THE GUITAR SOCIETY 14July2011
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Sudha Om shivpuri
The Visualists: Gig Photography in India
Every scene needs people to document its evolution and tell its stories. For indie music in India, a scene that’s growing rapidly with every gig and music festival, those storytellers are its concert photographers.
These are the guys you’ll see at the front of the stage (sometimes even on the stage), one eye stuck to a camera, one hand twirling a lens, capturing the energy, the sweat and the unbridled joy that’s so much a part of any indie rock gig in India. Their pictures help turn bands into legends and help fans put visuals to the songs, thereby helping the movement fan out across the country.
Three of the indie scenes finest photographers let Gibson India into their heads to discover the details of their unique art.
Vishal Dadlani of Pentagram – by Bobin James
“I think bands are starting to realize the importance of documenting their journey.”
For Mumbai-based photographer and Executive Editor of Rolling Stone India Bobin James, gig photography combines two of his biggest passions – photography and a love for classic rock and metal. Since most bands didn’t have decent portfolio shots to go with the articles he wrote about them, he decided to just shoot them himself. Over the years he’s shot some of Indian indie’s most important acts, helping to put together a visual narrative to go with the exciting new sounds that are coming out of India.
His favourite bands to photograph:
“I really love the energy that Pentagram brings on stage, especially Vishal [Dadlani]. Another band I really like shooting is Soulmate, primarily for Tipriti’s [Tipriti “Tips” Kharbangar] energy. I’ve shot Iron Maiden every time they’ve played India and Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris are simply magic.
Jonny Lang – by Bobin James
On iconic pictures that have inspired his work:
“There’s the famous picture of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival. Another iconic image that really inspires me is the cover of the Clash’s London Calling album. Also, Mark Seliger is one of my favourite photographers – his black and white photograph of Kurt Cobain for Rolling Stone’s obituary cover, the one where he’s simply staring straight into camera, is one of my all time favourites”.
On gig photography in India:
“In India, the indie scene is still pretty personal and it hasn’t reached the level where bands restrict access to photographers. Most Indian bands are cool with photographers, as are most venues. If you go to a gig on any given night, you’ll find at least seven to 10 photographers shooting the performance. So I think we’re in a pretty good position right now because the scene is still growing – both in terms of music and photography. Also, I think bands are starting to realize the importance of documenting their journey”.
Sidd Coutto of Tough on Tobacco – by Bobin James
What’s his method?
“My primary aim when I’m shooting a concert is to try and capture the energy of that particular performance. Besides that, I tend to shoot a lot of faces. I love shooting close-ups because they allow me to get a sort of serenity in my images, a moment in time floating in space. That aside, I try to capture emotions and raw energy – whether it’s someone leaping in the air or yelling into the camera”.
On how bands are waking up to the visual side of things:
“I think bands have realised the importance of having a good portfolio. When we started Rolling Stone India in 2008, the photographs we received from bands were pretty horrendous. I’ve seen that change over the last few years. Bands are now investing time and money to put together a quality set of images. So I think in the next five odd years there’ll be many more bands and media companies needing good band photographers”.
And who is he listening to these days?
“Pentagram, Thermal and a Quarter, Indian Ocean, The Raghu Dixit Project and Swarathma. I really love Ankur Tewari as well. Slain, from Bangalore, is a brilliant band. Then there’s all the bands I grew up with, from the classic rock and metal canon, bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Judas Priest, Megadeth as well as some of the new prog-rock stuff like Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree”.
Junkyard Groove – by Shiv Ahuja
“At one gig there were 30,000 people on a beach singing along to their songs!”
One of the youngest gig photographers on the scene, Delhi-based Shiv Ahuja is just 21 and he’s already been shooting for three years. In February of this year, he embarked on a project most gig photographers only dream of. He went on tour with one of his favourite bands, The Raghu Dixit Project, shooting 3,000 images over three days and 6,000 kilometers. Besides photography, he’s also part of the indie scene as the keyboardist for Delhi band Five 8.
What kicked off his passion for gig photography?
“I was into music way before I started shooting bands. I used to attend a lot of gigs and eventually realized that my camera could get me into these gigs for free. Bands would let me in as long as I promised to give them a couple of my shots. I then started posting the images on Facebook and in 2008 I was asked to shoot the Eastwinds Music Festival in Delhi. I shot 60 bands over three days and that kicked things off”.
