How I Became a Photographer | Arti Agarwal Photography
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How I Became a Photographer

By on October 12, 2017

I was a budding architect, who was smitten with wanderlust. I sought beauty in everything. That is where it all started. It didn’t happen in a day, it grew over a span of about 2-3 years, but it was unmistaken – I was in love with photography and no amount of ridicule, criticism or discouragement could shake me.

Back in 2006, I was ready to graduate from IIT Roorkee, and jump into the world as a “professional,” though I didn’t know what that word meant. I had been gifted a new Nikon compact camera bought from the USA by my sister, and to try it out at every opportunity was my reason for doing many things, like going on day trips and snapping the shutter around in our college parties.

But it was never just a “hobby.”

I did not know where it would take me, but I knew that I was “into it,” and that mattered.

The next few years were spent in taking a lot of bad, and a handful of good pictures. I bought my first DSLR in 2008 in Singapore, a Nikon D60, and spent almost an entire day in bookshops in Singapore, poring over photography books & magazines, and ending up wanting to buy them all, but remembering baggage limits, so sticking with the one book and a few glossy magazines I loved the best. Remaining part of the day was spent in trying to finish all the reading material in one day, in cafes with coffee and noodles, and then back at my hotel room till late night. On day 2, I started shooting in manual mode.

 

But perhaps my love for photography was born way before this. I grew up reading second hand National Geographic magazines, dated back to the 80’s for my geography projects. I prized my collection and in my “free” time gloated over photographs and stories of lands I had never clapped eyes on. The fascination, and wonderment at the ability of photographs and words to tell stories that can transport you to a different world was born there…at my old study table littered with a bunch of notebooks and night lamp and ink pens & sketch pens and gluesticks and a half-finished geography project, waiting to be completed once I finish reading the Nat Geo in my hand. That is where I already decided what I was going to be later in life. I didn’t know it then, ofcourse. Looking back, I think I know now.

Fast forwarding a decade, I found myself in the despairing situation where I had started to outgrow my oilfield job. It could not sustain my interest. It was boring, same work different day, and I yearned to do something creative. I felt like a well-paid intellectual labourer, nothing more. I didn’t want to waste my life & my talents sitting on the drill floor, with oil based mud coloring everything I owned.

I took the jump in 2010. I quit my job and took up photography as a career. Looking back, I knew I was wishing I could take a photograph of my last glimpse of the drill ship and the beautiful sea from the chopper as it took off – the scene is etched in my memory forever – but it was one of those things that are “not allowed” and that was that.

People laughed at my “ridiculous decision.” I laughed at their stupidity inwardly. I felt we were even.

In the coming months, I learnt photography in every way imaginable. Studying the work of Masters, reading books, watching videos on Youtube, reading camera guides, photo blogs, joining photography walks and talking to other photographers, attending photography workshops (free ones)…and ofcourse, by clicking pictures. I never took a course for photography. I never took any formal “education” in photography. I saw people who were enrolled into photography courses in colleges and academies, and I always found their perspective of things way too limited, way too narrow for a photographer. They seemed to be learning the science of rejecting creativity rather than exploring it, through photography. They knew all the jargon. But their photographs were not even comparable with my clicks from my compact camera.

The ones who fared a little better and managed to get a “following” on a platform like Flickr, spent all their time in show off and posting heavily edited mundane pictures.

I did not want to be an average photographer. I did not want to be like them.

I absorbed knowledge from every direction, but I never wanted to take up a formal course or education. I liked my creativity same as my photographs – RAW (it is a file format in digital photography. I’m trying to make a pun here!)

During the same time, I had also gotten hooked on to the Lonely Planet. I adored the photographs, and their travel stories. Some of the stories were not as in depth or authentic, but I liked it all in all.

That is the kind of photographer I wanted to be.

sadhus at pashupatinath

I dabbled into all the different genres of photography. I took on photography assignments that would pay me literally zero bucks to a figure comparable to my earlier one month salary. I tried out everything. I excelled at everything.

But one thing kept piling on inside me which did not find a proper resolution – negative feedback. It came to a point where it finally broke me…almost.

I took a temporary hiatus from photography for 2 years. Not because I did not like it – that can never be – but because I felt I needed to expand my talents, abilities, and discover my life’s purpose rather than just clicking pictures aimlessly. I felt an urge to define the purpose of my life & to align what I am doing in my everyday life with the purpose of my life. I did not want to be a half person clicking pictures. I wanted to be a whole.

The next few years were probably the ones when I spread my wings at an imaginable pace. Even I did not fully grasp what was happening. On the outside I looked “directionless” and “confused”, “thwarted artist” to people. On the inside, I was changing into a quantum force even I could not comprehend or explain. I learnt all the skills needed to be successful in a business, practically, at a super-fast pace. I was getting work for skills I had not even mastered yet! And then I went on and mastered those marketing skills in a few weeks’ time – not “learnt” …mastered. I really knew it. It was the result of initiations from my spiritual Guru who showed me the way at every step.

Content marketing was becoming my deepest passion and calling which permeated every aspect of my life. Even now, I could probably tell a chaiwalla to please do content marketing to expand his business and sales & build a content marketing strategy for him. It was all self taught, like before. I picked it up because I loved it.

When content marketing and photography meet, modern day masters like Darren Rowse & Trey Ratcliff happen. My life was beginning to show signs of taking a similar trajectory.

Fast forward to a few months ago from now. I invigorated and revived my passion of photography at a time when I felt the most broken. I built a new website in a day. And rebuilt the entire digital infrastructure & strategy from scratch. In parallel, my health was hindering me in every possible way. But I had something this time that I did not have before –

A purpose…to share everything good I have with the world which has shown me more beauty than pain.

And this is the story of how I became a photographer.

 

No affiliations with anyone mentioned in my post.

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