The best known fashion photographer of India – Sumiko Murgai Nanda shares her eventful journey as a fashion photographer and her latest love for photo-journalistic photography.
What made you pursue photography as a profession?
My inclination towards visual arts began 25 years ago. I used to sketch and draw as a child. And then I was attracted to image making. I was exposed to photography through my dad’s very dear photographer friend uncle Avinash Pasricha and his son Amit Pasricha. As they were family friends, I learnt a lot about photography by just being with them. They were always talking about images, how images are taken, what a certain image lacks, about the image lightning technique etc. I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of genres when I was working with Amit Pasricha. I tagged along with him for all kinds of photography assignments – fashion, dance, travel, people, street, portraits etc. In this process I was looking for my calling in photography. What really came out while working with these mentors was that I loved clicking people! I have always been interested in doing stylized portraits. I used to shoot with my sister as she was my biggest muse. I had slight inclination towards fashion. Somehow, when I showed my work to an advertising agency, they immediately gave me fashion assignments. It was a very natural transition in fashion. From there onwards, there was no looking back.
How enriching was the journey in fashion photography?
I did a lot of catalogues, magazines, editorials and advertorials shoots. I shot with a lot of big names in the fashion scene. But, it was never a point of working with leading designers. I worked with a lot of young designers too and did experimental shoots. I was never biased to work with only big names. As long there is visual language that you can translate, it is all matters at that time. Fashion designers are almost storytellers, especially when they are doing couture. It’s something creating together to show it to the clients. It’s almost like transporting them to a fantasy land, where they would like to look and feel like that. We created imageries that stayed with the clients. It gave a lot of scope of experimenting and being creative. I was working with designers who understood the incredible sense to create something new.
Which was your milestone project?
I did a shoot with London Sunday Times and worked with the famous stylist Isabella Blow. She was a fashion icon. People waited for years to sit and speak with her. When you get to do something as big as this, your aim is not to get more work, but your aim is to produce something that is unique. These experiences are very enriching. May be that project was a turning point for me in getting evolved as a photographer.
What is your signature style of photography?
There used to be a signature style in my photographs. Initially the way I shot my colours was very different. Couple of years ago, it was how I treated my imagery. There used to be a tilt in the images very often. Then it became more subtle. Textures of the images also changed. My black and white became starker. I try to work in tandem with my client. If its clothes, I like to capture their essence. If its people, I like to capture the personality of the person, more than their glamorous part. But, I prefer black and white over coloured images. I think it’s the contrast that makes them beautiful and image is bolder in black and white.
You have photographed many Indian royalties. How was the experience?
During fashion designer Ritu Kumar’s book on textiles I shot with a lot of royalties like the Holkar family of Indore, Maharaja Gaj Singh Ji of Jodhpur, Arvind Singh of Mewar, Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur and many more. While doing portraits of such famous celebrities, one has to be humble and make them feel at ease so that start feeling comfortable. I feel I have that skill set in me that makes people comfortable especially when it comes to celebrities. I manage to bring them to ease very quickly.
What are the other genres of photography that interests you?
Currently the genre closest to my heart is photo-journalism. I am doing a lot of stories that involve narrative that hasn’t been seen before. I am doing a series on Benaras since last 6 years in a very different angle. I am showing Benaras the way I see it. Not the beauty of the place but the gritty reality. I have done a photo-essay on Vietnam, New York and Japan. I see the city through the streets. The streets of a city are a window to their culture. I am also working on an interesting aspect of Delhi apart from all the commercial work.