Indian rock fans – by Shiv Ahuja
His favourite bands to shoot:
“Shooting The Prodigy in Delhi was a different sort of experience altogether. I was so blown away to see them live that after a point I simply forgot to keep shooting! Another band that I remember was this band from Chennai, Little Babooshka’s Grind at the Eastwinds Festival. They took their shirts off and were jumping all over the place. I’d never seen a band like that before so it was just great fun to shoot them. Another great band to photograph is Junkyard Groove. I remember, at one of their gigs at Gargi College in Delhi, their lead singer Ameeth [Thomas] was having a ball on stage. Towards the end of the gig they ran out of time and I got this shot of Ameeth on his knees begging one of the college professors to allow them to play just one more song. The professor has her arm stretched out saying ‘No!’ That was a really different kind of shot!”
Deepak Nair of Punkh – by Shiv Ahuja
On his career-defining trip as official tour photographer with The Raghu Dixit Project:
“You know, when you start shooting gigs, your ultimate dream is to go on tour with a band. Over the last two years I’ve shot pretty much every Delhi show Raghu’s done and got to know the band pretty well. I’d spoken with Gaurav [Vaz, RDP’s bassist and a fellow gig photographer] about the possibility of going on tour with them. Somehow he managed to make it happen. The gigs I shot with them were really special. Two out of the three shows were organized by the government and were open to the regular public, so the audience was very different from the regular crowd at indie gigs. The scale was huge – in terms of production, lighting and just the massive size of the crowds that came to see the band play. At one gig there were 30,000 people on a beach singing along to their songs!
“The trip really helped me get an insight into how a touring band works. It’s only when you travel with a band that you realise how exhausting it is. You’re always either running to catch a flight or soundchecking or grabbing time for a quick lunch and by the end of the three days I was dead. I can’t imagine how the band does it when they go on month-long tours”.
An iconic image that inspires you as a photographer:
“Pablo Bartholemew shot a picture in the late ’70s of a band playing at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. You can barely see the band but what you really see is the audience, in their bellbottom pants, huge aviators and mullets. It thought it was pretty cool to capture a moment like that. It lets you look back after a while and see what a scene was like – the kind of clothes people wore, the places they hung out at, the kinds of music and bands they listened to at the time”.
Who would be your dream band to shoot?
“Tower of Power! I love their music. I’d do anything to see them live and if I’m shooting them that’s even better!”
“I work mainly on instinct. I wait for something on stage to catch my eye.”
Musician, photographer, blogger, technologist – Gaurav Vaz wears many hats. As the bass player in The Raghu Dixit Project, he’s toted his bass, camera and laptop to concerts and music festivals across the length and breadth of India and the world. His photography is based on the very core of what photography is all about – documenting key moments and telling stories of a vibrant, emerging scene.
What got him started:
“I got into gig photography largely because I needed to. I’d started touring with The Raghu Dixit Project about six years ago and my interest at the time was simply to document the band’s journey and all the places we went to. As a result, I started maintaining the band’s blog and had to take pictures to make the posts more interesting to fans. I eventually bought an SLR camera even though I had no idea how all the settings worked. I’d take photographs of our set-up, of soundchecks, stuff that helped tell the story of our experiences. That’s how the photography bug bit and I ended up shooting all the other gigs I went to as well”.
His favourite bands to shoot:
“I really wish I could photograph the band I play with! Unfortunately I rarely get the chance, although sometimes I get to shoot Raghu during an acoustic solo set. The thing about The Raghu Dixit Project is we have these colourful costumes and a really energy-packed performance, the sort that’s just ideal for photographers.
“Other than that I love shooting Shaa’ir + Func and Pentagram whenever I can because of the immense energy they bring. With them, there’s never any downtime. Since they’re emoting as much as they’re performing, there’s always a ton of action which makes for a lot of interesting photo ops for a photographer”.
About his method:
“I work mainly on instinct. I wait for something on stage to catch my eye. As a musician you’re familiar with certain performance quirks. Like if the guitarist jumps on to the drummer’s podium, you know he’s going to jump back and you’ll get a great shot. Sometimes I’ll position myself behind the drummer just before he’s about to hit his cymbals because I know the drummer, the lights and the audience are all going to react in sync at that moment. Essentially, I use my familiarity with what musicians do on stage to anticipate a great shot and get into position”.
His most memorable moment as a gig photographer:
“Was a few years ago at Octoberfest in Bangalore. Myndsnare was playing one of their last few shows and just before they came on stage, it started raining like crazy. Most of the crowd left, leaving only a few hundred or so hardcore Myndsnare fans. In spite of the rain, they kept yelling, asking the band to play. The band went out and played maybe a song or a song and a half because the sound techs started shutting things down. I ended up getting some really interesting images. Here was a band playing one of its final shows for an audience of their most loyal fans who wanted to hear them play no matter what. That was a really dramatic scene”.
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