Photographer Pravin Talan On How A Patriotic Ridicule Made Him Zoom-In The Power Of Women In Uniform
- IWB Post
- August 14, 2019
I once came across a shot of Taj Mahal on the Internet, a never-seen-before kind, when Googled, the photographer’s bio and projects had my eyes glued.
Fast forward to a few days ago, scrolling through Facebook I bump into a photo essay about ‘How Indian women in uniform are ushering in a new order’. As intrigued by the eloquently captured natural stance of women officers, fortuitous, I land at the same photographer’s online-address again. And call it destiny, but the unique portrayal of patriotic emotion, and the way it complemented the perspective of the mind behind lens, had me write an email to Mr. Pravin Talan, this time.
Pravin Talan, a photographer whose camera has seen nature and wildlife, just as widely as it has seen the worlds of Fashion, Bollywood, Architecture, and not to forget, has also equipped him to give back to the country through his art and skill.
His father had gifted him an Olympus when he was in school, but after a few photography-experiments, Pravin happened to move on to explore the world sans camera. He worked as a successful event manager, ran a feature agency, chased stories as a journalist, wrote fiction, shot documentaries, and even founded an NGO. But the trail of time and his urge to ‘find more’, eventually took him back to his first love, photography.
“I have travelled the world with my camera, shot genres exceptionally different from another, but I was missing home, and the idea that none of what I shot was timeless got me back to my country with a vision – I want my projects and photographs to outlive me, through them I want to zoom in to what we see and yet don’t. And that’s what I have been doing ever since.”
What is the most beautiful discovery that you’ve made through photography?
Photography has blessed me with a sense of purpose. It gave me the eye to find beauty everywhere and helped me realize that everything appears beautiful in parts and frames.
People say, “think about the larger picture”, I say, focus on the smaller ones!
And the wisest lesson it has taught?
“To never shoot a negative picture.” On my first expedition with a camera to Bandhavgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, I happened to take a picture of a dead tiger, which upon returning got dismissed by my mother as no odd achievement. She was stunned by the fact that I went to one of the most beautiful sanctuaries and photographed a tiger’s dead body. But after having tried to explain my point, I realized she made more sense, “If God has given you a talent, utilize it to capture and spread positivity!”
And that’s what I have been doing ever since, he exclaimed.
How do you ‘break the ice’ with your subjects?
With a random subject, you mean? I don’t shoot random people, and that’s because the time we’re living in doesn’t allow it. With the advent of Technology and Internet, the obviousness of misuse of photographs has made people so suspicious that it isn’t advisable to.
But yes, pre-scheduled shoots also call for icebreakers! You can’t have a successful shoot until both the photographer and the subject become a part of it. So mostly I try and engage them in a conversation depending upon the mood of the situation, questions like – where would you be more comfortable, behind the camera or in front, often help to start with.
Ever fallen in love with your muse?
Ah! Let’s say I fell in love, and ‘that’ became my subject. (Ahem) I fall in love with everything I shoot; in fact I am in love with the whole idea of love!
The ‘idea of love’ led us to sharing our ‘definitions of beauty’. And after an ardent discussion on symmetry, aesthetics, proportion, we found ourselves agreeing on ‘there exists no definition’ to be the perfect definition!
If I say ‘the project you got most involved in’, which visuals would flash through your mind?
Well, my involvement remains the same and as intense in each moment of every project. But yes, sometimes when a project goes on for a longer period of time, it does deepen the involvement. Which was the case with my ‘With love from Taj’ series.
Born and brought up in Agra, the sight of Taj Mahal talked to me about much more than just ‘love’. My attention would be everywhere, in the craftsmanship, architecture, engineering, and somewhere along the way, it turned to become a source of inspiration. I settled in Bombay, but the connect kept taking me back, and with my camera I captured its beauty and timelessness from every nook and corner, with and without models, and across seasons!
‘The real-life Khaleesis leading our nation on the front lines’, what is the back-story of this photo essay?
Around four years back, a montage had gone viral on Whatsapp. The clip showed women soldiers from Russia, America, and various other countries, followed by an image of four Indian policewomen, uniformed in saree, sitting casually and sipping tea. It aimed at ridiculing our forces and women, and that really offended me. Is it wrong to take time off for leisure? Are not people in uniform humans, too?
But the whole episode made me feel rather sad and insulted, and I wanted to show to the world that our forces are not any less trained or efficient. So I took the call and set out. It’s been four years, many people and organisations joined me on the way, but the biggest satisfaction so far has come from the acknowledgement of soldiers and officers themselves – when I got to know that they made those photographs their phone wallpaper, he proudly shared!
Wow! Fitting opportunity to fire a few questions on your shoots with the ‘women in uniform’?
A common trait you observed across the forces?
Pride. A woman in uniform reflects a unique sense of respect and pride. It is like the moment you put on a uniform, you have taken up a responsibility.
He contemplated.. and I have grown up seeing women in my family reflecting the same sense of responsibility and empowerment. My grandmother worked with her husband in the fields and did just as much work. And my mother, she came out a hero every single time there was a crisis. It saddens me that today women need to “prove” themselves, and that there happen debates questioning their strength. They have always been strong and empowered, and long before this term gained popularity.
Unlike a man, an empowered woman empowers many others. Women are not weak, they never were. Period.
One question that you asked them?
“Why they chose to be in the forces?”
Would you share with me any one of theirs response!
While someone was driven with the desire to support their family, someone aimed for confidence, and someone for their dream to be a part of national security or paramilitary. Each one’s reason was different from another, and so were their challenges. But just spending little time with them, you’d want to salute them for their courage.
He recalled a proud BSF officer sharing her story, “one of my family friends had got selected in Indian Army. I remember the day he’d come back, the entire village had collected to commend him. Attracted by the pride and aura of uniform, my innocence led me to ask him to get a uniform stitched for me. Which he did, but laughed and called me a ‘nakli fauji’, on seeing me wear it. His words echoed in my head the entire night, and the shy girl in me woke up with a determination to achieve her new-found goal – to earn my uniform”.
Which another photo project of yours gives out a strong social message?
Many of them do. One of my social campaigns, Beti, focused on the issue of female foeticide. Another I did for UNAIDS, which was a 13-day shoot covered the day and life of a sex worker. It isn’t accessible due to confidential matters, but I wish to touch upon their live complexities and problems through my photographs again in the future. Oh and there was one for child development, too, which was mostly shot in the slums of Delhi.
Is there a photo or roll that never saw the light of the day?
Many, again. And there could be different reasons to it, sometimes it could be the case of repetitive shots, or the idea may have appeared to come wrong, or it could just be the act of forgetting one amongst many. But I’m rather particular about my ethics, and I may miss on a photograph, but never will they depict my country in a negative light. Which is the one thing I always remain particular about, never would I highlight a negative emotion in the name of art and creative liberty.
And now, the one prominent take away from your past professional experiences that you feel has equipped the photographer you?
Every life-experience helps and teaches you in some way or the other; we accumulate our lives. And I am someone who’s never know the difference between thought and action. How people talk about having dreams, I always chose to focus on having a vision. Once I have a vision, I just get on to finding ways to achieve my goal. So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that every work I’ve done, has an impact in the ‘I’ that I am now.
This article was first published on January 15, 2018.