Based out of Mumbai, Ritam has never quite understood the need to create a niche. Shooting extensively across categories—travel, photojournalism, advertising, interiors, portraits, automobiles, fashion, food—he has always sought inspiration and challenge in variety. From training his lens at the blazing dome of the Taj Palace & Tower when Mumbai was under siege in 2008 to documenting the placid course of the middle and lower Ganges, Ritam has framed things as disparate as spas and slums, ketchup and cars.
Over the last decade, Ritam has worked with corporates and publications across continents, and has also been associated with the global agency, Getty Images.
Apart from stills, he shoots commercial AVs, and has recently won an International Best Cinematographer Award in London for his first feature film. Ritam has also been in the news for his theme-based calendars and his exhibitions.
Why are you a photographer?
Guess, I couldn’t think or dream of doing anything else. Life is all about what we see and the way we see them. So, perhaps, the innate desire to tell stories the way I see it led me to photography. Whether it’s documenting something or creating a piece of art, capturing a moment or depicting an idea, it’s really about telling a story and telling it well.
Do you remember any decisive moment when you felt ‘I want to be a photographer’?
My father, Robin Banerjee, was a serious hobbyist and still practices photography for the pure love of the medium. Seeing him and his work when I was growing up must have influenced my decision. So when I got the first opportunity to explore photography during my college days in Fergusson, Pune, I took it seriously and started my journey as a photojournalist with the Times of India, Pune edition. I haven’t looked back since.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Like I said: my father. His passion for the art was contagious. Thanks to him, I was exposed to the works of legends like Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Steve Mccurry, Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, Patrick Demarchelier, Max Vadukul, Henri Cartier Bresson, Raghu Rai, Raghubir Singh, Gautam Rajadhyaksha, Prabuddha Dasgupta and several others. Even painters, musicians and filmmakers influenced my sensibilities.
Though I grew up in a small town– Jamshedpur — my upbringing made the canvas in front of me that much wider. From Michael Jackson to Tchaikovsky, Monet to Nandalal Bose, Tagore to Shakespeare, Satyajit Ray to Vittorio De Sica, my education in aesthetics and culture has luckily been quite diverse.
Who was the most influential personality in your career in photography?
As I just mentioned, there were several who influenced my ideas and opinions. Hence, naming one personality wouldn’t do justice.
How has photography changed over the course of the last couple of decades? Is execution/art direction more important than it used to be?
With time, everything evolves. So has photography and us as practitioners of the art. Sensibilities have changed and so have the tools and techniques. The ability to instantly view the results and even tweak the images at will in post-production effectively means: one’s only limitation is the periphery of one’s imagination.
And yes, eye for detail, subtlety in styling and approach, precision in execution and innovation and imagination in art direction has resulted in a sea of change in the manner in which we even perceive an image today.
Given a choice, no other constraints, film or digital?
Both have their own charm. It’s like saying Test Cricket or T20?
What do you think of the current state of Print Advertising photography in India? Is it at par with the work done worldwide?
Print advertising has evolved many folds in India. Not only in terms of ideation, even in terms of execution, we have achieved very high standards. Not only photography, but in many cases, even CGI has had a major role to play. Several jobs done here today are definitely at par with the work done worldwide.
Where do you get your inspiration?
From sounds of nature to people on the streets, everything influences my thoughts and ideas. I keep an open mind, as one never knows what might trigger that ‘Eureka’ moment. No matter where I am, be it in a coffee shop or in the middle of maddening traffic, I keep looking around. I often shoot such moments with my iPhone. Works of different artists also influence me. Whenever I get a chance, I try and collaborate with different artists to not just create but to learn and get inspired. This year too, I did two calendars, one with the dance maestro, Astad Deboo in Mexico and the other with the sculptor, Arzan Khambatta in Mumbai.
Was there any time when you wanted to quit photography?
I would be lying if I said no. There have been times, when the work at hand hasn’t challenged me creatively or technically. There have also been moments when the demands of the job have been unreasonable to the point of being silly. Sometimes things have seemed monotonous. Thankfully, such instances have been few and far between.
What’s your dream project?
Several. But if I had to choose one, it would involve travelling across the globe and collaborating with artists, designers and models from varied ethnicities to create a seamless confluence of different worlds within each frame.
Who would you want to spend a dinner with?
Since I stay away from my family and the demands of my job don’t allow me much quality time with them, I always lookout for the next opportunity to have dinner with them.
Whats on your iPod?
I like all kinds of music. From classical ragas to rock, from Bollywood’s latest number to Hungarian folk, I love it all. What I play, from Bob Dylan to Munni badman hui, depends on my mood.
Mac or PC?
Mac. Since I have been using it for quite a while now. I guess, I am too used to it.
Ritam can be contacted via his website here.