|Fawzan Husain |
|Did you use your own equipment?
I was always very equipment savvy. I always had
the best equipment. Once I started with Nikon, I
never looked back, mainly because in those days
it was freely available in the gray market. Whatever
I required, I invested. For example, I asked my
friend Fakhru to get me filters from Saudi Arabia,
(even though they cost 100 per cent more there)
because they were not available in Bombay. I wanted
to understand the use of filters even in the early
stages of my career.
|The publication didn’t
give you cameras?
They gave a basic camera for basic work. When I
got a digital camera for myself, I asked India Today
to get the same. I worked out the cost and told
them that within six months, they would break even.
But they slept on it for two years. I used my own
equipment for my own work.
|How different was your approach
to these subjects from your routine journalistic
Journalism teaches you to make the best use of a
situation. Nothing is staged and that’s where
experience counts. Light conditions you cannot control,
so either you take the shot or you don’t.
In two minutes, things can change. If you go back
to shoot something under better light conditions,
what’s the use? You won’t get the same
shot. Nothing is under your control. You could go
back the next day and never get that moment.
In studio photography, you could be wary of someone
copying your style or light patterns. But in my
kind of photography, no two pictures are the same—nobody
else can get the same picture.
|How about the artistic aspect?
It takes time to understand the nuances of a subject.
Women, for instance, can be made to look artistic
or vulgar, depending on your way of looking. Any
subject is how you see it. For my exhibition Faith,
I was by the Ganga during Durga Puja. A man came
to wash banana leaves and in the background, boys
were jumping into the river. I shot the man framed
by the banana leaves he was carrying. What to keep
and what to leave out of a frame, only experience
can help you decide. You have to learn to use the
right lens at the right time; a wrong lens can spoil
When you approach a subject, you know roughly what
you are looking for. You go to the place before
if possible, and study it, so you know mentally
what to expect. If you get a chance, you speak to
another photographer. At the Ganga, early morning,
there are no clouds, so you go equipped accordingly.
For a good picture, homework means 30 per cent of
knowing what to expect, 60 per cent hard work and
10 per cent luck.
With the Faith series, I looked at people’s
fascination with faith, and how they associated
with it. I started capturing different religions
in different regions. I travelled to Ladakh, Kolkata,
Rajasthan, Gujarat, where I could look at people
and communities associated with faith.
While doing your journalistic assignments did you
try to look at things differently too?
At a press conference, Amitabh Bachchan was at a
table; in front of him, was a glass of water. He
drank some water and I took a picture of him through
the opaque glass. So sometimes, in a simple situation,
you can also bring out creativity. But then you
also have to think, will the paper use it? It can
be a setback to always have to cater to the requirements
of a newspaper or a magazine. Now, newspapers are
slightly different, they accept creative pictures.
I sometimes miss being part of the scene now. But
working in a paper will drain me. And now the TV
cameras have killed whatever respect we had. Actually,
it depends on the individual—some are quite
content just doing their work and getting out. I
always wanted to go beyond that. That led to one
project after another. Now it has come to this—that
if I don’t shoot for a week for myself, I’ll
|So what came next?
Marriage to Arwa and moving to the suburbs. I had
to travel to and fro every day by local train and
that exposed me to life on the tracks. I saw a lot
of emotions and anger and fights on the train commute
and I decided to capture that. It didn’t take
immediately; it took me three years to adjust to
train travel. Then when I had kids (twins Marziyah
and Nabilah), it was natural for me to observe other
kids. In Kamathipura (Mumbai’s red light district),
I would watch the children and wonder what kind
of life they had. I went there for five-six months,
just to see and be seen, because they can be very
hostile to outsiders. I got a lot of help from the
locals who live there and I did the show, Children
of Kamathipura. Luckily, magazine work was not such
a grind, and I could plan weekend shoots.
The trains were still on my mind, and shooting in
local trains was tough. They are so crowded that
you can hardly breathe. But I did that on and off.
Then Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won the beauty
titles and suddenly every state, city and locality
had Miss this or that contests. Every few weeks,
there would be a crowning of a Miss something or
the other. I decided to go backstagestage and sneak
a peep at what was happening.
Sometimes, I’d see the same faces. If a girl
failed to get through one contest, she’d enroll
in another. So the same faces seemed to be rotating.
And the sad thing was that most of them never got
anywhere. But I enjoyed doing the Guts and Glory
show. I was still engrossed with train travel and
Tracks—Bombay’s Life Line finally happened.
|And then the show on mass
When Arwa and I had got married, it was with a group
of seven other couples. I got interested in the
subject of mass marriages in other communities and
I started working on it. I travelled to Hyderabad,
Gujarat, Rajasthan. The mass marriages used to be
so chaotic that you could get candid images. I could
easily observe and shoot.
