This week we catch up with Chenthil Mohan, the first prize winner at SILK AWARDS 2016. A self-described ‘corporate jockey’ in his previous life, the photojournalist is living his dream ‘alternative life’ with a wife and 5 dogs in Bangalore.
Chenthil’s submission capturing a Bangalore Muslim wedding shot entirely on an iPhone won him the top prize at the SILK AWARDS last month. The photographer describes all Indian weddings as “controlled chaos.”
He doesn’t have a professional degree in photography. Armed with an MBA and 8 years of corporate work experience, Chenthil took the plunge into professional photography six years ago.
Here, he talks about his passion for photography, the secret method to capture the madness of Indian weddings, his favourite photographers and why it is important to attend photography workshops!
Please Describe your initiation into wedding photography. What made you take the plunge?
While figuring out my way around commercial photography, wedding photography was an accident, a good accident at that. A friend dragged me into shooting his wedding and I enjoyed the process which let me be there, observe and document as the event unfolds. The camera became my personal invisibility cloak.
I was a corporate junkie who got into motorcycling. Photography was a passion because travel takes you to places where you want to capture what you see. I travelled almost 60,000 km in two years on my bike. I met my wife in the motorcycling community. The more I travelled the more I realised that the cubicle life was not enough.
I decided to become a wedding photographer at a time when wedding photography was not even a lucrative business. I signed off from my corporate job in 2010, got into photography, got married, all in a span of two weeks.
How did you decide which entries to submit for the SILK AWARDS?
SILK AWARDS played to my strength in editing and picking images; a series of images to narrate a story over a single image. The repertoire of photographers on the judging panel gave me an opportunity to express myself better and help me choose a set which pushed the creative envelope.
I wasn’t sure what they were going for, an outright commercial photograph or someone pushing the envelope of creative expression. I went with two diametrically opposite sets. One as absolutely experimental, the other one was a more conventional creative series that I submitted to play it safe.
To show a Muslim wedding was interesting. It was a challenge to do a narrative with a Muslim wedding. It is easier with a Hindu wedding, there is usually a set narrative based on the rituals. For Muslim weddings like this one you have to stitch the photographs together into a story.
What was it like shooting an entire wedding on an iPhone?
Liberating. It was a conscious call to shoot with the iPhone. An attempt at simplifying the shooting process and devoid of the dependency on fancy equipment. Shooting with an iPhone helped me see beyond the obvious.
Who are your favourite photographers?
I follow a lot of contemporary photojournalists and visual artists. For me, inspirations come from everywhere. I don’t confine myself to wedding photography, from Rene Magritte to Martin Parr to Christina De Middel there is so much out there to get inspired by.
What was the most unusual wedding you have shot? What made it unique?
My current favourite wedding would always be the last one I shot. A Chettiar gig in the villages around Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu. Overall, I’ve been quite lucky to work with a unique bunch of couples across my wedding portfolio. A Bihari boy getting married to a Russian girl? A professional poker player getting married to an ophthalmologist? A TamBrahm wedding in Delhi? Check, check and check!
How do you prepare for a shoot?
I obsessively plan before a shoot. I ensure that I have the ideal working conditions and routines that enable it. My entire wedding photography workflow starts well before the actual wedding and considered complete only when all deliverables are met.
I keep an open mind, an Indian wedding is controlled chaos. If you have preset ideas about what you want you are trying to fit a square into a circle. I won’t force an image into a wedding. The artistic license clause is the first thing in my contract. It is my job to explain clearly what I am going to deliver.
What was your reaction when you heard about the SILK AWARD?
The initial reaction was disbelief. It is a great recognition to keep pursuing the photography journey.
Any advice for those who want to pursue wedding photography?
Shoot a lot consciously. There is a world of photography beyond the realms of weddings. Pursuing long-term projects has helped me hone my visual language and evolve as a photographer. I come from a non-photography background, it is extremely important to keep yourself updated about the creative aspects of photography. When you go to a workshop you get a peek into other photographers’ heads and what kind of practices they follow. If I become a better photographer, I will automatically become a better wedding photographer. Photography is a way of life, it is a way to rediscover myself.
Watch out for our post about Apresh Chavda‘s master class at SILK INSPIRE 2016 next week. Stay tuned for more exciting updates from the world of wedding photography and SILK INSPIRE 2017.