|Fawzan Husain |
interview for Tasveer catalogue
|DEEPA GAHLOT. How did you
get started as a photographer?
FAWZAN HUSAIN. I started as a writer. While
in college I wanted to write, so I joined the Bombay
College of Journalism to do a course as a reporter,
while I was working with Mid-day in the marketing
department. I later joined the paper as a reporter.
What put me off writing was the copy-editors’
attitude—whenever an ad came in, your copy
would be chopped. Everybody’s copy was butchered,
but they could not murder a picture. So for a while
I did both writing and photography, found that I
related better to pictures and decided to switch
over. In 1989, I became a full-time photographer
|You had no training in
My father was a photographer, so it
was always in the subconscious. A camera was not
a novelty to me. I had seen and handled cameras,
they were always around.
| Do you remember when you
first actually used a camera?
I always handled cameras in my father’s studio,
I would focus the portrait, change the lens, shift
the lights, but under my father’s guidance.
I remember when I was in the seventh standard, my
school had a photo competition and I won the first
prize. It was, I remember, a Nature picture. Then
the school made it an annual event, and I won the
competition three times in a row. One was a street
picture and one, if I remember right, was a picture
shot in a jungle.
|But at that point there was
no intention to take it up as a career?
No. In fact, the first time I actually
thought I needed to learn photography was when I
went to the North East for a marketing assignment
for Mid-day, some time in 1986. It was to promote
their magazine Sportsweek, because there was a large
English-speaking population there which was also
interested in sports.
The North East is a photographer’s delight.
That kind of serene beauty was new for a city person
like me. My parents used to travel a lot, and even
as a kid I had been all over the country, but the
North East was virgin territory. I took a lot of
pictures, but when I saw them, they were—disaster!
| Why? How did they turn out?
I presumed I had the expertise that I actually did
not. I thought I had taken great pictures. Actually,
they were not so bad but what I had visualized in
my mind, I had not been able to get through my camera.
I was put off by the results, because what I saw
with my eyes, I could not see in my prints. That’s
when I decided to learn how to expose and compose
|Where did you learn?
I would go to the Mid-day photographers and ask
them to give me tips. I read books and also visited
all the photo exhibitions in town. It was self-learning.
At that time, there was no course; you had to learn
yourself. There may have been a couple of courses,
but they were more on the theoretical side, not
the practical. Anyway, I already had a job, so I
couldn’t take time off to do a course. I learnt
gradually. But till then I just wanted to learn
to expose correctly. The decision to take up photography
as a career came, as I said earlier, when I didn’t
|What was your first assignment
as photographer, do you remember?
I was to shoot pictures of the then President of
the India Merchants’ Chamber, and I recall
going to his house on Nepean Sea Road. I was very
nervous and hoped I’d be able to deliver.
In those days, we took black and white pictures,
and there was this anxiety in the darkroom about
what the results would be. You know, there was the
process of dipping them in a solution and washing
them. As they were emerging, I almost stopped breathing.
When they came out correctly I was relieved
|Which camera did you have
A Pentax, a small, nice and comfy camera—no
gizmos, no zoom. The then Editor Nikhil Lakshman
and Features Editor Carlos Monteiro encouraged me
a lot. They understood pictures and knew how to
get the best from me. Once you are into photography,
then that’s it—a still image captures
the moment. You should know how to freeze a moment
at the right time. In those days Sunday Mid-day
was a photographer’s delight. It was a tabloid,
not too many ads and pictures could be displayed
nicely. Seeing my pictures blown-up gave me a high.
I was also associated with Dom Moraes for a couple
of years. I was assigned to shoot portraits of the
personalities he used to profile for the paper.
I used to watch what they were doing, listen to
what they were saying and try to get that into the
picture. Dom suggested I pull out all the pictures
and do an exhibition as the British Council. I thought,
why would anyone be interested in published work?
But I met Rex Baker, who was heading the British
Council then, and asked him for time to work on
pictures of the city. Three months down the line,
I had my Bombay show. It encapsulated three years
of my photographic life; of course, I had to add
a lot more pictures. Echoes from Bombay was Dom’s
idea, his title. M. Rehman from India Today came
to see the exhibition and offered me a job with
the magazine. I decided to make a gradual transition
to India Today.
All the exhibitions have been directly associated
with my life. When I got engaged, I started seeing
observing women more closely. I started taking pictures
of Indian women and the result: Faces: Indian Women,
my next exhibition, also at the National Centre
for the Performing Arts, Bombay The exhibition showed
women in action, women in dramatic situations—not
celebrities at all. I looked at women with admiration.
When you go out of Bombay, you see the hard facts.
Like in Nashik, I saw a man eating, and a woman
holding an umbrella. In Latur, I got a picture of
a woman bathing a man. You don’t see these
things in Bombay. Here, I shot a woman police inspector,
when I had gone to shoot the burning of confiscated
drugs. So there were these amazing contrasts.
|How did you fit this into
a busy work schedule?
I did this work on my own time. I’d travel
on weekends, second-class sometimes. Photography
is very expensive, shooting, developing . . . Now
digital has made everyone a photographer, you can
take a thousand pictures and delete what you don’t
want at no extra cost. But in those days it was
really tough. Transparencies and developing cost
Rs 500 a roll.
I developed a dual personality. I would do what
was required for the magazine, and in my free time,
I would keep shooting what I wanted for myself.
A lot of press photographers do their assignment
and return—at the end of the day they are
drained. But say, if I went so shoot a ship-breaking
yard, it would open up the place for me. Darukhana
was fascinating—just to see people breaking
things. I would do the assignment for the paper,
and go back over the weekend to take some pictures
I’d take a two-wheeler and go wherever I wanted.
On weekends, I’d go to different places every
time. I saw Bombay that way. Basically, I was a
South Bombay guy but I went from tip to tip of the
city to take pictures. It was fascinating. I saw
the Muslim areas of Mohammad Ali Road closely; Banganga
was refreshingly serene. I shot moods of people,
couples, a child with another child in her lap,
filling water, the underbelly of Bombay, just people
. . . no landmarks, no festivals, no high-rises,
no Bollywood—no clichés.
It was my own personal interest. Whatever I earned,
I pumped back. There was no gain, only financial
drain. You know, my father had a photo studio in
Bombay, but I didn’t want to do studio portraits,
weddings and birthday parties. I could never get
interested in that unless I was doing a project
on, say, Indian mass marriages.
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