I am a photographer currently based in Pune. After a degree and career in social work, I took up photography as a profession. At that time there were no formal schools in India so assisting an existing photographer was the only option. After doing a few basic workshops with Girish Mistry I assisted commercial photographer Farrokh Chotia for a year. Following this I did a second degree in Communications from the State University of New York, Albany, followed by a stint in NYC working and learning photography at the International Center of Photography. After two years in NYC I moved to Pune. I am originally from a place called Nagpur in central India.
I shoot pictures of everything to do with people and the outdoors. Fashion is something that I love to shoot, but documentary photography, wedding photography and storytelling is something that pulls me too.
Anyone aspiring models, to actors can come to me to create their portfolio books to market themselves to advertising agencies. I also shoot portraits and editorials for magazines. Creating beautiful images is something that I aim for, irrespective of the subject at large.
Who is your target market?
My target market is wide ranging and includes aspiring models, print publications, online companies who need photographs for their client’s products, fashion houses, fashion designers who need to showcase their work, jewellery and footwear designers, newspaper and magazine houses that need to feature a story related to people, private clients who want photographs of their families or children and corporates for their websites, location shoots, annual brochures and employee portraits.
What drove you to become an Entrepreneur?
It started early with first just wanting to have something of my own creation and later when I took up photography it was like every assignment became my creation. Slowly the business side of it took shape and I got established as an entrepreneur.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
If you agree or not, the reality is that this world is a man’s world especially where some professions are concerned. And the first reaction that you get being a women photographer is, that it must be a hobby. The biggest challenge is being taken seriously, not only by clients, but also more importantly by your own family. To get over this block has been one of my biggest challenges.
Also, a challenge has been to remain in my true essence as a woman and still go out there in the world and work. Often the working circumstances demand that women behave like men, and this takes away from our female essence. But at the same time, a man cannot take a woman seriously unless she behaves like him or at least portrays a façade that is tough. This is something I am still learning and growing with.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
My greatest achievements come in small doses – in every assignment I undertake and complete. I can however say that my greatest achievement so far has been to stand up for myself and my belief in myself. Though it may shake every now and then, I still believe that I can do it!
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration are all the people who have followed up and achieved their dream. These include women photograhers who are still working at it, and honing their craft and others who have proved themselves.
How do you balance your work life and home life?
I don’t have strict rules and go with the flow.
What advice do you have for women starting out on their own?
Never let anyone discourage you, or make you feel inferior to them on the basis of your gender, age or on the basis of cultural stereotypes. Keep your dream close to your heart and follow through like a ball of fire, even if it takes time or you face some hurdles along the way.
Can you recommend any organisations or networking groups that have particularly helped you on your journey?
I would not say there is any specific organisation or networking group that has helped as photography and photographers per se still remain, or rather like to remain and be known as, solitary workers. But in the US there are several organisations such as the APA (American Photographers Association) and ICP (The International Centre of Photography) that help photographers to network and source. In India there is the PSI (Photographers Society of India) located in Mumbai.
If you could ask for one thing to help propel your business what would it be?
More exposure to prospective clients and specific networking opportunities related to my field. Connections to media and publishing houses, access to studio and equipment rentals would also be welcomed.
What does the future hold for you?
The future is wide open and very exciting for women photographers. Photography is recognised as an art now so there is a whole new genre opening up. As long as there is a will to explore and persist. It is an extremely competitive field too so one needs a strong intuition and the ability to stick to your own vision to be unique instead of following what the whole market is doing. I see that there are plenty of opportunities coming up in the next few years.
About Uma Dhanwatey
After My first masters from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, with an MSW in Family and Child welfare, I jumped into social work, with Childline, Mumbai. But after two years I was a bit nerve wracked and decided to indulge myself in an artistic nature and switched to photography. Initially I worked with Girish Mistry and leading fashion photographer Farrokh Chotia in Mumbai, for two years. I then started doing my own work and later left for the US to pursue my second Masters in Communication and Photography at the State University of New York, Albany. After that I moved to NYC and worked with the International Centre of Photography, Manhattan partly learning and practicing my craft and learning from photographers from all around the world who came to NYC. My best experience was the NYC experience and also the work with Farrokh Chotia.
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