As the Corona Virus has shut down the world, many of us have found solace in various Arts and Entertainment forms, like Visual Arts, Films and Movies, Music and Photography. I had the chance to speak to Tina Dehlal, a Mumbai-based fashion and celebrity photographer. Equipped with education in Photography from the Falmouth College of Art and the UK and London College of Printing, UK. Tina is a renowned figure in the photography industry. Having pictured the likes of Cindy Crawford, Jean-Paul Gautier, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone and Jackie Shroff, to name a few. Her work has been featured in Verve, Elle, Harpers Bazaar, Bride Today, Cosmopolitan, Femina, Filmfare, Hello, L’offial, Stardust, The New York Times, The Financial Times (Milan). Tina explained that photography is her chosen medium because it “can capture all the lighting, the concepts etc”
Tina explained that “I started writing at a very young age, maybe around the age of 11, my writing had a very visual aspect to it. I was to draw, sketch a lot too, the one thing I realized while drawing was that if you gave me something to draw I could copy it really well, but I couldn’t be original in my sketches, my writing was completely original but it was extremely visual, that’s what made me realize that I actually needed a visual form to capture my imagination, so I figured I needed a medium where I could capture all the lighting, the concepts etc.”
“I started with photography hoping to jump to film making eventually, but I got so stuck with photography I never made the jump to film making. Though I would say that would have been my true love and calling.”
Like it is for Tina, photography is a loved medium amongst all sorts of people because it has the ability to capture a moment and make it a memory, for us to look back on, happily.
Arts-related fields like Drama, Visual Arts and Photography are not a common stream of work, in India, contrasting the ideal engineer, doctor, lawyer fields. There has been a stereotype attached to pursuing a profession in the Arts, about it not being sustainable, only something that people do as hobbies and not requiring talent and skill. Many students who choose to follow a career in the Arts, receive worried glances from their family and friends. Tina said that “I dropped out of college in the States, where I was supposed to be pursuing a degree in Finance. My parents couldn’t understand why I wanted to become a photographer, especially my mother.” Photography is an art form with many sub-categories, but to many, it is a single-surfaced, and one-streamed. Tina shared that “For her (Tina’s Mother) at that point being a photographer meant On-set photographer or a wedding photographer, which weren’t the ideal professions one wanted for their kids, she like most moms of that generation harboured dreams of me being a doctor, engineer.” Tina reasoned with her parents saying that “if I had to study finance, it would be a waste of their money as eventually, I would land up in an art stream after paying for 4 years of tuition and living expenses in the States.”
Soon, Tina began her journey as a photographer. But it wasn’t easy and took months and months of dedication and consistency to establish herself in the booming photography industry. Tina reflects on that period of her life, between finishing college in the UK and getting work immediately, but the long time between shoots and payment created a burden. “Initially as I came back from college from the UK, I was trying to set up on my own, I had no funding, and at that point, we didn’t get paid for months.”
I was primarily a fashion editorial photographer, magazines didn’t pay us for months on end and designers wanted us to shoot for free, luckily processing labs gave us some leeway to the way our bills. And then buying equipment etc. I remember being broke constantly for the first few years.” Tina also spoke about her distinctive, edgy style of photography that was too much for advertising but fashion loved it, and how that hindered her from getting work. Later, Tina would get her first big break because of her edgy style. “Then it was my work being too edgy for the market at that point, that was also the reason I got work, I remember getting a cover and editorial shoot very early on with Elle because Anaita Shroff Adajania, then at Elle like my edgy style.”
The Photography industry has been largely impacted by COVID-19 just like many other industries. Without functioning magazines to shoot for and models and designers to shoot, Tina, like many others, has taken this time for herself and learned to hone new skills. She says that “I have done nothing with photography this lockdown. I’ve taken this opportunity to try and hone my skills at another love, writing. And the one thing that couldn’t agree with is that everyone tries and learn something during the lockdown, as most people have had their hands so full, even though they’ve been at home, they really had the time. The one thing I would advise is to take some time for yourself, this has been a great opportunity for people to be away from the mad traffic and work deadlines. Take whatever little time you have and reflect and reconnect with yourself…ME TIME.”
Lastly, for many young creatives who are looking to establish themselves like Tina so successfully did, Tina shares that “One, learn the craft. Learn to shoot in manual. Too many aspiring photographers, don’t know how to use the camera, the technicalities, they shoot on auto modes.
It’s only once you get your basics in place will you be able to manipulate the functions to create beautiful images. Study, keep learning… keep looking at work by other photographers I used to devour magazines I could get my hands on and when you find an image you like, try and break it down in your head… try and work out the setting, light placements etc.” Tina also has a lot of appreciation for cinematographers saying that “To me, movies, music videos and the way the Cinematographers light shots is truly inspiring.”
Photography has the power to convey messages that thousands of words could not, and Tina has been on a journey where she has studied and struggled to pursue photography and if Tina’s journey could teach everyone one thing, it is to be resilient and strong.