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Fawzan Husain | Interview
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 for Mid-day.
You had no training in photography?
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 correctly.
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 enjoy writing.
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 then?

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 for myself.

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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