Photographers   |   Exhibitions   |   Catalogs   |   Press   |   About Us  |  Contact Us   |  Home

« Back
Fawzan Husain | Interview
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 work?

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 the image.

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 go mad.
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 off
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 marriages?

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 India Today.

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 the moment.
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 shooting.

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 those pictures.
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 it.
Page 1 of 4