Since my childhood days, I always wanted to join the Army.
Photography back then was only "a timepass" or at best a hobby. My introduction to photography happened to be when I was in the 7th Standard when they taught us Light. That time, we used to have an Agfa box camera at home and it's Black & White films cost around ten annas or now 62 paise. The processing and printing cost much less. I used to go out with my friends to play and even have small award ceremonies for them just to click some pictures. I had no technical knowledge then but I enjoyed clicking pictures.
A few years later, my brother gifted me a 2nd hand folding Kodak Retina 35mm Camera which I used to keep with me, almost all the time.
In 1968, I was commissioned in the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant and had to move to different places due to my postings. Whenever I would get time, I would click pictures and get them processed. Most of the results turned out well and I was happy with my photography!
During the 1971 war, I got posted on the frontline and I still regret I couldn't get the war pictures. All I clicked were myself and my Men in uniform! In 1976 I was posted at Gangtok it is here that I bought my first Yashika Electro 35mm camera. After that, I was posted in Delhi for a few years and one day I went to an exhibition where I asked a photo goods dealer if I could find someone to teach me photography. He gave me the address of Mr. T. Kasinath, Padmashri and former DG of Photo Division of the GOI. He was amongst the top 10 photographers in the world at that time! I finished my basic course in 1982 at the age of 35 and understood the importance of Light and technicalities related to Photography. It gave me a lot of confidence. After I finished my course, I was posted at Srinagar. For a photographer, it's heaven. It is here that I built up my own B&W developing and printing equipment.
I found a studio near the bridge at Dal Lake and bought a Brand new Nikon FE which came with a 50mm prime lens and the seller gave me Kodachrome 25 ASA film, the best in the world, as a gift. The beautiful Dal Lake and the Mughal Gardens surrounding it is something you immediately fall in love with. The immense beauty prevalent here can make anyone sit around these spots for hours and just enjoy the view.
From Srinagar, I moved to Kargil via Leh, as the road to Kargil from Srinagar was closed due to snowfall. Leh has an altogether different feel due to Desert Mountains and the culture there. I had a fourteen-day break here as the road to Kargil from Leh was also blocked. It is here that I started using my newly acquired Nikon and the film. These photographs turned out to be a blessing for me as the twelve of the picture made with Kodachrome were selected by a printing house in Bombay, and they brought out a twelve-page calendar. The best among them is a picture of an Oasis in the desert, along Srinagar Leh Highway.
I started participating in Photo Contests and the awards kept coming along with appreciations also recognition. Times changed, and my work got better and more recognized. By 1990, I had won nearly a hundred awards and certificates in photography!
While in service, I got many promotions and rose to the rank of Colonel. At that level, and I decided to make photography as a full-time profession. While my Guru Mr. T Kasinathji was very positive about it initially, he later advised me to rethink. But nothing could stop me.
I visited Bombay often and started dealing with agencies, photographers & photojournalists. I was fortunate enough to meet some of the greatest photographers of that time and also worked with them. In Bombay, I also enrolled for a 3-year diploma in Journalism. It helped me write photo features for various houses and publications, including the 'India Perspective' which was distributed to virtually all the countries of the world. My photographs have been used by newspapers, magazines, books, book jackets and advertisements as also calendars and greetings cards and so on.
Later I moved to Indore and started working with the agencies and corporates here. But as I received an offer to teach photography, I immediately grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It's been 20 years since and is enjoying my work.
I have quit professional photography but I still shoot for myself. My favorite camera is now my phone, (very handy, easy to use and gives amazing results). I have also started exploring the world of art and painting from the last few years and it's going well so far.
As a photographer, I always believe and keep telling my students and fellow photographers, that In the Army it is the man behind the gun and in Photography it is the man behind the camera, who matters the most. Believe in yourself more than the Camera. Never be bound by the rules. “Learn the rules, practice the rules, master the rules and then break the rules”, to create something unique"
- Kamaljeet Chugh