Umesh Sabharwal's interest in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections is not merely limited to knowing which party wins. What the Delhi-based photographer wants to know is how his clients fared. His clients - who belong to various political parties - are those he photographs for their election campaigns.
Gagan Sabharwal’s studio is a one-stop shop for printers who make election posters and leaflets. (Sanjeev Verma/HT)
The success rate of his clients is high, Umesh gushes. "In 2008, 26 candidates I photographed won in the Assembly elections. In the earlier elections, 22 of my clients had emerged winners," Umesh says. "But I hope to better my record this year," adds the co-owner of Studio Prem in Kamla Nagar, who maintains the electoral records of all the politicians he's worked with.
The 60-year-old studio, which is known for its election photography, counts among its clients several prominent leaders, including Vijender Gupta, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Vijay Jolly, Kiran Walia, Shiv Shankar Prasad, Jaipal Reddy, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Ram Gopal Yadav. Umesh has a scrapbook signed by many of the big names with their pictures pasted alongside.
With the Delhi Assembly elections round the corner, the studio has had a steady stream of political leaders -- some prominent and others not so -- queuing up to be photographed.
Umesh, commenting on changes in election photography over the decades, says that today's electorate wants politicians to look more like film stars - attractive, suave and sophisticated - and this is what he seeks to achieve with his camera.
"In the past, politicians wanted serious, intellectual looks. Now, however, they want to sport a pleasant smile and make eye contact with the viewer. The eye contact, they feel, signifies confidence and attentiveness, and makes them more attractive to voters," says Umesh. He adds that that in some cases, it takes at least two hours to complete an election photo shoot, as some politicians try various dress combinations if the shoot is being done at their homes. "But they are very co-operative," he says.
Studio Sabharwal is another studio popular with politicians gripped by the election fever. The walls of the studio on Baird Lane, Gole Market, are adorned with the portraits of dozens of politicians from across the political spectrum. White Ambassador cars often stop before the studio, which photographs politicians for billboards, posters and other publicity material.
Most politicians are particular about the expression on their faces and their body language in the pictures. The photographs with hands folded in a namaskar or waving are no longer in vogue, Gagan Sabharwal, the owner of the studio, points out. "Flashing the victory sign is a popular gesture for election pictures," he says.
"Many Congress leaders still like to show the hand in the election portraits as it's the party's election symbol. Some leaders are careful about their pictures and willing to spend as much time as we want in the studio," adds Gagan, who has photographed leaders such as Shahnawaz Hussain, Vijay Goel, Prakash Javadekar, SS Ahluwalia and Surjit Singh Barnala at his studio. "As an election photographer, my challenge is to create a persuasive picture," he says.
"I have shot HD Deve Gowda at the studio before he became Prime Minister. I would regularly photograph Chandrashekhar when he was Prime Minister at his residence. Perhaps, I was the only private photographer to have done so," says Gagan.
His studio is a one-stop shop for printers who make election posters and leaflets. He adds that many politicians also approach for their old pictures, in which they look younger and so, "better". "Many politicians have their favourite pictures. So, we maintain an archive, which helps to show the changing preferences of politicians, and their poses and dresses."
The attire of the politicians, the photographers say, has changed drastically. Gandhi caps and Jawahar caps are no longer favourites, they say.
"The men among politicians say they prefer simple shirts and bright kurtas. But the women still prefer cotton sari and like to be photographed with their heads covered. They seek a simple, conservative look," says Pavan Mehta, owner of Mahatta & Co. in Connaught Place.
"The women politicians also want us to remove dark circles under their eyes, if there are any," Mehta, who's worked with the likes of Kamal Nath, Digvijaya singh and VK Malhotra, says.