“My father always wanted me to be a Chartered Accountant, so he named me Audit’ya”- says the perky photographer Auditya Venkatesh. He belongs to the select group who chose their dreams over well-trodden paths.
Words: Sudarshan Suresh | Photographs: Auditya Venkatesh
When Auditya, as a boy of eight took his first picture, little did he know that it would eventually send him flying across the world to exotic destinations, speaking at TEDx, shaking hands with international cricketers or that, one day, he would be amongst the top 100 most followed photographers on the Internet. It was a moment that later on helped him decide the course of his life. Five years ago, while pursuing the intimidating Chartered Accountancy course and facing the daunting prospect of studying books which when piled up, were taller than his 6’2 frame, Auditya decided that being an accountant was not his calling in life. Having always harboured a fascination for photography, he would often show his pictures to the fashion photographers who shot him as he walked down the ramp, during his stint as a model. His enthusiastic requests for feedback were met with eager response and critical appreciation, thus commencing a journey of continued learning and sparking to life his career as a professional photographer.
A yearning to express himself was one of the things that set him on his career path.“Well, I never used to be able to speak as fluently as I do now. I think photography is an easy way to tell a story without saying much. You don’t have to speak a lot about where you are, what you’re doing and what you see, the picture does it for you.”
As a kid, he had many a story to tell, which found voice in his sketches. A fortunate accident (in retrospect) however, rendered his hands incapable of holding a pen for a while, but the stories still demanded to be told. So he took to the camera to express them. But, he took up photography seriously only when it went digital, for as he frankly asks, “How much film can pocket money buy?”
The journey of transforming his passion into his profession wasn’t all smooth sailing. The first obstacle was perhaps the most daunting- the prospect of having to convince his parents, especially his father that he wanted to quit a professional course which promised a plush job on completion, in favour of photography.
Auditya saw where his father was coming from. Every father wishes well for their child, and from their perspective, financial stability is of utmost importance. Hence, his father was apprehensive of the risky gamble with his career but Auditya remained firm and did not let society dissuade him from following his passions.
In due course of time, it became evident to his father that the gamble was actually a calculated risk. Good word about his son’s work reached his ears, lessening his apprehension. Soon, Auditya paid his first taxes, turning his father’s trepidation to relief. The final strike was when he got his own studio which smashed any lingering doubts out of the park.
He kick started his career by covering his friends’ weddings. The word of his workmanship spread and he started receiving more offers which he accepted. This continued until the ripple had spread far and wide, with people from different cities asking him to photograph their weddings.
At one point, Audi realized that this wasn’t the kind of work he had set out to do, while it was making him rich, it was simultaneously eroding his love for his job. So he paused to reflect on the direction that he wished to take, and ultimately decided to chart a course, which saw him do more meaningful work along the way. With time he learnt to walk the thin line, balancing projects that enable him to pay the bills with those, which fulfiled him creatively. Now he believes he has found his niche in artfully capturing travel landscapes, the innocent mischief of children and spectacular architecture along with engaging in projects which create positive impact on people’s perspectives. All his photographs, though speaking different things, have a message in common. “I honestly believe that at the end of the day, no matter what is happening around us, we live in a beautiful place.” That is the simple message he tries to convey with his pictures, the theme underlying all his pictorial stories. That the world is a beautiful place and there is good in it.
Photography also helped Audi to fulfil his craving to travel. His father, who took him on many family vacations, planted the seed of wanderlust in him. What shines through as he speaks of his journeys is his open admiration for his father’s approach to travel. “If we embark on a route and even stop at any small tea shop, all the people would know him. He would have made friends all along the way. He could strike a conversation with anybody, I think that is an art in it’s own right.”
Travelling for photography also eliminated one of his fears- the fear of speaking to strangers and in front of a crowd. Through repeated encounters of engaging with people from different states and backgrounds, he lost his apprehension and now speaks warmly and confidently to strangers. While speaking at public forums like TEDx, IITs and NITs, this gradually acquired fluency of speech enables him to powerfully engage with the audience, about photography and his journey so far.
Looking back, he believes every choice made so far has made him who he is and that he wouldn’t change a single one- not attending a professional photography course being one among them. “I strongly believe you can be taught how to use a camera, but not how to take a picture. That’s you. That’s all you. Learning how to use a camera would have been probably a lot faster if I went to a photography school, but because of the way I learnt by making a ton of mistakes, I also learned how to make a picture along with it. From not being able to get a silhouette to getting a proper picture of it, rather than knowing it theoretically, I knew it practically. By messing up, I learnt why it went wrong.”
Unsurprisingly, this process involved a lot of trial and error. However, in the professional world there is no room for error. And Auditya advises that all experimentation by anyone taking their act to the next level must be done prior to entering the professional arena in their field. If, for example, a CEO getting a photo shoot has only five minutes, the photographer simply cannot afford to be unprepared or inadequately equipped. Similarly in a wedding, it might be slightly inappropriate to ask the couple to tie the knot again because you missed the shot.
