London based photographer / videographer Robin Bharaj is a real multi-talent. The self-taught artist with Indian roots was well on his way to become an IT specialist, but as soon as he started doing the 9-5 thing he realized it wasn’t for him. He made the brave decision to focus on a creative career instead and embarked on an endless journey of exploring, perfecting and applying his creative talents to real-world situations. He started out shooting pictures the UK Grime scene which had the same talent, passion and energy as he has. Since then, Robin came a long way and with his inspiring self-confidence he seamlessly combines his various skills like photogoraphy, video and design (check 3-range.com and 3seven.co.uk). Just as inspiring is the fact that Robin never minds to share his thought-process and skills with aspiring photographers. So even though Robin’s creative journey is an endless one and there are much exciting things coming up, there are already plenty reasons to celebrate!
You have a computer science degree and used to work in the IT business. Can you remember the day when you knew for sure you wanted to quit that and pursue a career in photography?
“There was a time where I did finish my IT degree and started working on a 9-5 basis and I realized this was definitely not for me. Any 9-5 job seemed like a real fun killer. I quickly went into web-design and this seemed more towards my natural talents which is more being creative. From there came music and after music the photography came. Photography was something that came quite easy for me. From there the next progression was film, so I do three things right now: Photography, film and design. But it was definitely a day that you just have to bite the bullet, take a risk and do it. That day came for me when I bought a Leica camera and started doing more street photography. It translated when I wanted to do a personal project which is the UK grime project I’m doing now.
You’re completely self-taught. Could you share a little bit about your process learning the art of photography?
With regards to anything like photography, anything creative like an art form I think you can’t really get taught. You can get taught about art-history and images that are good, but to develop your own style? I can’t see how university or further education can help you with developing your own style because it’s personal. This is something I try to teach a lot of the assistants that I have: University is not going to teach you about yourself, only you can teach you about yourself. And this is something I want to see more of in photography, and the photographers that I respect have this. They have an element of themselves in their pictures, not a generic form that comes from the universities or academic institutions around today. Learning the art of photography came from the love of photography, from MY love of photography and looking at as many pictures as you can; pictures you are inspired by. Early on I was inspired by a lot more photo journalistic pictures whereas I’m now probably more inspired by pictures that are more ‘set-up’. You’ve always got to be willing to change, because you yourself change and your art and craft will change in the process.
I think right now is one of the easiest times to learn photography. Almost everyone can get access to a cheap digital camera, a computer and take it from there. When I started out with photography, I was more of a film user, and I still prefer as opposed to digital. Film was more of a different era where you’d have to have access to a dark-room and so forth. But learning the art of photography is different for everyone. In my age it was more analogue, nowadays it would be more of a digital journey. My advice is to go out there, check as many pictures as you can that you’re inspired and just go ahead and find out where you’re about.
Was and is it a difficult journey, becoming a full-time photographer?
Especially in this country it’s definitely a difficult journey. Photography is not really deemed as a proper career, almost. To become an art photographer, yes it’s definitely a difficult journey and I have respect for anyone that puts their time in such a journey and makes the transition to being a full-time artist and earn their money from it. But the process of it being hard really separates the people that are meant to make it and the people who just have a passing interest in it. You’ve got to be prepared to put that work in, you’ve got to be prepared staying indoors, working. I have a very work-a-holic mentality where I much rather sit indoors and work on my craft rather than I’d be wasting my time. I always get a slight bit of guilt when I’m not working towards it. I don’t know, maybe I have a problem, maybe it’s an addiction too or something, haha. But I definitely like to work on my craft, still even now I’m not resting on my laurels; I’m doing more film stuff now and all that. It’s a difficult journey, by all means yes, and it never stops being a difficult journey. Even know it’s a difficult journey, but I wouldn’t want to be on any other journey, this is the only one I want to be on and it’s wonderful. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people on this journey and I’ve also learned a lot about myself. So it’s a journey of self-realisation fundamentally, which the photography is part of, and film, in the future, is another part of it. So yes, be prepared for a lot of hard work.
You’ve quickly introduced yourself to the UK hip-hop and grime scenes (and specifically London). What was the motivation for this?
Initally when I started this project I was motivated kind of from a journalistic angle. Trying to represent the Grime scene, which wasn’t really getting much. There were only a few photographers that were in the Grime scene, fully.
