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Shooting from the heart

Fashion photographer A.J. Raina spent a good part of 2008 picking up accolades across the world—the Hasselblad Masters in Copenhagen,the International Photography Awards in Los Angeles and the Spider Awards in London.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
May 10, 2009 10:40:06 pm

Photographer A.J. Raina gave up a successful career in advertising to chase a wild dream

Fashion photographer A.J. Raina spent a good part of 2008 picking up accolades across the world—the Hasselblad Masters in Copenhagen,the International Photography Awards in Los Angeles and the Spider Awards in London. But,as his stock shoots up in the country’s fashion photography circuit,AJ says he is “the worst example of how to build a career”. “But if you want an example in how to lose fear and follow your gut feeling,come to me,” he adds.

AJ looks back to 2007,when he was living every man’s dream—he had a plush apartment,a swanky big car,his advertising consultancy was thriving beyond his wildest imagination and “loads of money was flowing in”. “Advertising had always been my lifeblood. When I landed my first job with JWT soon after college,I thought I owned the world,though I was only earning Rs 2,600,” he says. “So,it was strange when this feeling suddenly began to creep in that I was financially stable but the joy had gone out of my life.” The feeling grew and in August that year,AJ opted out of advertising to pursue a career about which he knew nothing—photography. He was in his thirties and about to enter an unknown field.

“I’ve been painting since childhood,but I was too restless to be an artist. Photography called out to me and I decided to take the plunge. I went shopping,spending my savings on cameras,booms,lights and light stands,” says this Math graduate from St Stephen’s.

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“I had left home as a teenager,slept on cardboard sheets and survived for a long time on bread and pickle. Somewhere along the way,I lost my fear of failure and hardship,” he recalls. Now,as he stared at his photography equipment,the old spirit gushed back. He surfed the Internet and read books on photography,but when his old advertising client,retail brand Bizarre,gave him his first photography break a few weeks later,AJ recalls that he had only a vague notion of apertures and exposures. “Only my aesthetic sense,born from my love for art,was in place. That,and a confidence that one shouldn’t go into anything nervous,” he says.

The shoot gave the first hint of the edgy style that flirted with contradictions and unabashed imperfections that has since become AJ’s signature. It also earned the debut photographer his first award—the Hasselblad Masters—trouncing 17,000 other entries.

In September 2008,he won 10 honours at the International Photography Awards,in categories ranging from portraiture to nudes. A month later came the nomination for outstanding achievement in fashion at the World Photographic Art’s prestigious black and white photo prize,called the Spider Awards. All of a sudden,doors began to open for him as Indian and foreign brands and magazines began to sign him up.

His sets are happy places and it’s evident he loves it here. “Fashion is a celebration of the superficial. It is not something we need,it is something we create. That’s why I play up antithesis and contrasts,” he says.

Giving up a dream career to chase a wild itch,he admits,isn’t for everybody. “But when you have an overwhelming desire so strong that it doesn’t let you sleep at night,then your instinct for self-preservation takes a plunge and you hear the inner call,” he says. And that’s when winners are born.

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