Another male bastion has fallen as young women capture moments of love and war, joy and sorrow with poise and élan.
By Murali Krishnan
In the male-dominated world of professional photography, not many women have been able to make their mark. But this is gradually changing, thanks to a growing clan of women professionals who specialize in taking different kinds of photographs, be it fashion, landscapes, wars or hard-nosed news.
Anushka Menon began her career as one of India’s youngest female fashion photographers. When VON visited her, she was having a busy day as her motley crew was setting up lights and props in a spacious hall in a residential colony in south Delhi. As Menon gave instructions, she was meticulous in her effort to get that perfect shoot from the model and her team.
But it was difficult for her to reach where she is now. “It has been so for the past few years. But I think there are a lot more women who enjoy this profession and many are getting into it compared to 10 years back when I started. I was one of the very few female photographers to get into the industry,” she said.
An eye for detail brings a different perspective, especially a woman’s eye, insists Menon. Her portfolio ranges from beauty and fashion, to people, places, spaces and products. Some years ago, she was rated as one of the top six young emerging photographers by a leading camera company.
“For someone like me who has always had a style which is not very Indian, it works here. I was brought up abroad, so I have a western upbringing and a western view of Indian things. And I guess that shows in my work. I am not a typical Indian photographer and I like to step out of that comfort zone of doing things typically Indian in my shoots.”
Like Menon, Aditi Tailang, 29, a freelance photographer, also found her calling in fashion and lifestyle photography. Her love affair with the camera began when she was in her teens, but it took time and patience to build a name for herself. She said that she struggled to learn the ropes of the trade. But now her work is featured in various periodicals and lifestyle magazines.
Tailang said that things have changed drastically over the last six years when she did not see any other female photographers. “When I go out to shoot now, I see plenty of them. Things are changing but it has been a little difficult. There are always a lot of biases. People prefer male photographers over female ones,” she said.
Many women who make up this select group have come from professional backgrounds. Some are graphic designers, while others are computer engineers. All have chosen to give up stable, well-paying jobs to pursue their passion.
For instance, India’s first woman press photographer, Homai Vyarawalla, captured the last days of the British Empire and the beginnings of a new nation on film. The images also tell the story of a woman’s life in a male bastion, socially and professionally. Her archive of photographs, letters, press IDs, cameras and other memorabilia are part of the country’s rich and vast wealth.
Ruhani Kaur is another woman who has broken this glass ceiling. A freelance documentary photojournalist, she worked in newspapers and magazines and was the photo editor of news magazine Open. She covered major news assignments and went to many troubled spots, be it Maoist-affected areas or Afghanistan.
Kaur said that women are not encouraged to take hard-hitting assignments. “I don’t know which came first–the chicken or the egg. But the stories that you end up getting, also define the kind of work you end up doing. So as women aren’t covering the hard-hitting stuff, they don’t end up getting these assignments,” said Kaur.
Her documentary work on issues concerning environment and women gave her the space for greater creativity. She feels that women photographers have done far better in documentaries than in news. “Personally, I was happy doing the stories that I was doing because it gave me the time and the opportunity to approach it in a particular way rather than just jostling my way through men.”
Perhaps the best place to gauge the influence of women photographers is in the field of wedding photography. For decades, Indian weddings were captured by male photographers who kept the perspective of the man of the house in mind. But in the last few years, women wedding photographers have changed the way this occasion is captured. Their frames overflow with joy, romance and happiness.
So are women photographers bringing in a new perspective to photography? Yes, says Menon. “I feel that I shoot people differently from how a man does. Understanding body language, make-up, poses…these I can do well, especially if the subject is a woman.”
Kaur said she brings something different to the table because she can connect to the images that women have shot rather than men and this is important. And even if it is not in hardcore news, women are doing subjects that men never touched because it was not important in their scheme of things.
Tailang said: “I remember that when I was an intern covering The Indian Express fashion week I was the only girl sitting in the pit there. But over the last six years, I have seen a considerable change: now I see some 20 women in the pit!”
That’s an image to cherish.