His love for photography began much early and then found an expression with landscapes. He started photography with a film SLR camera in 2002, then exclusively photographing landscapes. What started as a hobby turned into a passion and then a profession! Meet Arun Bhat, a full-time travel photographer based in Bangalore, he has travelled extensively across India, photographing life, landscapes, and cultural heritage. Also, not to forget, he was the winner of HIPA award 2015. Continuing with our #IamLivingit series, Rachana from Team Livingit got in touch with Arun, to bring across his passion for photography and his belief that photography from the heart is the basic mantra that one should stick to!
RJ: So, tell us something about yourself and your passion?
Arun: I am a professional photographer. I photograph a variety of subjects that includes but not limited to landscapes, people, real estate, interiors and much more. I am known as a travel and outdoor photographer, as much of my time is spent working on these genres. I started out in 2002 and became a full-time photographer in 2007. In 2011, I joined hands with a colleague and started Darter Photography, an organization specializing in introducing amazing outdoors to photography enthusiasts and mentoring them. These days, I spend much of my time travelling, photographing and mentoring photography enthusiasts in the outdoors, especially in the Himalayas. You can find my work at www.paintedstork.com
RJ: How would you describe yourself as a photographer?
Arun: I would call my photography a function of my impulse, and a great deal whimsical. When I am travelling, my camera is often tucked away in the bag. I am used to being asked very often: “where is your camera?” or “why aren’t you shooting?” Normally, I don’t press the shutter button until I am inspired. This doesn’t mean that I am not watching or observing. I am always on the lookout, and when the right opportunity arises, I can go on a shooting spree and never stop. In general, I am not a trigger-happy person. In terms of genres that I photograph, I enjoy photographing landscapes the most.
RJ: How did you develop an interest in photography and what inspired you?
Arun: Photography, along with travelling, was perhaps a childhood dream. I can distinctly remember my younger days when I would look at beautiful photographs in glossy magazines, and wished to make such images. While I never really operated a camera much in my younger years, the yearning never went away. When I had enough money in hand, the first thing I bought was an SLR camera, where my journey as a photographer began.
My inspiration to become a full-time photographer came from my surroundings. Besides the fact that I dreamed about becoming a professional, I often hung out with people who had a keen interest in photography. Among them, a few had quit their erstwhile professions and had opted to embrace photography.
RJ: Can you tell us about some of your favourite photographers?
Arun: I find the works of Sebastiao Salgado to be very inspiring, grand in scale and inimitable. It is amazing how he conceives projects of magnitudes that few people would be able to pull through, and works on them with an intent focus. Another photographer I admire is Marc Adamus, whose landscape images have broken a paucity in creativity in the genre. Combining modern imaging technology and his visualization, he has created unique and interesting images of nature that are a visual feast.
RJ: How would you describe your style and what exactly do you want to express through your photography?
Arun: In recent years, I have been working with an idea that I would like to call as ‘photography from the heart’. This is an attempt to take pictures back from being the visual extravaganza to what it has always been: a means of expression and communication. In this, I intend to use photography from the heart to convey emotions, thoughts, and ideas. So, unless I am on a planned shoot with a specific brief, I keep my eyes and mind open and wait for the impulse. Photography then becomes a process where I not only observe that is in front of me, but also observe how my mind reflects upon it and reacts to it.
Say, for example, if I see a raging river in front of me, it could evoke different types of emotions from me, which could vary from a sense of wonder to a feeling of fear. With some care, pictures can often do a better job with this than words. So, photography from the heart for me is a form of effective communication than merely a means for documenting something in a visually rich manner.
RJ: How vital is it for you as a photographer to engage with your subjects?
Arun: Engagement can happen at different levels. When an interesting event is unfolding in front, intent observation is also a form of engaging with the scene. If I am photographing people and their way of life, it is important to talk to them and understand who they are, what they do and why they do what they do, to be able to portray their story effectively.
Photography may become superficial or imitational if you do not engage with the subject, but the forms of engagement can be very different depending on what you are trying to photograph. Some form of engagement is also key to implementing the idea of ‘photography from the heart’.
RJ: What do you consider a turning point in your career – when did you switch from budding photographer to photographer by profession?