Auditya rode the rising wave of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, which enabled him to connect with people across the world. 95% of the work he received in his first year was through social media. He remains fascinated by their ability to connect random strangers. In one instance, the remote for the flash of his camera had broken and he posted it on Facebook. Within a few hours an absolute stranger responded by bringing him another one.
Like every artist, Auditya has a special favourite amongst his predecessors. He is greatly inspired by Steve McCurry, a master of capturing hauntingly evocative portraits of people in their indigenous environments. While speaking about him, Audi’s eyes shine with reverence and his voice trembles with genuine awe for the master. He narrates a story of how when Pirelli asked Steve McCurry to shoot a fashion calendar for them.
“Instead of portraying bikini-clad women on a beach, he shows beautiful women in their native environment. That’s the kind of work he does, he has this way of showing the environment they are in, and showing everything in a picture without having to say a word. That is something that I continuously strive towards. That’s the pinnacle of photography for me. I hope to meet him someday. That would be a fanboy moment for me.”
His journey towards creating the impact he does now has taught him a few things along the way, the most important lesson being that one cannot create real impact unless they are settled and are able to take care of themselves. So he took his time to establish himself as a photographer and eventually turned his attention towards projects that afford him the opportunity to make a positive contribution to society.
This he does in many little ways, for example, when on his travels he meets some genuinely hospitable folk running an inn, he displays their number on his social media posts and encourages people to stay there. He hopes to create the same effect someday, through his pictures, without having to say a word. In his own way.
Establishing oneself in a certain field as a professional comes with its perks and opportunities, one of them is being able to make a greater impact and contribution to society. In his case, Make A Difference approached him requesting him to conduct workshops where he demonstrates different techniques in photography to those passionate about learning the art. All the proceeds of these workshops go to funding MAD’s activities of educating children thus enabling him to facilitate education with twice the impact.
Photographers, amongst other artists, have the unique opportunity of changing people’s perspective. But sometimes, the experiences that a photographer’s life entails change their perspective in turn! Auditya has seen his perspective about people change drastically in the course of his interactions with them. He recounts a few incidents.
“As a photographer, you end up meeting so many people, whom people idolize, and then you see who they really are, and they are nothing like what they seem. The most exuberant people on screen are completely silent off screen. People who are cheerful on screen can be very grumpy off screen. It teaches you not to judge anything until you’ve actually had a conversation with somebody.” While shooting a TV show in South Africa last year, he met Jhonty Rhodes. “Jhonty was just the most down to earth, nice guy you could meet.” He was sick and they were in adjacent rooms. He came up and started talking to him. “When I told him I have a cold, he said wait I have something for you, he went outside, made coffee for me and brought it for me. That is something you don’t expect or see coming.”
His simple yet profound definition of success, which has evolved over the years includes being happy doing what he is doing and being able to provide for what he wants to do in life, along with making a positive impact in at least one person’s life, if not more.
Apart from intense passion for his craft, one thing that has helped him grow as a photographer by leaps and bounds is his close inner circle of friends, who are honest while critiquing his work. This helps him to continuously improve and take his photography to greater heights. ‘Kaizen’ – The concept of continuous improvement, originated in Japan and is prevalent in some of the best companies in the world such as Toyota. Imbibing this approach to one’s craft, he believes is a sure shot way of attaining mastery.
Believing in his dreams and being spontaneous are few other traits of Audi. “I think too many people are scared about what is going to happen, When I started I didn’t know what was going to happen, I still don’t know what will happen 5 years from now. But I know I want to continue sticking to what I am doing because I’m enjoying it. Rather than incessantly looking for your passion, which can be a bit overrated, see what you love doing right now. It is probably what you’re passionate about and you should start doing something about that, because if you wait to find that passion you don’t know if it will happen along the way.” In every endeavour in life, there is a constant process of evolution taking place. Breaking boundaries, transcending limits and pushing oneself past one’s comfort zone. For Audi, the next horizon lies in the realm of short film making, which adds the extra dimension of movement to pictures. Speaking about the challenges that come with it,
“If you have 24 frames in a second, then you have to maintain the same composition in every single frame. Being able to tell the whole story throughout. So that is the challenge I’m working on. Reading up a lot…will probably turn up as a model at shoots again to see what I can learn.” He muses with a smile.
Eventually he hopes to have a travel show of his own. A show where he explores different places in his own way and leaves a trail behind for others to follow. Which seems strangely symbolic of the path he blazed for himself in life, leaving a regular desk job in favour of transforming his passion into a profession; an exciting and fulfiling path for others to follow, in their own way.