This article was originally published by Rupali Nimkar 

Please tell us about yourself

Rajat Ghosh was supposed to become a geologist. Until he gave it all up in 1995 to study photography instead. After completing his Masters degree at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, he was lucky enough to work with all kinds of pioneers in the field – from environmental portraitist Richard Morgenstein to digital guru Gerald Bybee, to still life exponent Lon Clark – before setting off on his own.

A decade later, Ghosh appears to have done just fine. He has become a favourite with musicians and celebrities like Metallica, Kiss, Motley Crew, Tommy Lee and Sugar Ray. Back home in India, he has had a taste of Bollywood, after working with publicity for films like Devdas, Company, Koi Mil Gaya and Shaheed Bhagat Singh. He has also notched up an impressive list of clients for his commercial work, including Indian Oil, Eureka Forbes, Hyundai, and the Taj Group of Hotels, apart from shooting for magazines like Forbes, TNT and Cosmopolitan.

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Intrigued by his past, Rupali Nimkar decided to ask the man behind the camera a few questions.

Why the shift from geology to photography? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Well, shooting photographs and capturing ‘the moment’ was a lot more fun than a career in geology.

I once told a friend of mine that I would be a geologist until I turned 55, after which I would quit to pursue photography.This didn’t sound right, so I sold all I had in India and bought a ticket to the US to study art.

I enrolled myself at The Academy of Art, San Francisco for my Masters. I am glad I took the plunge to do what I love doing for a living.

After your degree in photography, was it smooth sailing establishing yourself as a photographer in India and internationally?

Ithink it was more of perseverance and discipline that helped me with steady and constant clientele. From the beginning, I have been shooting a maximum of 8 days a month commercially. For the rest of the time, I shoot images for myself, or prepare for my shoots. I got a job with Gerald Bybee the day after I graduated, and assisted him for 6 months. The catch was I had to drive to work 100 miles each way (smiles).

It was while working with him that I got a better grip on the digital medium. I took to digital photography in the mid 90s, when a computer with 64 MB RAM was thought of as great!

Luckily for me, a few photographers whose opinion I highly regard took interest in my work. They believed the work I had created while in school was not just student work, but at par with the best. Since then, there has been no looking back. Interestingly, I always came across art directors who understood my work. I have had a great time making images for their campaigns. Their criticism was always constructive. It helped me better myself. 

Tell us something about your experience shooting with international celebrities and Hindi cinema.

Iremember going to photograph the rock star Kid Rock in Detroit. While waiting, I began playing video games with a gentleman. After about 30 minutes, the editor dragged me aside and asked me why I wasn’t shooting. I told him I was waiting for Kid Rock to show up. It was only then that I was informed that the guy I was playing with was Kid Rock himself! He gave me as much time as I wanted to get a few images with him.

Similarly, when I was to shoot Tommy Lee, I was apprehensive. He had a bad boy image and had just split with Pamela Anderson. Well, not only did he let me photograph him as I wanted, we also hung out together for a good 6 hours, shooting.

Coming to India, I worked on a few films, making images for the publicity of Devdas, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Koi Mil Gaya. Each was a learning experience and an eye-opener to Bollywood. I was associated with a film designer called Rahul Nanda who gave me complete creative freedom to shoot how I wanted to express myself. It was just a great experience.

What has your most interesting and exciting photo-shoot been?

Iget excited every time I pick up my camera. I have done over 1000 assignments and, believe me, each had its own set of challenges. It just amazes me as to how simple it looks after I have finished a shoot that involves complex lighting, set up, set building, etc.

Murphy’s law always holds good in photography. Whatever I would not carry for the shoot, I would always need. Whatever can go wrong, will always go wrong. Good pre-production is the only way to go about it. I am starting to do my own production on my shoots to avoid all the headaches and the heartache.

What inspires you when you decide to take-up a photo-shoot?

Starting with a strong concept: That, I think, is the basis. If there is a good idea, it is always great fun to work towards making the image. I try and tell a story with my imagery. For instance, take my image for an eye-replacement procedure. The idea here was to illustrate ‘discovery’. I thought of an oyster, and how we would open it to get a pearl out. Similarly, I used a pair of hands, in the shape of an oyster, and substituted an eye for the pearl.

Then, there was a photograph of Rahul Bajaj to be taken for Harvard University, where he was being felicitated for his achievements. Talking to him, I realized he was a people’s person, a very down to earth gentleman. It almost seemed as if people were looking out for him as he was for them. That was the reason for my shooting him against this background.