'I sleep with my camera'

You might associate his name with Bollywood stars but this exhibition will change your perspective about photographer Vikram Bawa, just like the making of these images changedhis.

At his studio on Peddar Road, we are surrounded by photographs that span his career, including an impromptu image of a wannabe model who walked into his studio one day to an Annie Leibovitz-style photograph with the who’s who of Bollywood in one frame.

Vikram Bawa at his studio on Peddar Road. Pic/Bipin Kokate

“I picked up photography as a hobby. I loved photography; I sleep with my camera and end up taking images from the time I wake up in the morning; that includes my pot and my toothbrush. Then, I became a professional and worked on commercial projects, tirelessly. I’ve been a commercial photographer for many years.

Three years back, Brinda Miller, who is a close friend of mine, invited me for an art camp at Hampi where I had to create works with several artists. But when I reached this camp, I realised that I had forgotten everything. I needed a brief. The first day I thought I’ll walk around and I’ll get the images. After three hours, I found nothing.

Images shot by Vikram Bawa on his trip to Hampi

I came back to my room and was almost in tears. For two days, I didn’t step out,” recalls Bawa. It was this experience that made him realise what he really wanted, which was, to shoot for himself. Bawa flew one of his model friends down to Hampi along with a make up artist as well as the wings seen in the Fallen Angel series.

Looking back
The path to self-realisation wasn’t easy though, he recalls, telling us that the place was full of monkeys (on this note, he zooms in to a seemingly serene looking image. We spot dozens of monkeys hanging from trees), “We were shooting a naked woman and these monkeys were just closing in, as if suddenly Hanuman got into me (Hampi is the birthplace of Hanuman), I shouted at them and vented my frustration and they backed off, immediately!” he exclaims.

But after a test click his digital camera refused to work. That’s when he took out a ten-year-old expired film that had been lying in his refrigerator and completed the shoot with a film camera, not knowing if the photographs would even emerge, after all. But they did, the flaws of the film added to the feeling, which Bawa was trying to express all the while.

“Through these pictures I realised what I wanted to channel out. After this shoot, I gave up a lot of commercial shoots, and picked up only those that interested me, it really changed my perspective. Also, it made me learn how to be strong financially without working blindly,” he smiles.

Another set of photographs that will be a part of the exhibition is titled Voyeur, and they demonstrate how Bawa, true to his epithet still loves experimenting and challenging what is easily perceived. “Human beings are born carnal and we like to see skin, whether we make a noise about it or not. This series blurs the line between a man and a woman. When you see the image you don’t realise who’s who. When I showed these images to men (straight and homosexual) and women, everyone’s answers were different. They saw what they wanted to see,” he says. By now, our photographer starts to capture Bawa for our photo story. Quickly, he admits that he is extremely conscious about being clicked, “I am very bad in front of the camera,” he laughs.

Such a gimmick
Back in the 1990s several publications referred to Bawa as the Master of Gimmicks. “Fashion was a very small unit then; anybody who did something was written about. I would try something that no one did, like 3D photography in 1999, and no one knew what to do with them! Everyone had to be safe with their work but I would experiment. Once a journalist coined this phrase, and everyone began using it,” says Bawa.

Bawa’s favourite, this image titled, Flight, depicts his flight to freedom

Film making
Bawa had dabbled in ‘shady videos’ too. He recollects: “I made this video called Nasha, after shooting, the producer asked us, why wasn’t a woman featured in the video? (She gyrated in the end) It was the last video I worked on.” He still makes short films, which will be a part of the exhibition.


A muse for Bawa
“I like to shoot people more than stars, I would love to shoot Naseerudin Shah, or Farooque Shaikh. But there are several actors in the industry who will blow you away. The first time when I shot with Mr Bachchan, he introduced himself saying ‘Hi, I am Amitabh Bachchan’. Why would he need to introduce himself, but through this gesture you realise that he is saying that he respects me as an individual. Through the shoot, he would ask, ‘Sir, is this fine?’ He belongs to the old school where the producer, director and cameraman are treated with respect and are addressed as ‘Sir’. It was the biggest humbling experience. After pack up, he walked up to my assistants and shook hands with them, and said Thank you’. They were shivering! Another favourite is Akshay Kumar. I actually don’t have any leading lady favourites though I like capturing Shilpa Shetty. It’s surprising for someone who shoots so many nudes. 

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