Arun: I turned professional when I started finding some traction for my images. A few years into photography, I was able to create images that I felt were unique, published my work and found a degree of acceptance. There were certainly moments to remember, such as the first time my images were published, the first time I won an award or in deciding to start a new photography venture.
RJ: What are the equipment essentials on your packing list?
Arun: My equipment list varies depending on the kind of work that I am doing. On outdoor & travel-photography related shoots, I travel light with one camera, two lenses and an external flash. I keep lenses with focal length range of 20mm to 200mm, which is usually sufficient for this kind of work. If I am on a commercial assignment, the equipment can vary considerably depending on the work I am doing and may involve packing a few large lights, an extra camera body and lenses that are specifically required to complete the task.
RJ: In your opinion, what makes a good picture stand out from the average?
Arun: I believe that a good image would essentially (a) communicate an idea or an emotion eloquently and also (b) visually pleasing. Often we see images that only fit the later criteria, which we may appreciate at first sight but allow it to fade away. When a beautiful image also has a strong message, it stays in your memory.
RJ: In 2015, you won the HIPA award in Dubai for your stunning photograph of Buddhist children during their break, in the category “Colours of Life.” Could you tell us how you came about the idea and what you went through while making this series?
Arun: In the summer of 2014, I spent a week in a Buddhist Monastery, living with monks and learning their way of life. It was in a truly remote region high in the Himalayas, where the resources are limited, the weather is extreme and life is hard. The monks thrived here and lived happily, learning and preaching about wisdom and mindfulness. It was a privilege being with them, and to some extent, imbibing their sapience.
The monastery was also a place where young boys were sent by their parents to take up monkhood and learn from senior monks. These boys have rigorous learning schedule and were allowed some free time every evening. I watched them play during their break, which was a time they had a chance to release all the pent-up energies that boys always have. They would laugh, fight, play, run, chase each other and live their moment of freedom to completeness.
RJ: What is one of your favourite memories when it comes to photography?
Arun: It’s probably not an easy question to answer. There is a large volume of images that I have shot, many of them from my favourite locations or events. If there is one thing that remains etched in my memory, it’s a winter in the highlands of Ladakh, watching the sheep go home. It was a cold evening; the sun was just approaching the high horizon over the mountain peaks and about to call it a day. The nomadic changpa shepherds, who inhabit a region as high as 14,000 feet, began gathering their sheep and started herding them back home. In a matter of minutes, several thousand sheep, grazing on dry grass from last summer until then, came together and walked west towards their shelter.
When ten-thousand hooves kicked up the ground in unison, the air was filled with dust and the sky turned orange in that moment. The sight of so many animals headed behind their keepers in the busy air was a sight to behold. It was an exhilarating moment. The sub-zero temperatures, the rarefied air or the fatigue of the moment no longer mattered. Those moments were magical, and the images I made that evening remain etched in my memory.
RJ: Do you always have your camera with you?
Arun: Not really. Sometimes cameras come in the way of an experience. I carry my camera with me only when I have a clear intent to make photographs. This means I may miss many interesting photography opportunities, and this has indeed happened to me. But I prefer to keep it this way, I feel that excess of photography—a disease that a lot of us have today—can take you away from immersing yourself in an experience.
RJ: What do you think is the basic mistakes that most photographers make?
Arun: Photography is a creative pursuit where you lose nothing; there can only be gains and there can only be learning. In that way, perhaps the biggest mistake would be to ignore anything we haven’t done well in the past, not learn from them and not strive to get better. Deliberate stagnation is a huge mistake!
RJ: That’s extremely well said. A piece of advice for budding photographers?
Arun: I strongly urge photography-enthusiasts to apply the idea of ‘photography from the heart’. It’s a concept that helps create unique images that speak your intent. It helps you use your photography to observe well and communicate better. It helps you see photography not just as a tool to make beautiful impressions, but also to tell stories.
Arun Bhat likes to use photography from the heart as a medium that brings in positive impact. The impact can be in any scale, from momentary happiness in seeing something visually enchanting to something that may change the viewer’s life forever. So, for the ones passionate about photography the bottom line would be to avoid stagnation and to follow your passion photography from the heart!
There are tons of types of photography, figure out which one suits you!