Sometimes, you are unaware of the significance of an event or incident, till it is over and done with. Having photographed quite a few fashion shows over the course of the last 15 years of my career, it’s mostly predictable, in terms of what happens at a fashion show and what my job there is, as a photographer.
When the Show Director for 20 Years of Sabyasachi, Anu Ahuja, got in touch about photographing the show, I assumed it would not be any different. I had not photographed for the Sabyasachi label previously, so there was that novelty factor. In addition to that, I was excited about working with Anu and being part of a 20 Year milestone for an international couture brand. Not much else.
You see, I am a photographer. Sometimes, I photograph fashion-related subjects. I don’t know a lot about the fashion industry or its stalwarts. Usually, I do my job and fuck right off. One would have to be living under a rock in India at least, to now know of Sabyasachi. But to KNOW Sabyasachi is a whole different ballgame. For me, it was mostly just another fashion show.
After the assignment was confirmed verbally, I received a message saying I should only wear everything black when I’m shooting. While I could guess the reason for this, I was curious to confirm it and asked, “Why?”
“So that you blend into the background and don’t distract from the garments or guests.”
I’d guessed correctly.
Usually, I do wear neutral colors while shooting, but sometimes, I don’t. And I have no black sneakers. I have white ones and red ones and even green ones. So, I was told to purchase a pair and send a bill.
This was the first, among many, indicators that I was probably dealing with a thoroughly professional individual. Someone with immense attention to detail.
Within five minutes of the above – and I do not exaggerate – my travel from Gurgaon to Bombay and back, had been confirmed. Another first. Usually, I have to follow up multiple times, before there’s any movement.
Another 5 minutes and I had sent in my invoice.
I did not ask for my usual 100% advance because I was not expecting it anyway. My motivation to do this gig was more curiosity than anything else. Least of all money.
Indian fashion designers are not known for paying at all. If they do pay, a 100% advance is a pipe dream. Most of them have terribly disorganized administrative departments, if any. It is not surprising that I don’t work with a lot of them. When I do, I keep my expectations low.
The payment was in my account the next day. I didn’t realize until after the gig though because I had not bothered to check. Low expectations remember?
TO BOMBAY & THE BRIEF
The assignment had been finalized 3-4 days prior to the actual shoot-day.
I bought myself a pair of sneakers, charged camera batteries, packed a black t-shirt and jeans and belt and waited for any possible briefing. When I finally got to Bombay and met Sabyasachi Mukherjee and asked him for a brief, he told me, and I’m paraphrasing, “Do your thing.” GULP.
There were a LOT of other green flags throughout my interactions with Sabyasachi himself and his team. One day, maybe, I will write about those publicly. I’ve made notes and kept them aside for now.
Back to the show area. I was told that there would be no media allowed. No photographer’s pit. That I was one of the handful of still photographers who would be photographing the show for Sabyasachi. And then Sabyasachi tells me to PICK A SPOT. My brain doesn’t really comprehend it. I stare dumbly at him and repeat his words back to him, as a question, “Pick a spot?!”
“Yes. Wherever you want to shoot from. We will make arrangements.”
At this point, I think, my brain broke a bit.
I could choose to shoot from wherever I wanted! Immediately, my brain began calculating what would be a good spot to get wide shots from AND close-ups if I wanted both.
I was carrying two full-frame DSLRs ( Nikon D800 and D810 ). One with 24-70 F2.8 lens and one with the 70-200 F2.8 lens. I could choose a spot on the floor, amongst the audience or closer to the ceiling. Arrangements would be made!
I ran around the entire space taking test shots during the rehearsal and picked a spot. The spot was reserved.
I was quite certain that at least one of the other photographers would get the typical fashion show frontal shots. I’ve always wanted to shoot wide-angle and thought that this was my chance. Worst case scenario? Sabyasachi would never work with me again. Which was ok with me really. Sometimes shit happens.
But the best case scenario would be making him regret not hiring me sooner. I, most definitely, regret not working with him sooner.
There was about 160 looks if I recall correctly. About 60-70 models. I was sure I was going to lose one of my arms by the end of the show!
THE SOCIAL MEDIA SURPRISE
A majority of clients do not tag photographers. At least in India, that has been my experience. I suspect that it comes from a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance mindset. I think, they don’t want to provide “free publicity” to a photographer that they have already paid.
Sabyasachi on the other hand, tagged my Instagram handle on each of the more than 50 images they posted on their Instagram.
BIG DEAL & HOPE
I only realized how big a deal it was, photographing for Sabyasachi, after everyone else started telling me how big a deal it was. The “congratulations” still haven’t stopped coming in.
The biggest takeaway? The biggest takeaway for me was that I have hope. I had pretty much given up on ever being happy with the level of professionalism in India. I had come to accept that I would be spending the rest of my life, stooping to the levels of unprofessionalism that come to be via work. I had come to accept that I would forever be perceived as someone that is “difficult to work with” because of my expectations of basic levels of professionalism.
Working with Sabyasachi told me that not only has he been around for over two decades, he’s KILLED it in those years. He has thrived. If someone like him can thrive and stay professional through it all, so can I.
Enjoy the images from the show! There were a LOT more of course. As always, struggled to cull them for the blog but failed. Obviously. Be prepared to scroll. And scroll. And scroll.
Photography Client : Sabyasachi
Footwear & some accessories : Christian Louboutin
Show Director : Anu Ahuja
Location : Grand Hyatt, Mumbai
Event Team : Seventy Event Media Group
Make-Up and Hair : Marianna Mukuchyan
Special thanks from my side to : Aishani L, Manav, Shivam, Jemin, Ronobroto, Priyanka Kauntia and Shiv Shankar. And of course Anu! THANK YOU ANU!
You made it! You scrolled till the end!