should create images for yourself, it is very important to fall in love with the craft and understand what it is to make a photograph, develop your own style if you will. And document what you see the way you want to see, the way you want to convey it. It should not be governed by the approvals you receive from others. In today's world where social media is taken over a lot of things are defined by how many approvals you get for an image you shoot. I think that is good but that should not be a benchmark for you. The third important thing is that as photographers we sometimes miss out quite a bit on seeing with our naked eyes we are always chasing photographs whatever we see we just shoot so in the process we just don't see anything with our naked eyes so therefore an experience is as important as a photograph. At times you should keep your mini camera aside and look through your naked eye, but the balance is very important.