A stark comparison between fashion photography then and now

29 years ago when hairstylist Dorris drew her first salary for working under legendary makeup artiste Pandhari Dada, she took home Rs 350 per month. Today, an apprentice working under Dorris takes home nothing less than Rs 10,000 for each day of work. Times have changed immensely for the industry that has been working relentlessly behind making stars look larger than life in every photograph snapped of them.

Rakesh Shrestha
Rakesh Shrestha in his studio

Comprising makeup geniuses, hair stylists, costume designers, photographers and their ilk, the fashion photoshoot industry according to ace shutterbug Rakesh Shrestha is worth around billions of rupees. With every passing day, almost 100 to 120 people join the industry - from varied disciplines - hoping to sustain a career. 

Photo finish
In the glamour galaxy, every face is a product. And the onus of making them who they are rests most on the able shoulders of the photographer. Says Shrestha,“I sold my first photograph 35 years ago for R 100, which would be the equivalent of, say, R 5000 today but it’s still less. A picture, good or bad, clicked by anybody, is immortal. And if it’s good then why not the pay be good as well?” asks the photographer who was one of the earliest to go digital - much to the purists’ chagrin - in our country.

Dorris Dolly Ahluwalia
Dorris and Dolly Ahluwalia

When he started out, there were less than a dozen hopefuls in Bombay with a camera hanging around their neck. Today, that number has shot up to more than a thousand. So naturally, the competition has gone up. “If you’re not good in your job, then you won’t survive for long. In any case, very few last long here. Most of the youngsters fail to keep up with the struggle,” sums up the master with 35 years of experience.

Clothes call
Movies were always in tune with the costume designer. A stylist happened much later. Much of this change can be attributed to the rise of glossy magazines and their shiny covers. Today, there is an acute interest in who’s wearing what and fashionistas are found in abundance. According to the Mumbai-based fashion stylist Tanya Ghavri, exposure to the West did the trick. “Styling has grown over the years. Earlier, styling remained restricted to photoshoots. But now, stars expect detailing even for an event or a special appearance somewhere or even at a friend’s party!” adds the 26-year-old who has Kareena Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor as clients.

At the art of the matter
Underlining the fact that photoshoots are just a euphemism for marketing, Dolly Ahluwalia, costume designer for the upcoming Bhaag Milkha Bhaag points out, “Compared to the stars, the technicians - belonging to any department - are paid peanuts. When compared to the past, the condition is better, yes, but not enough,”. Besides, film photoshoots are a separate entity today. The pictures that are used for promotions are shot separately and go through a completely different trajectory: the technicians’ creativity translates to style in the resulting pictures.

Show me the money!
However, as the industry becomes bigger by the day, it also has to battle with the excess baggage coming its way. According to Dorris, amateurs today, who according to her don’t even know how to hold a hair dryer, has little respect for people’s time and money. Another downside to the industry is perhaps the lack of enthusiasm to take risks when it comes to actors and actresses experimenting with their looks. “What else can explain an actor spending an entire career with one hairstyle?” asks Dorris.

The greatest difference
So what exactly brought about this paradigm shift in this peculiar glitzy world? Atul Kasbekar jots down various aspects. “There have been many changes. The introduction and development of different professional streams are now essential to the making of quality visuals in print. Emergence of stylists, hi-quality make up artists, hair-specialists from the world over and re-touchers - the latter two, who were very few in numbers earlier, contributed a lot,” says the celebrity photographer. However, Dolly chooses to remain skeptical yet hopeful: “Nothing is permanent. The mechanism behind fashion will keep changing with time. What matters is the relevance of the work that’s been done.”

Moolah matters
For what it’s worth, a technician’s survival depends on how well he or she knows the system. And their average tariff card approximately is...

Photographer: Between Rs 25,000-1,00,000 per month per assistant depending on the work scale.
Stylist: Connection matters. A stylist is paid nywhere between 10K to 16K per day. Brands pay more, approx Rs 25,000 per day.
Hair-makeup: Begins at Rs 10,000 per day but then again, can vary according to the client.
Designer: Depends on the wardrobe but the scale is generally in the upwards of Rs 30,000 per day. 

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