It was in 2012, that L Ramachandran was first recognised for his ability to capture the naked human figure in all its glory. The small-town boy from interior Tamil Nadu had taken a decisive step towards his dream of becoming a “glamour photographer”. Pooling in his resources, he photographed a nude model for a calendar shoot. The shots were all captured by using merely one source of light. The end product was a stunning series of aesthetically pleasing photographs that went on to receive international acclaim.
36-year-old Ramachandran recalls, the 'unbelievable' moment when he won the International Photography award for his nude shoot. In addition to this, one of his photos even sold for 5000 dollars at the art exhibition. For the first time, he felt he was headed in the right direction and Ramachandran couldn't have taken a better path. Today, he holds the distinction of being the first Indian photographer to be featured on Playboy.
While his talent and hard work propelled him towards international fame, it was at home that his fight really lay, as he set out to change the mindsets of his parents and relatives.
From farmland to fashion
Born to a family of farmers in the conservative town of Kumbakonam, he first displayed a rebellious streak, when he joined a Government Arts college. "Even when we were working on sketches, I would look at them from a photographic perspective. The female form intrigued me and I would often wonder how I could use light and shadow to make the models who posed more attractive," explains Ramachandran.
While his friends and family recognised him as an artist and photographer, they frowned upon his “western thoughts” about fashion photography. But Ramachandran was unfazed by what society had to say.
Determined to follow his heart, he made his way to Chennai at the age of 19 and started working in an advertising agency as a designer. Ramachandran, by his own admission, never said no to any opportunity that came his way. For the next few years, he designed logos, helped set up shoots and even took up part-time jobs before he got his first break in photography.
"The ad agency I was working for was doing a shoot of some interiors of a college. We were short of cameramen as we needed various angles for the final product. I had experience in cinematography and photography by then and I confidently took hold of the camera," he narrates. From then, there was no looking back for this ace photographer.
He first started off with more shoots for agencies, following which he became a freelance photographer. Travel, lifestyle, fashion, food, baby shoots - you name it and he has done it. "I was working with big brands like Van Heusen, Derby and Kingfisher but I was not content. I enjoyed fashion photography but I yearned for something more. I wanted to become bigger and that is when I realised that there was a huge market for glamour photography."
But in a country where nude art has been marred by ugly controversies and termed taboo by self-appointed protectors of Indian culture, where was this photographer to find opportunities?
"When I won the award for my nude photo shoot in 2012, the first thing my friends asked me, was - 'How will you show these photographs to your family?'. This was the mentality. There were some opportunities in North India but I knew the scope here was limited. I had to make contacts abroad," says Ramachandran.
His tryst with Playboy
With this resolve in mind, the photographer began travelling for assignments. In one such project in Malaysia, where he was shooting lingerie models, he was introduced to celebrated international photographer Jarmo Pohjaniemi, who also worked for Playboy. Jarmo, took a liking to Ramachandran's work and invited him to be part of a seminar conducted by Playboy.
"Everybody has this one dream that they persevere towards and that keeps them motivated. For me, it was to be featured in Playboy. It was the biggest brand for glamour photography that I knew. Jarmo, who is now my mentor wanted me to show him more samples of my work and I began to really push my limits then. I met him in Los Angeles after that and he gave me a lot of guidance. Following his advice, I brought foreign models to India, did several shoots and submitted the samples to him again. That was when I was called to Greece."
In Greece, Ramachandran along with 30 other photographers held shoots with models from across the world. All the participants were given a chance to prove themselves as they stood camera in hand, on the pristine beaches of Santorini. "Three of us were shortlisted from this group to become assistant photographers for the Playboy shoot.
"I then travelled with my mentor to Miami, where I made several contacts, including with people who shot for Playboy. These were really famous people and they would critically analyse my work and give me feedback. It was these contacts that helped me gain an entry to the South Africa edition of Playboy in 2014. It was the biggest opportunity I had got till then. I can never thank the photographers who helped me enough," says Ramachandran.
"Nudity is an art form"
Ramachandran had made a mark in the international photography sphere but back home, the battle was not over. "My parents would keep asking me why I was doing this. They couldn't understand my line of work. But they saw the positive stories about me in the media and have now warmed up to it. Even my wife initially had a lot of trouble accepting my line of work," admits Ramachandran. "I was working with nude models and she was understandably upset. But soon she realised that I was a thorough professional and my focus was on work. For me, the naked body is a form of art. In my professional career, I have never approached a model for a shoot. I take them on board if they express interest in a project. I have shot with over 100 models and several of them are still my good friends," he adds.
"What matters to a photographer is the model's attitude, body language and facial expression. Our work in this field, is never out there in the open for everyone to see. Playboy, for example, has been in circulation for decades and is world renowned. But it has a particular audience. So, I don't see why anyone should have a problem with the art."
Having said that, however, he acknowledges the limitation that glamour photography faces in India. "Here, women are viewed as somebody's sister, mother or wife. We will not be allowed to portray women in the manner that the western world gives us the freedom to. This is neither a good thing or a bad thing. This is our culture and we must appreciate it for what it is," he says.
"But for aspiring photographers in this field, I would advise you to travel. Take up projects outside India and expose yourself to techniques and production designs across the world. You can only survive if you push boundaries. Put your work out there for people to see. Yes, you may get criticism but it will only help you grow. You can never give up, if this is truly your calling. Make the world notice what you do," he advises.
Life as a top photographer
Ramachandran, for one, believes in making his work count. The photographer has been much in demand, after his first stint with Playboy but he remains focussed and selects his projects carefully. "I currently have four projects that I will be working on this year. These include shoots for Playboy and a televised art show. I am selective, if I was only always aiming at commercial success, I wouldn't be where I am today. I don't believe in quantity. In art, it is quality that matters.," he says.