Original Link : http://wwwvibhatailang.blogspot.in/2010/05/interview-with-g.html

Interview with Venket Ram, one of India’s leading advertising photographers. Venket has shot for over 80 movies, from Manirathnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal to Ajit’s Asal and for well over a thousand advertisements. Kodak chose him to produce their Calendar for 2002 and he was listed as one of the top 10 photographers by the popular Better Photography magazine in 2005.

JobsByRef.com (JBR): Are you happy with your work/career? Would you consider yourself successful?

Venket: I am really happy doing what I am doing. Successful, um…, yes, I guess you can say that. When I started, I did not know where all this would lead. It was not like there was a clear career path ahead of me, with time and performance based promotions and hikes to look forward to, nor a specific benchmark or a specific definition of success. I would say, beyond all the recognition and awards, the fact that I am happy at work means success to me.

JBR: Walk me through your academic background

Venket: I studied in St. Maris Higher Secondary School up to 10th and then joined Gill Adarsh for my 11th and 12th. In Adarsh, I took up science with Maths and Biology so that I would have both Engineering and Medicine as options open to me. I was active both outside school and in school and was even school pupil leader for a year. As a student, I would say I was a better-than-average student, though I was never the studious kind.

After school, I joined a private engineering college in Maharashtra to do Production Engineering. Within the first few months I realized this was not what I wanted to do. The place was beautiful and I was enjoying the outdoors more than the classrooms. In winter, the lighting was awesome and the unending green sugarcane fields around the college campus were really captivating. Needless to say, my attention inside the classroom began to dwindle and by the end of the first year I had collected two arrears.

The college had a rather strict rule of not allowing people with arrears to move to the next year. I was a little disappointed then, but in retrospect it was the best thing that happened to me. As I could not move to the next year without clearing my arrears, I decided to come back to chennai to study and prepare for the exams. It was this break from college that clarified my thoughts. This was when I realized that there was no point deluding myself about wanting the Engineering degree – I just was not interested.

A couple of years later, Loyola college started a new course called Visual Communication. I spoke to my parents and convinced them that this was the course I wanted to do. I applied and was called to meet the principal before admission. I still remember that day clearly – my father and I went to the College office, and there were a few of my juniors from school, some of them 3 years my junior, waiting to join the same course! My father asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?”, but my mind was already made up. I was part of the first batch of students doing visual communication at Loyola college.

JBR: When did you realize that this is what you wanted to do in life?

Venket: I have always been interested in photography. We had an old Minolta at home and I used to go around clicking photos with it and playing with light and shade. But, I seriously thought about it as a possible career only when I came back home after the first year in the engineering college. I knew it was not enough to feel that I wanted to do photography, I also had to convince myself and my parents that I had the aptitude for it. So when I was not studying for the exams, I used to take my pictures and go meet professional photographers and cinematographers. It was a good learning experience for me as I got constructive feedback and at the same time got to meet some real cool and talented people. Some of the connections I made at that time were the ones who showed me the ropes, opened doors and helped me to get my first breaks.

JBR: Tell me about family support/reaction

Venket: I come from a typical conservative middle-class family – study well, join engineering or medicine, pass all your exams, get a job in a good company, settle down, get married, have children, and work hard. Very grounded people. Art and creativity were relegated to hobby status, if at all. And absolutely no talk about going into business, etc. So it was a big shock to them when I came back after 1 year of college and said I didn’t want to do that anymore.

Initially, there was resistance, but to give them due respect, they never threatened or forced me to go back to college. They were only worried about what I would do without a degree. In retrospect, I can very well understand their concerns, because at that time even I did not know what I was going to do.

Later, even after I started working full-time, they were never sure of what I was doing and whether it was safe, as a career. But throughout all this, I knew they were there for me anytime I wanted.

JBR: How did you create opportunities in this field for yourself?

Venket: Advertising photography was not even a very well defined field in India when I started out. Like I said, the people I met after coming back from college were very helpful. I was always trying to find ways to hang out with them. I tried to get into the film institute but that did not work out. Thankfully, Loyola started visual communication at the right time for me. That was a good break, even though nobody, including the faculty, knew what the course would be like. They started it thinking they would have about 20 students and external faculty, but the university had some strict rules like minimum 60 students, proper timings, and regular faculty, if it was to be a degree course. So instead of an interested 20 students, the class size was 60 with all kinds of people, including those that had no interest in visual communication at all.

That’s when I realized that the degree alone was not going to help me. So I used the contacts I had built up to get myself a part-time jig as an understudy with a up-and-coming photographer. I worked with him for over 2 years while attending college. Any time I got, I was in the studio and whenever there was an important shoot, I would skip college and go to the shoot.

