I and Vedika Bhargave were waiting outside the studio in Ghatkopar for wellknown photographer Mr. Hari Mahidhar, fondly known as Haribhai. Within a moment he arrived in his modified car and the first conversation turned towards cars! His deep knowledge and experience spoke for itself but he was willing to simplify the things for our understanding. He is enthusiastic and curious. Haribhai is a renowned personality in industrial photography. We wanted to know about his journey in the world of photography. He told us: I wanted to learn painting but my family insisted upon joining merchant navy. Fortunately I didn’t pass the exams and I knocked on the doors of Sir J.J. school of arts. By the time I reached here, in Mumbai, the admission procedures had ended and I had to seek admission to the evening classes of photography. I thought, photography might provide me references for painting and so I stayed. But my first camera was my marriage gift. In 1967, I began to work with famous industrial photographer Mittar Bedi. I was so keen to learn that I was ready to pay the fees to work for him. I learnt a lot from him. I realized the creativity in seemingly boring industrial photography. I learnt the principles of this stream.
Later I worked for advertising agencies and shot many ads including Goldspot, Nycil and VIP suitcase etc. In 1978 I started to work independently. Can you tell us more about you camera collection? You used Hasselblad and Nikon camera in the beginning. Then Canon and now you are using Sony cameras. Can you take us through the reasons of these changes? Hasselblad camera was a professional requirement back then. It was a must-have for any industrial photographer. Though it was excruciatingly costly, there wasn’t another option. Finally I sold my newly purchased home. People thought I am crazy to sale such a house on a fine location; but I was confident that I can work better with a new camera. The house was not my priority that time. So I sold the house and bought Hasselblad. This camera brought me more and more work, prosperity!
I used Hasselblad and Nikon in the beginning, but with the dawn of digital era, full frame cameras came into circulation. Nikon’s full frame camera was not available, instead Canon had released theirs. So I replaced the Nikon with Canon’s digital camera kit. Recently Sony offered me to work for their camera workshops. I loved their DSLT (Digital Single Lens Translucent) technology. Moreover, they use Carl Zeiss lenses. So I shifted to Sony cameras. He opened a cupboard and began showing us his camera collection. His repertory was full of cameras, lenses and other accessories. Everything was neatly arranged and was cared for. The studio had many things, other than cameras, required for photography. Haribhai had a modern tool kit. He insisted upon making, repairing and even modifying his equipment himself.
What are the challenges in industrial photography unlike other streams? Can you share your experiences with us? People are under a false impression that industrial photography is not an arena for creativity. If we can balance our ideas and client’s requirements; creativity flows in automatically. Once I needed to click the concept of thermal electricity from coal. I used a simple setting. I arranged a bulb, soldered the wires to it and placed it above the coals. Since we didn’t have Photoshop then, I had to use this arrangement. I soldered the wires to the bulb because I didn’t want to show the holders. I have visited industries like nuclear power plants, pipe manufacturing, airplane construction and car manufacturing and many more. I got to see their manufacturing units and processes. These are the opportunities to learn something new along with your work. My tech-savvy mind tries to integrate these technologies with photography.
Speaking of challenges, we have to work in various difficult industrial situations. When I went to a copper plant for shooting, the there was hot molten copper in the machine. This high temperature is dangerous for us, but it can also create problems for the camera. So I used to, repeatedly, enter the room for a few minutes, click the pictures and rush back. Many a times you have to use cranes to get proper top angles or even use a helicopter. Often you have to enter the dangerous tunnels or mines. Suffocation is a common problem in deep mines or tunnels, so sometimes you have to carry a portable oxygen cylinder. You have to follow the protocols while shooting a pharmaceutical laboratory or see a surgery for medical photography. The real challenge is to give your creative inputs in these difficult situations. Sometimes the industrial products are humongous in size and thus immobile. In such cases we have to come up with lighting solutions or sometimes make the necessary equipment ourselves.
Once I needed a beauty-dish. The dishes available in market were expensive and had a limitation on the angles to be used. So I designed my own beauty dish with a U-shaped handle and got it manufactured from Mr. Sharma, one of my manufacturer friends. The other time I needed ring-lights. The available rig lights were too small and didn’t serve my purpose. So I designed the ring lights to fit around my camera. There was a time when Indian photographers imported expensive light painting machines. When I saw the machine and dug deeper into it, I realized that it can be made in India. Again, Mr. Sharma helped me with the design and we manufactured an Indian made version of the machine. We modified it to work on batteries and I could use it for outdoor shoots too! Since I love the jugad kinds, I have created and modified a lot of equipments to my needs. Of course my background of industrial photography and keen observations has helped me a lot.