Grime had the passion that I liked, especially when I first started going to the live raves and such. It had a passion and an energy that I could relate to and it was something I wanted to express using my medium: photography.
What I actually found out early on is that I was less photo-journalistic and more into the artistic aspects of photography. Making the world more representative of my inner world, in terms of how I represent, using flash-lights, lights, the choice of materials that I use and just the general emotion from the pictures was something I wanted to come away from photo-journalistic, which is general natural light, accept the image as it comes. I wanted to move away from that into what is going on in my head-space and apply that into the form of photography and into the form of grime. And this came specifically in the mixtape designs and photography I was involved in. It really started to come into fruition then and it’s something I am still working on towards right now. The motivation for Grime was to represent a scene I thought that was worthy of supporting and that had the energy that I wanted to represent as well. This is something that has kept me in the Grime scene for the past seven years. It’s been a great time in Grime.
What was the most enjoyable artist you’ve been working with so far?
I can’t point down a specific artist. But the artists that I do like working with are those that come to knowing your vision, respecting your vision, respecting your ideas and knowing that the collaboration will happen. But at the same point it’s not just an artist that comes to me for some standard studio pictures, but an artist that understands that it’s a craft that we’re involved in and is willing to take that journey with me and see what comes out at the other end. I suppose these artists are few and far between but at the same point, when you do get a project like that it’s a wonderful thing. And it really makes you feel like ‘yes, this is a beautiful thing to be involved in’. When you do get that, you get the most amazing shoots as well. You get the fact that the artists themselves have given more of themselves to the image, which is one of the most important aspects of photography. You’ve caught them, you’ve caught a part of them and that is a collaborative process. They have to be willing to give that to you and you have to be willing to get that out of them as well. That is ultimately representative of the image in the end.
The great thing about being in the Grime scene for so long is that people respect that I can do that. So they come to the shoot, generally, knowing that’s the case and they tend to give you that little bit extra, knowing the images you’ve done in the past.
We see a lot of portraits in your portfolio; do you do other types of photography as well?
Initially I started out doing more street photography. Capturing action as it goes on. This is something I probably want to go back into in the future. Because sometimes when you do the shoots where you have to ‘art-direct’ everything… For me, I get bored very quickly and I like to change it up so I’d like to go back and do more street based photography.
Actually, I’ve got a very interesting project I’m doing in India at the moment and I’m probably going to release these pictures on my site, 3-seven soon. It’s more of a street photography project that is a mix of street photography and a mix of finding out about my culture, my mother and also relations. It’s a mixture of portraits, a mixture of street photography, a mixture of landscapes and it’s just the way it’s been captured. I’ve captured it on film and it captures India in a way that’s very personal. I tend to look at a lot of photography from India and it’s very colourful and very stereotypical. This India project has something else. The colour itself is very hazy. It’s very emotional as well for me as it are pictures of my relations, amongst pictures of the landscape, pictures of people I saw in the streets and just asked. It’s a mixture of everything. I’d love to be commissioned to do a project like that in the future, to be given that time. This is something I had to do in two weeks and I’d like to be given a longer time like a few months, half a year, maybe even a year. To be able to touch upon that work even more and maybe do a little bit more video work out there as well. It’s something I probably want to try to do more next year.
So yeah, I’m interested in many types of photography and I would never limit myself to one type of photography. Yeah, you’re going to see more of that coming your way. But, I must say… I do like a good portrait!
We also see some video, who did that came about and is it something you want to do more often?
Right now I’m probably doing more video than photography. But I’m not going to lie to you; I’m missing photography quite a bit now. Video and photography work quite well, when one burns me out, I’m ready for the next. When I’ve got the feeling that film is burning me out a little bit right now, I feel like I want to do some pictures. It kind of balances each other out and it works on different aspects my personality as well.
