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Of light and shadows

India has good quality in fashion and modelling photography as well as in the industrial sector. But there is a vacuum in family portraiture, with practically no art form developed in this field since the oil paintings from the colonial era.


HIS STUDIO has no special atmosphere; a small cubicle with "just a camera and a few lights", as the City's new entrant-photographer Aunali Dhariwal describes it.

But the adjoining room reveals what the studio keeps to itself. A feast of photographs that look like oil paintings hang on its walls. Faces of people, a man with the hint of an arm around his wife's graceful shoulders, a grandmother with her laughing eyes reflecting unbound enthusiasm for life, a young girl, features soft and beautiful, looking shyly but expectantly at what life holds for her, a young family happy with itself. And all these imbued with warmly radiating shades of red. The colouring is not paint, but just the effect from the lighting and an oil-painted canvas placed behind the subjects.

"I focus on shadows," says Mr. Dhariwal. With a sprightly step and suited and booted, quite unlike the quintessential kurta-clad Indian artist, Mr. Dhariwal's calm demeanour gives no inkling of his dedicated passion and individuality. "Light is, of course, essential for the composition, but a photograph's character and texture come from shadows, so I dispute the school of thought that says dispel shadows," says this self-taught photographer.



Aunali Dharlwal (right) and his works.

He fusses over his clients: a little twist to the tie, a courteous request for permission to straighten a string of pearls, a little talk, and then his standard joke: "The chair is for the boss, so it's the lady's prerogative to the chair." The sentence never fails to produce a smile and a relaxed sitting. "This human element is what creates a live picture," he says.

The Dhariwals, father Aunali and son Taaha, now share a successful venture in Pune, but it has been a process of learning, and as clear proof of the impact that a teacher's commitment can have on a student, Aunali credits his passion for photography to his old Jesuit priest teacher, Fr. Clement, in Pune.

That passion has, however, been a difficult taskmaster. Leaving his parents distraught at leaving a good job and refusing further training abroad, Dhariwal Senior has not ventured into the job market since that time. A brother, empathising with his creative urge because he himself was a designer, extended help, and Aunali began with photo assignments for birthdays and family occasions.

But restlessness gnawed yet again. "Wedding photos are an uncreative exercise because you get told what to do." He then moved into industrial photography for the advertising world. His content was "anything from thermos flasks to strawberries". The venture sharpened his skills, he says, with its need for visual impact, clarity, and gloss. Two acclaimed industrial photographers, Mitter Bedi and Vilas Bhinde, were mentors whose workshops provided invaluable learning.


India has good quality in fashion and modelling photography as well as in the industrial sector. But there is a vacuum in family portraiture, with practically no art form developed in this field since the oil paintings from the colonial era. "We have families with generations of photographers. Yet there is no new style or thought that has emerged," laments Mr. Dhariwal, but brightens up with a grin, "My fellow photographers have been an asset because I have been given the opportunity to make better portraits." India has no other photographer who makes family photographs look like a fusion between art and photography. The only person he knows who has perfected this form to an art is Zoher Haitam from Iran. "The general trend in marketing is to fight competition by price. I fight by quality. It has paid off," he says.

Mr. Dhariwal has now passed on the lessons he learnt from Zoher to his son Taaha who will now look after the Bangalore studio while Aunali oversees it from Pune. And for all those who say "I'm not photogenic", the latter offers a challenge: come and see yourself at The Portrait Studio at 2, I Floor, CMH Road, Ph: 5203396.

KEYA ACHARYA

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