You like to guide the amateur photographers. Please tell us more about your teaching style and guidance sessions. I have many students and I try to give them the 100% of my knowledge. Many people ask me how could I teach in a 4 days session, and others advice against teaching the 100%. But I think, more than photography; I give my students the vision! I show them something and ask them what they saw. Many students do not see what I want them to see. They are distracted and hence their pictures suffer. As you know, photography is an old technique. There are books and blogs filled with all the information about it. Yet, if two photographers attend a wedding ceremony; their pictures are different. This difference owes to the vision! First photographer might love an angle while the second might want another. Once this art of seeing things, your vision, is developed; your clicks become unique and original. Long ago Kodak had published a book “Art of seeing”. I loved this book and had read it many times over. I also recommended the same to others. Have you observed how children learn things from their parents? Observation, seeing and copying of what the adults do, plays prime role in their learning process. Simply, to learn something, you have to see it, observe it and follow it. But just copying does no good. We must acquire the skill and use it with our own creativity.
Currently I am travelling a lot for Sony’s workshops. It’s a general observation that many photographers are unaware about the camera technology, exposure and other technical things. They have good cameras but all they do is use a single setting to shoot ceremonies and functions. You might find hundreds of thousands of them in India. The camera companies should step forward and conduct workshops for these photographers.
What do you think about the digital era in photography?
Digital technology has simplified a lot of operations which were tedious and complicated in the previous days. We can see the image immediately and decide if we need any changes. But having good cameras is not enough; one should have a good vision. Getting to see the image immediately is helpful for learning or sometimes for getting better results; but the package comes with its side effects too.
In early days, photographer’s skill was of prime importance owing to the complicated and difficult editing processes. Editing was limited to touch-ups in the dark room. That was an altogether new skill set. So the ad agencies or other companies used to spend a lot of money for the photographer’s skill.
Today everybody has a digital camera which allows working with feedback. Also digitization has simplified the editing and a simple image can be photoshopped into a wonderful one. Now the companies, meaning clients, focus on editing more than a photographer’s skill. Also, the digitization has lead to stock agencies of photographs. So these days the photographer is not well paid. Your clicks are unique and creative. What would you advice to amateur photographers to improve their quality? I am always attracted to lines, graphical patterns and parallel shapes. May be that’s the reason I love industrial and architectural photography. Moreover, the challenges give more motivation than anything else. Practice, devotion and learning are the key words in photography! In Germany I saw a man arranging the paver blocks. He was making sure that every block he has placed is leveled from all the angles before putting on the next block. I was amused because there wasn’t anybody to observe or command him. The Germans are perfectionists; it’s in their lifestyle – culture. They think their work speaks for them, their organization and their nation. We, as Indians lack this thinking.
Back home, In India, I went to shoot a electric motors' factory. The interior part of the motor was not painted. When I inquired about it, I was given a blunt answer: “Nobody sees what’s inside of it so we don’t need to color it.” This tendency and mindset is wrong. We must learn the meaning of duty – responsibility from the Germans or Japanese. This sense of responsibility gets them ahead in the race. We readily pay more for the German or Japanese brands owing to their norms of perfection. We can be master of our work if we become a perfectionist. Currently you are working on your book on Narmada. Can you tell us more about it? The ideas struck my mind when I read a book on the Ganges, written by a foreign author. I am brought up on the shores of river Narmada and have spent a lot of time at the river. Once decided; I added many pictures of the jungles and life at Narmada, to my previous inventory. Haribhai got up and handed us a draft copy of “Benevolent Narmada.” We were lost in the world of amazing pictures, right from the title page.
He told us about his upcoming books. 'Balancing act', 'Boats of India', 'Baadal – clouds', 'By lanes of India' are some of them. The titles of his books usually begin with letter “B”. While waving him goodbye, my heart was full of joy & inspiration for we had spent a beautiful time in the world of this veteran and renowned artist and had learnt a bountiful of things.