But I started doing video when I got my Canon 7D which had the option to shoot video, so why not? And we started to shoot more music videos. The big thing we started to shoot at the moment is music content. It’s probably an extension of my grime work actually. It’s available at the website 3-range.com and it’s going down really well. It’s a new concept we are doing where we do interviews, live-music, where doing a lot of things and once again we’re touching up on that scene I have love for and that is the Grime Scene. It’s great, I like the fact that we’re involved in video and I like the fact that it’s multi-discipline. It involves sound, it involves a bit of photography in there, visuals. Video captures many parts of me and this is why I devoted some time into it, and I want to get very good at video. Video is definitely not just something I’m dipping my toe into. It’s something I want to be known as doing as well. You’re going to see a lot more video from me. We just shot a fashion-set for Evisu jeans; keep a look out for that. There’s also a possibility to do some stuff in America at the moment! I’d recommend to any photographer: learn video. It’s becoming something that collides as from now. If you want to be in work from the next few years I’ve got a feeling you have got to learn photography and video. As soon as I saw this new range dSLR’s come out, it’s something I started to learn so I won’t be left behind. Once again it’s been an exhausting journey but something I could not do without. It’s a continuation of my craft really, so yeah, loving video, love photography as well!
Is there any advice you’d give aspiring photographers? (Don’t go to school, things like that)
A lot of my assistants who’ve been to university actually come out of the university not being in much of a better position than someone who maybe just assisted a photographer. I learned the craft that way. Because I haven’t got an education in photography I want to be in a position where I can offer apprenticeships to budding photographers to give them the opportunity to actually do photography rather than learn about the theory of photography where I really have no love for. I have a love for the doing of it, of the seeing of the images and then the spreading of the images to the outside world, inspiring others to take on the craft of photography.
Especially in the UK where you have to pay so much for your education, you can come out of college with a 20K debt. You could also come and assist me on a program for a year and leave that with the skills to be a commercial photographer and be earning your money from it. So personally I say; if you want to go to university, by all means go to university but I’ve got the feeling that as we move into the future university is going to become less important for photographers. What’s going to be more important is the doing rather than the learning of this theory. So I would recommend for any photographers out there to find someone to assist, and assist them and learn everything you can from them with regards to photography, lighting, re-touching. Learn, obsess about it. Make it your primary focus in live, learning this thing. That’s the best education you can give yourself. Better than any university can give you. One advantage of going to Uni is the social aspect. But is it worth getting yourself into 20 or 30k in debt for a bit of social life? You’re probably going to get a better social life doing your photography. Don’t fall into the trap and go with your passions. If the passion is deep, you will gather, you will learn and you will become a successful photographer. That’s the best lesson I can teach anyone; just work hard at your craft, work every day on it, obsess about it and make it your singular goal and it will happened.
What can we expect from you in the future?
The future is going to be interesting. We’ve got a few things popping of. There’s the new 3seven.co.uk that’s going to be re-launched in an updated format. It’s going to be more in a format where I celebrate other peoples work on there as well; other photographers, other work that I’ve seen. One thing about photography is that it’s a very lone thing: Photographers just celebrate their own work. To me, that’s a fault and that’s something that video taught me, which is much more collaborative medium. I want to imply some of that back to photography, where I’m sharing other photographers work and use the internet to inspire others, the same way I’ve been inspired by looking at images, so I would love to be in a situation where I can do that.
We’ve also launched a new website called 3-range.com and this is a website which is much more video based. It’s a concept I’m doing with one of my partners, Max, and we’re doing some content together. Max, this guy Harry and I got a studio in West London where we’re filming a fresh range of content based on the Grime scene. It’s probably one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved in thus far. Keep a look out for that, it’s a joint project between me and Max. Once again, video being a collaborative thing, this told me a lot about collaboration, from being the lone guy in photography. Video has made me a deeper artist in the long term I’m sure.
Also, we have an exhibition of the grime work in the works for the future. I’m not going to let too much of this because it’s going to be a big exhibition. It’s going to be a celebration of the grime music scene, a celebration of my work and also a celebration of the works of Scribbler, a designer. I’m not going to give too much away as we’re still in talks. But if this exhibition happens it’s going to be a beautiful thing – it’s going to be a very big thing and it’s going to be in London, possibly end of this year, possibly next year even. It’s definitely something to look out for. Once again I’m not going to give too much away, but you’ll know! I’ll give you guys a shout or come down, you’ll have your guest pass there ;).
So yeah, it’s going to be a beautiful future and I’m definitely up for spreading the passion that I have for photography and film more into the world. You’re going to see more of that by the 3seven website, more by the apprenticeship schemes that we’re doing. I want to spread this thing called art photography as far as I can take it and help inspire others as I have been inspired. Not just keep this thing for myself but spread it, inspire the next generation and keep it going. We live in a wonderful time for sharing work and I want to really celebrate that as well.