After college, I joined an advertising agency where I was exposed to various aspects of the business -from going to the typesetter to meeting the client and understanding their requirements. During the initial stages I was hardly doing any photography. However, some of the lessons I learnt then are still helping me. I learnt about what the customer wanted, the process involved in making an advertisement, the difference between what a newspaper wants vs. what a magazine wants vs. what a brochure requires. I learnt how to deal with people, how to estimate work, how to manage client expectations, and how to deliver great quality work. I learnt more during those years at an advertising agency than I did in college!

All my spare time, whatever little I had, was spent experimenting with cameras. One day, my boss asked me to take some photos for an advertisement. He liked the results and so gradually, I started doing more photography work and soon I had a room (studio) for myself in the agency’s office itself.

I did not know I was creating opportunities then, but meeting people and taking the initiative to go the extra mile were two of the things that really helped.

JBR: How does one get into your field?

Venket: Today, advertising photography is a mainstream career avenue. There are a lot of courses available today. Many of them are degree courses. You start with a basic course, then you specialize. If you want you can specialize even further. Commercial photography is a big field – Automobile photography, portraits, landscapes, nature, aerial, fashion and many other specialist courses are available.

There are some very good institutes – Light and Life academy started by Iqbal in Ooty, and Shaari academy in Mumbai – to name a few.

If you can, work under an established photographer. So far I have had over 20 people work with me and most of them are doing very well for themselves now. I am also very happy because I learnt as much from them as they learnt from me!
Beautiful shot of AR Rahman

AR Rahman . Photograph by G Venket Ram

JBR: What would be your advice to people interested in following in your footsteps.

Venket: This field is not for everyone. Photography is more than just technique, technology and tools. You have to have a flair for this in the first place. So, if you are not interested or do not think you have the aptitude for this, don’t take it up.

It’s a very creative field and you need to bring in new ideas and concepts. I would say how well you do in this field is 90% dependent on your creativity. There are no preset formulae or standard, repeatable ways of doing work. Repeatable is exactly what people don’t want in this field.

A lot of passion is required, but I guess that is true if you want to do anything well, whatever the field. The work is definitely not 9 to 5. Be prepared to travel a lot, and at short notice. It’s not a desk job, so you have to look after your body and be extremely fit.

Every day is a challenge and that’s what makes this an amazing career!

JBR: What about the money, honey?

Venket: You can make anywhere between fifty thousand (rupees) to 3 lakhs a month in this field. Of course, for the special few, the sky is the limit!

About Venket Ram

A renowned name in Chennai’s advertising circle, film industry and publishing houses, Venket Ram has shot for all the leading brands and has worked with most celebrated of personalities. At the same time, he also excels in capturing images that touch his heart. And has showcased such images in a couple of exhibitions.

He started his career in photography in 1994. Since then he’s been working with advertising agencies like O&M, J. Walter Thomson, Lowe, Rubecon, McCann Erickson, Mudra, Euro RSCG, Bozelle, FCB Ulka, TBWA, R.K. Swamy BBDO, etc. no only in Chennai, but also in other metros of India.

And publishing houses like Society, Business Today, The Week, Inside Outside, Rave, etc.

Some of the brands he has worked for include Ponds, Reebok, Citibank, Cadbury’s, Alpenlibe, Pepsi, Mirinda, Coca Cola, Fanta, Big FM, Airtel, Aircel, Tata Indicom, Fairever, Life Style, MRF, Cavin Kare, Bru, Nescafe, Taj Group of Hotels, Club Mahindra, Takasky, Parryware, TVS, Ashok Leyland Trucks, Henko, Suryan FM, Margo Soaps, etc. And more recently ColorPlus Women Campaign, ColorPlus Menswear, Prince Jewellery, etc.

His work in the world of cinema has been highly appreciated. His shots for the promos have been as successful as the movie itself. The most remembered being Boys, Kannathil Muthamittal, Sachin, Kaaka Kaaka, Perazhagan, Ayudha Ezhuthu, Parthiban Kanavu, Ghajini, Paruthiveeran, Vettaiadu Vilaiyadu, Vel, Bhima and Rajni block-busted Sivaji, etc. And for upcoming films like Vikram’s Kanthaswamy and Ajith’s Asal.

Kodak India chose him to shoot for Kodak 2002 calendar, considering him to be one of the leading ad-photographers in India. In 2003, he has an exhibition of his Black & White photographs on the temples of Chola Dynasty – Tanjavur in Alliance Francoise.