My grandfather came to Mumbai from Gujarat when he was young & settled here. Since I was born & raised here, I love the pace this city offers and cannot live without the sea, waves and Bombay's nights, so I never call myself Gujarati as I am a Mumbaikar at the core. For me,
"Mumbai is a city & Bombay is an emotion".
Throughout my childhood & teenage years, I have seen my parents hustle, and while they were both working to make our life comfortable, my grandparents raised me. My grandfather taught me to read Gujarati and used to play cricket with me, while my grandma used to teach me religious values. As the eldest child in a joint family, I was very much loved & adored by everyone in the house and learned essential life skills in my childhood: the ability to bond with people, how those bonds break and everything in between.
Every summer, we visited my Nani's house and stayed there for a month full of fun & joy. During one such summer vacation, when we were at my Nani's home, all of us, with the neighbours, planned to go to Ganpatipule, a town on the Konkan Coast . And one of them was a professional photographer. He came with a huge camera and flash mounted over the top. I was in awe by the sight of it and insisted that I also wanted the camera, so my Nani gave me a Minolta polaroid without any film in it to capture photos. It wouldn't capture pictures, but that camera's "click" sound fascinated me so much that initially, I used to capture photographs just to hear that click sound. I wish they had kept this camera with them.
In school, I was a silent prankster type of kid. My parents were frequently called to the school, and the only way my mother defended me in front of teachers was by saying, "Padhai main Kaisa h, padhai Karta h na, bachha h Masti Karega." but ghar jate hi, chamed padti thi.
I did my graduation in commerce, where my teachers were always confused about my good grades. I didn't attend many classes because learning by myself worked better than attending lectures. Along with graduation, I was also pursuing Chartered accountancy. I passed CPT, now known as the foundation and gave four attempts of IPCC but couldn't pass it. I have made a pact to myself that if I couldn't crack it by the time of my graduation, I would leave it and pursue a different field. So as I couldn't pass it, I pursued MBA in finance.
I joined Instagram in 2012 after buying my first camera phone, a second-hand Samsung Galaxy S2. I came across a group of people organising photo walks. I started participating in it and met many people and professional photographers and saw different cameras and equipment thanks to those photo walks. I became so absorbed in photography because of these photo walks that after graduation, I started doing a night shift job in a company with just one purpose: buying a DSLR. I bought my first camera Nikon D5100 after working for six months which I still have but sadly isn't in working condition. My camera gave much excitement not just to me but to people around me too. People in the photo walks used to call me "इक्कीस" because of my Instagram username at that time.
After my MBA, I got placed in Kotak Mahindra, where I worked for three years. And during this time, I bought my first full-frame camera and started doing paid gigs along with the job. Then I switched to a fintech startup where I worked for five months and decided to quit the corporate and pursue photography full-time.
I planned to give myself two months to research and start photography after quitting, but life doesn't always follow your schedule. After leaving my job, within a week, I lost my grandmother, had a breakup and was at the lowest point of my life, so a few months went pretty hard for me. Before leaving the job, I had planned a trip, which I didn't want to do after all that's happened in the last few months, but my parents forced me to take this trip as a distraction. And the trip worked; I regained my confidence and focus thanks to my friends who accompanied me & photography, which helped me recover from that phase of my life.
During my MBA, one of my friends asked me to do a boudoir-style shoot for her. After that shoot, I was fascinated by the combination of light and skin in photos and wanted to do more boudoir-style photoshoots. But my mom saw one of those photos, got angry, took my camera, held it by strap outside the window, said I shouldn't take such pictures, and almost threw it. After many requests, she didn't throw the camera but kept it with her. After nearly six months, she finally gave me the camera back, as she couldn't keep me away from my way of happiness for longer than that.
I made a friend over Instagram. One day he asked to meet me and offered me a partnership to start nightlife photography in the first meeting. At first, I was shocked and declined as I had never shot nightlife and was not confident enough in the skills needed for the same, but he showed me his fantastic work and took the responsibility to teach me. Then I started shooting nightlife which also made me begin event photography. I also started doing fashion photography in collaboration with conditions that collaborating partners had to bring clothes & accessories, and I would have complete freedom in shooting style and lights as I was learning lighting. And for me, practical experimenting was the way to understand it better.
During covid, all the work I was doing came to a halt, and I almost finished my savings when my neighbour in the garments business asked me to shoot for him. I said I wouldn't charge him as I didn't have any work and any chance to use a camera was enough for me, but he paid me, saying, "keep it as good luck money". During this time, I also learned a lot about photography, took online courses, and learned video editing.
Currently, I have stable work and shoots are lined up. My parents don't praise me upfront, but I know they are proud of me; I also have a sister who loves me a lot and acts as my second mother even though she is six years younger than me. And one thing I learned from my experiences so far is :
"Failures teach you a lot & I take pride in my failures".
If you too want to share your journey into Photography, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by : Vinay Matre
Interview by : Aman