Place – Rang Mandir, Mumbai
Date – 23rd April, 9:30pm
Mood – Exhausted, hungry, emotional but incredibly motivated
When my friend Joseph Radhik posted on Facebook that he was organizing a conference for wedding photographers in Mumbai, I was quite excited but also skeptical. Having attended a fair number of workshops over the past 5 years, my mind had subconsciously developed, perhaps unfairly, a cynical attitude to things like these. Needless to say, all my doubts were put to rest after 3 whirlwind days over the past weekend.
The amount of content planned for 72 hours was phenomenal and every day was a designed to be a new experience. They had allocated a particular topic for each day to ensure uniformity of thought. Day 1 was Art, Day 2 was Business and Day 3 was Craft – the whole ABC of wedding photography. So by 10am on 21st April, the stage was all set. A brilliant list of international speakers were about to broaden our world but strangely, my overworked mind was still going through a mental checklist of pending deliveries for clients, albums to be dispatched and coordinating to be done for upcoming weddings. However, before I knew it, Jesh De Rox was zipping across the stage in a suave white kurta, talking to us in his charming voice, enveloping us into his world and started the process of unlearning for me.
All of the good workshops that I have attended followed a simple principle – unlearn first and then learn. PEP Asia was no different. As humans, we often approach many situations in life with preconceived ideas and prejudices. In this context, we were attending a workshop with lots of mental baggage – tips that we read online, techniques that we once overheard, images we happened to see, personal experiences with clients & vendors, so on and so forth. In this day and age of social media, we are constantly bombarded with a plethora of content and barely have the time or knowledge to sift the useful from the trash. Therefore, it is important to first open our mind to new input and start with a clean slate. That’s easier said than done. It can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours of deliberate concentration to slowly discard and unlearn our old experiences before the mind is ready for new knowledge.
Do you know how long Jesh De Rox took to do the same process? 6 hrs? 4 hrs? Nope. Just 2 hours. In a mere 120 mins, he took us all on an emotional journey through his life, made us explore our past, question our actions and believe ourselves. Nobody needs to give you permission to push the boundaries. You are stronger than you think, he said. Powerful words, much needed in a creative industry where a single Instagram post can make you question your entire skill set. Over the course of his presentation, he had made us get up from our seats, stretch, swear and cheer. By the end, I was so pumped that I thought I could change the world if I put my mind to it and honestly, that’s not far from the truth. I remember a Japanese game that my Dad gave to me when I was young. It was called Yasumi and had a slogan – “A man’s mind is a man’s power”. The depth of those words escaped me then but I have often found myself recalling those words as I grew up. Jesh really made us understand the power of our mind and was by far, my favourite speaker of the conference.
Following up from Jesh was Brian Smith whose career has spanned several decades with multiple awards and a tremendous body of work that would put most of us to shame. Yet, he has never rested on his laurels and is constantly on the hunt for new people to photograph and new stories to capture. And that was inspiring. He told us not to wait for that ‘big break’ and work creatively, knowing that life is made of lots of small breaks. Many of us, myself included, tend to think of life as a gruelling process with a big reward at the end. Reality doesn’t work that way though. There are constant challenges and we need to approach it as a journey that is dotted with good moments and difficult moments. What really matters is how we deal with the situations we face and use each one as a stepping stone to go further.
Jerry Ghionis’ sessions over the first 2 days really turned things on their head. He told us how exactly he did things, both creatively and professionally which was quite different from all of us here in India. His approach was a world apart for many of us and at first, we rejected his ideas. It clearly won’t work in India I thought. The Western world is a different market with different mindsets. But over time, I realized that there were a few concepts that we could incorporate into our work. Unless we try something new and induce change, we have no right to complain about the state of the industry. It is easy to sit in our respective comfort zones and crib. But real change only happens when we make conscious decisions and try new things. His approach to wedding photography is very well thought out and he does it like a conglomerate would. He knows what he needs to do to achieve the outcome he wants and will go all out to get there.
I loved Joshua Karthik’s talk on business. His MBA background shone through and I think the success of the Stories team is a perfect example of what we can do when we combine a practical sense of business with a unlimited sense of creativity. The main points of his talk of developing a brand and generating value were relevant to every industry and product – it applied it to you even if you are a wedding photographer or a sweet shop owner. Both Mauricio Arias & Siva Haran wowed us with their respective portfolio and made us realize that there is a great image hiding in every corner – and that we can create a masterpiece by using very simple gear and elements. You don’t need a fancy location and expensive lighting to create stunning images – its all about your approach and thought process.
There were multiple lessons for me from the 3 days. I understood that I am doing many things right but not marketing them well. I understood that my visual sense that came naturally to me as a photographer was actually a result of several years of practice. And the most important takeaway was to accept yourself and understand yourself because you can never be somebody else and likewise, nobody else can be you – as long as you hone yourself to be unique. Even though every speaker had their own style and approach to photography, they are all successful in their respective careers and I think all of us connected to them in one way or another.
The final evening session definitely took the cake. We were shown the plans for the upcoming 12 months in venues all across India and few neighbouring countries- with more PEPTalks, Classes, Workshops, Retreats and a PEP Pro App to connect wedding photographers who need a second shooter. It was quite the reveal and I’m already looking forward to the PEP Retreat in September where I will be one of the speakers. Huge thanks to the entire team that organized the event!
PS – All of the awesome people who attended PEP Asia with me – you might have heard about the camera strap I am working on. We are currently finalizing the production cycle and will start sales shortly. You can see a teaser photo and sign up to the mailing list at our website here – www.kikistore.co – I’ll email you all soon with an exclusive PEP discount code!
Cover photo courtesy Anand Fernando.