Youth Quotient: Indian advertising campaigns lack true originality: Ambarin Afsar

I rarely see memorable campaigns that run solely on the basis of powerful images and what's lacking in Indian commercial campaigns is the fear of taking risks and creating something that's truly original, says Ambarin Afsar, photographer, Better Photography

e4m by Abhinn Shreshtha
Published: Aug 21, 2014 8:40 AM  | 6 min read
Youth Quotient: Indian advertising campaigns lack true originality: Ambarin Afsar

Ambarin Afsar lives and works in Mumbai. Professionally, she has been writing and shooting for a photography magazine, Better Photography for the last five years. She is an avid reader and she is still cataloguing all the books she has read so far on GoodReads. Her virtual shelf houses more than 700 books. Afsar likes travelling as much as she can, and while she has not ventured too far from the city, she considers it fertile ground for many adventures and serendipitous meetings.

Afsar talks about what draws her towards photography, the beauty of self portraits (selfies) & the lack of visually-driven brand communication.

What is the inspiration behind your pictures?

Daily life, fleeting moments, the beauty of a moment in a crowd of moments, these inspire me. But sometimes, it could be a song, a thought, a scene from a movie or something simple but particularly profound that I read in a book. But more often than not, people and their everyday struggles that can be both poignant and amusing inspire me. Looking up interesting work and seeing how different photographers interpret the world around them also acts as a catalyst for the images I make. Being a part of a photography magazine puts me in touch with varying works and opinions, which, I suppose, is a great way of enriching my imagery. There's a constant supply or pool which I can draw upon.

As a photographer as well as a writer, how do you handle this dual role?

It's not that hard, really. As a writer, I learn how to read, interpret and create dialectic about images, while as a photographer, I get to explore my own thoughts and expressions. The danger lies in overthinking a frame or reading too much into a particular aesthetic. But I try reminding myself of this simple rule: If your gut says it's good, then go with it, regardless of whether it is a sentence or a photograph. Writers as well as photographers can be good only as long as they're honest and not too caught up in hubris. To be able to step away from an image or an essay and look at it for what it really is, and then to be able to put it away and create new work without being excessively self-congratulatory, is the real challenge for anyone striving to make quality work.

What was the trigger behind taking up photography?

I had a great teacher in David de Souza who taught us plenty of new things about the medium in college. His assignments were the reason I picked up the camera.

If there would be one perfect picture for you what would it contain?

The master practitioners of photography have found the idea of a perfect image to equal certain death. The moment you think you've made your ultimate creation, there's no need to go on, right? Each image is special for different reasons, but life doesn't stop and neither should its coverage. Whatever you shoot today, may or may not be irrelevant after a certain period of time. Permanence is an illusion and what really matters is whether you find yourself quenched after making a spectacular image. Or does that drive you to seek out more? Finesse is different from perfection, and I think that's where most of us get confused.

Who are the people/photographers you look up to ?

I love Josef Koudelka’s and Diane Arbus' images and also the photographs of Richard Koci Hernandez, who shoots only on a cellphone. There are far too many inspiring photographers to simply name a few, but the work of these people resonates with me.

What are your thoughts on selfies?

Self portraits have been around for a long, long time. In fact, the first selfie was made by Robert Cornelius. Selfies are a great way for the photographer to dig in deep and lay bare their feelings, and display their portrayal of themselves. I like self portraits a lot. If you move away from the new kind of selfie that only involves mugshots and if you look at the 'unselfie', which is basically a way of reclaiming the self-portrait and turning it back into a meaningful way to express yourself, I think you'll see plenty of great photographs.

If you were to pick one brand and one image that goes with it, what would it be?

The pug from Vodafone commercials was so influential that he remained a staple of all their top-of-the-line campaigns despite the change in brand names. To make a dog cute and adorable isn't hard, what is tough is making him synonymous with the services offered by a product, and I think those ads were very well done. But in the current Indian crop of commercial photography, I rarely see memorable campaigns that run solely on the basis of powerful images.

With we living in a world of smartphones, selfies and filters, has photography lost its charm?

Not at all. To quote a recent interview I did with Richard Koci Hernandez, what we're doing with cellphone photography isn't even photography anymore--it's become a tool of communication. It is a whole different animal. And this isn't an elitist view, it is simply an image maker expressing awe at how photography has transformed and expanded its boundaries. And to read more about this, you should really look up my interview with Richard where we've explored the effect of social media on photography in great detail.

According to you which brands use images brilliantly for their marketing?

I don't remember a great many recent Indian campaigns, so with all due respect to current commercial professionals, there's something lacking in the Indian scene and I think it is the fear of taking risks and creating something that's truly original. A few carefully constructed brand images have just made me scratch my head, and I'm talking as a consumer. There's a reason why we remember old ads and jingles even though they were a little rough around the edges. Image makers sometimes tend to underestimate their target audience and the result is unstimulating, but passable fare.

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