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The magic of captured in stills

Last October, a belated monsoon shower threatened to wash out India’s mega annual Independence Rock concert at the Chitrakoot Ground in Andheri.

mumbai Updated: Apr 11, 2010 01:36 IST
Purva Mehra

Last October, a belated monsoon shower threatened to wash out India’s mega annual Independence Rock concert at the Chitrakoot Ground in Andheri.

Except, it didn’t succeed.

The crowd and their enthusiasm surged through the rain and sludge. And we know this because Kunal Kakodkar stood in an unsheltered enclosure, poised with his digital SLR, to capture compelling moments of a very wet and memorable I-Rock.

An analyst with an IT firm, Kakodkar (26) is now one of five photographers represented on liveshots.in, an online platform launched a week ago to showcase India’s developing independent (or indie) music scene through live music photography.

The collective resulted from a casual Twitter update posted by 20-year-old Delhi-based musician and photographer Shiv Ahuja, in which he voiced a desire to initiate a common platform for concert photographers.

Within a day of the tweet, four photographers responded, resulting in Live Shots.

“We’re all optimistic about Indian indie and equally keen on documenting the scene. The idea was simply to have an online archive,” says Ahuja, whose work is represented by Cache, an international photo-leasing agency specialising in concert photography.

The platform indicates that the Indian live music scene is thriving and, as a result, fuelling the emergence of gig photography.

As with most Indian bands, Bangalore-based folk rockers Swarathma recall a time when they had to rely on friends who happened to be photographers or on the kindness of random people in the audience for performance stills.

“Even though we play a show for 200 people, we want 200,000 to know about it. Swarathma does this through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and text messages, but good stills are the hardest to come by and are often the best way to discover a band’s music,” says Jishnu Dasgupta, the band’s bassist.

Their initial live gig photos were of the point-and-click variety and did nothing to convey a sense of the band’s music or image.

This is changing, with some bands now investing in professional photographers so they can document their musical journeys and create an identifiable band image.

“We had stills almost as soon as we had songs,” says Suman Sridhar of lyrical pop duo Sridhar/Thayil. “Those initial shots shaped our identity as musicians because it allowed us to look at ourselves from the outside.”

While the industry is optimistic about this genre, most — including the photographers — agree that concert photography is just beginning to develop as a specialisation.

In most cases, as with the members of Live Shots, the photographers have day jobs and no formal training.

Plus, in India, there is the danger that they will become prey to “the error of proximity”.

Unlike the ‘three songs, no flash’ rules at live international performances, the Indian concert stage is a free for all. With easy backstage and onstage access, photographers, by default, become friends with the artists they shoot.

“It’s then very easy for the photographer to lose objectivity and be very taken in by the whole performance. They run the risk of presenting an overly glorified image of the band and honesty should not be compromised at the cost of aesthetics,” says Arjun S. Ravi, editor of indie music webzine Indiecision.com.

The challenge of conveying an honest and raw expression of the gig, though, comes second to the challenge of landing a paid gig.

While artists harbour noble intentions of including photographers as part of their permanent crew, it’s only when the musicians start making more money themselves that the photographer is likely to be paid.

“At this stage for us, it’s more about shooting extensively and creating a strong archive/portfolio, which artists can then use for publicity,” says Live Shots member Swarnabh Ghosh (20).

The absence of profit notwithstanding, these photographers are conscious that they are on the brink of defining an industry and are powering through with passion.

“For me, the real thrill is capturing the essence of a performance, that decisive moment which transcends visual record and documents the experience of being there with the band,” said Kakodkar, making it clear why he risked his equipment in the rain to document his first I-Rock back in October.