My first major money came from this show—one
of the pictures was picked up by Geo Germany. Before
this, a train picture had been picked up for an
ad—a Fevicol ad. One never actually thought
one could make money out of this.
|Were there any unusual assignments
that you did for India Today?
The Editor, Prabhu Chawla, thought I shot dark and
out-of-focus pictures. He thought he’d never
seen worse pictures because for him, a picture should
be straight, bright, simple. So it was tough, but
luckily others liked my work. India Today was a
safe place to work, they wanted simply lit pictures
and there was not much chance to explore creativity.
They changed a bit when Outlook came in. But India
Today gave me time and freedom. Though I had other
offers, I saw no reason to leave. Photography is
time-consuming. Like, for my Bollywood pictures,
sometimes two-three days would go by without getting
any good pictures. I needed a magazine. I couldn.t
work for a newspaper and do this stuff.
Prabhu and I would argue a lot. I told him he didn’t
know photography. He didn’t like his authority
questioned and I never got interesting assignments,
but I wasn’t looking for them. Luckily Swapan
Das Gupta liked my style of work, and I got one
of my best assignments—a trip to Iraq to cover
Saddam Hussain’s presidential referendum.
They had invited journalists from all over to see
how popular he was. Of course, it was a farce. I
took a lot of other pictures, which were eventually
featured as a photo-essay on Iraq lifestyles in
I also enjoyed a cover story on Shah Rukh Khan.
I was on the set for two days; he wasn’t so
big then. He asked, ‘What do you want me to
do?’ and he did whatever I asked of him. He
was very professional.
In photojournalism, do you think a certain impatience
creeps in? You have to work very fast and capture
For my own work I have to think in the long term
and give it time. I usually work on a subject for
two years. I don’t have more patience than
that. In photojournalism, yes, you have to make
the best use of the given situation—bad light,
bad time; that’s what counts as photojournalism.
Or you could just create a scene in a studio. Like
for ad campaigns. Create sets and realistic scenes
in a studio. But our forte is to capture images
even under adverse circumstances.
|Were you never tempted to
do studio photography—if only for the control
it gives the photographer?
No. never. Then I could not call myself a journalist.
Taking candid shots and in adverse conditions—that
situation is different. My purpose would not be
served if I could control things in a studio.
|And you never ‘directed’
people to get a good shot?
99.999 per cent of the time, I never told a person
what to do. But for a magazine assignment it was
different. There, you know who you are shooting
and why. The subjects know why you are there. You
can structure a shot and follow the parameters of
the magazine’s requirements. On my own subjects,
of course, I had absolute freedom.
|Did you ever have people
objecting to your taking their pictures?
For news stories there is no chance to take permission,
because freezing the moment is important. But for
feature stories, there is a way around that. You
don’t take out your camera the moment you
reach a place. I don’t start shooting as soon
as I land up. There is a process of breaking the
ice. You have to let people get comfortable with
your presence. A lot of photographers don’t
have that courtesy. I have seen a photographer come
to a film set and ask the cinematographer to move.
I mean, he’s the cinematographer, not some
spot boy. You can’t do such a thing.
You have to understand the situation, understand
your area of operation, and start only when people
have started accepting you and then try to stay
on the periphery. If you, for some reason, require
to be in their circle of operations, then go in
and come out as quickly as possible. Nobody hinders
your work if you don’t hinder theirs. If someone
objects, I try to explain to them and then continue
For my Children of Kamathipura series, I did not
even take out my camera for six months. In that
milieu, you have to be very sensitive. Once they
realize that you are a part of that space, then
you get down to business. Not business, actually,
because I am not there to shoot them and sell the
pictures. There is no sensationalism involved.
|Do you every consider it
an invasion of a person’s privacy if you shoot
them in a public space? Say, if you are covering
an incident —a riot or something?
If the person is needed to be in the frame then
I do shoot. See, here the ethics of journalism come
in. If the editor wants a picture and the reader
wants to know, then I have to cater to that demand.
In certain cases we are not there for the love of
it but because it’s news and we have to get
|Could you think of an instance
when you were doing your duty, but it felt uncomfortable?
It happens. For instance, when the son of a prominent
business family (the Hinduja boy) had committed
suicide, I didn’t want to be there. You understand
that it’s a sad situation. It’s an invasion
of their privacy but it’s also news and the
paper wants it covered, the reader wants to read
about it. But given a choice, I would not have done
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