I’ve always known one thing about myself: that whatever I do, I just want to create something that has the power to move people. But for a long time, I could not find that medium to connect with others and express myself. And that lack of a creative outlet once left me aimless and adrift. So when it was time to apply for college, I did not have a good idea of what I wanted to pursue so I bought my ticket to the rat race and just started running, though halfheartedly.
I put aside my creative dreams and decided to follow my desire to get a better understanding of why people do the things they do. For that, I went to the University of Illinois to study psychology. But eventually, I realized I was truly just trying to get a better grasp of myself. So when I figured that out, I decided that psychology was not enough and I had to supplement my understanding of the world in another way. So I turned to my interest in finance and added economics to my curriculum, finally graduating with a dual degree in psychology and economics. However, both subjects failed to scratch this creative itch within me and I started exploring avenues beyond academia.
Then, an opportunity presented itself— My college newspaper was recruiting reporters. It was something that appealed to the news junkie and writer in me and I signed up. I never knew that this would be the place where I would finally unlock my creative side. After some time working as a journalist, another door opened— The newspaper now also wanted a new photographer. I took the chance and dove into it headfirst, just bought a used camera, and started devouring online photography tutorials. I had no idea what the future had in store but I could see the little child in me smile and blossom a bit.
Although I got the job as a photojournalist, my pictures wouldn’t be selected at first. I did take ‘aesthetic’ pictures on my phone and always had an affinity for photography, but I was clueless about how to operate a DSLR. Luckily, one of my colleagues saw me struggling and decided to help. He gave me a crash course in the basics of photography and I was finally able to capture the world as I saw it. I enjoyed my work as a photojournalist and some of my pictures even made it to the front page, but I kept looking for new ways to explore this medium. So when my features editor offered me to join her team for an editorial shoot for a fashion magazine, I was all in. Though none of my pictures made it to the final cut of the magazine, I was inspired by this opportunity and decided to commit myself to sharpen my eye and hone my skills.
While studying psychology and economics and working as a writer and a photographer, I felt stretched thin and directionless. I needed to get my bearings, unscramble my life and figure out how I want to put it back together because I didn’t want to fall into the rat race again.
So I decided to take a gap semester and returned home to Indore. I spent my time reading, writing, taking photo walks, and working on figuring out what I want to do with my life. In 2020, I returned to Illinois and joined my college again. I started working as a photojournalist and fashion photographer again. But this time, I had taken in a lot of creative input and worked on my skill set too. And eventually, my work, especially as a fashion photographer, started garnering appreciation. It was surprising at first, but it encouraged me to work on my craft further.
I was excited to continue my journey as a photographer in the U.S.A., but fate won’t let you stay comfortable for too long. The pandemic rattled the whole world, and I had to throw all my plans out of the window. I returned home to India. I was doing small gigs as a product photographer when someone who had seen my fashion work asked me to shoot a campaign for her thrift store. It was my first campaign as a photographer and a videographer, I got to learn a lot from it and I enjoyed working on it. Though I wince when I look at it now, I still get some clients who have seen my work from that shoot.
After that shoot, I worked with some talented people in Indore, and it led me to Bombay for a small stint where I assisted a photographer and worked with creative models and stylists there. But in July 2021, I came back to Indore to consolidate my learnings and clear my path. I saw how Indore is growing and how it is overdue for a change when it comes to the aesthetic and culture around art. To work on that, I set up my studio here, studioingrey. It’s a photography and art studio which is built to cater to an array of commercial and creative needs, from doing fashion shoots to music videos to art exhibitions to hosting workshops.
I have always felt most myself when I am working on creating something that I have painstakingly plucked out from the depths of my mind. And at the same time, I feel most unlike myself when I am working away laboriously for someone else without my work being acknowledged. It was an ordeal I endured while working as a still photographer on web series that was created by Imitiaz Ali. While the experience of being on set was like nothing else I’ve ever seen, it was draining because I had no creative input and could not see any result of my work.
To push myself out of that rut, I moved mountains to create something I had been longing to for a long time. When I saw Baadal Ghar, my friend’s art studio, for the first time, I knew I wanted to create something there. Luckily, the stars aligned and at the very last minute I found the perfect model and the stylist. The stylist got a white jumpsuit which we wanted to treat as a blank canvas but I thought I’d ask my friend, who is a brilliant painter, if she wanted to contribute and leave her mark on it. I remember sitting there marveling at how briskly she was able to transform that piece of fabric into so much more than just that—that’s when I knew this would be something special. It was the first time I wrote a small passage to guide me through the shoot, to lay the emotional framework for it. Though that passage and its meaning for me has changed a lot since then, the essence of one’s heart being anchored to shades of light remains. This intersection of photographs, paintings, and literature set the tone for what kind of work I want to do. I still feel a warmth in my soul whenever I see the pictures from Baadal ghar.
Later that year, I took a family trip to Goa but went with a personal and creative agenda too— I wanted to do a beautiful and memorable shoot there. The project taught me how to adapt to various situations. I found two models in the most fortuitous yet industrious way, but we failed to get a stylist. I had a beautiful look in mind and I was determined to materialize it, with or without a stylist. So I decided to moonlight as a stylist for the shoot and went sourcing myself. I scoured fabric shops for the material I needed and then pestered a tailor to create two garments for the shoot in 48 hours. It was a tough endeavor but I understood how tough it is to be a stylist and how underrated their work is. Although not to the tee, the clothes were a great fit and we pulled off a marvelous shoot.
I became a photographer by chance but I’ve become an artist by choice. I’ve grappled with labels such as ‘photojournalist’ or ‘fashion photographer’ because I feel incredibly limited by them. Taking pictures to me is a medium of expression, a way to put four corners and a frame to what I see in the world. I take pictures to tell stories, to convey emotions, to pass on ideas, and immortalize memories. Even as medium photography is constantly evolving for me, I’m testing the limitations and capabilities of it every day and, right now, I’m even considering film photography as a more intentional medium of storytelling and taking pictures.
But photographs are not my only medium, I write, I make playlists, I film and I talk. I’m not just someone who takes pictures, I’m someone whose pictures take themselves.
- Vishesh Anand