Journalism in Goa

About journalism and media issues in Goa... all views welcome. Everything but slander can be discussed here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Seeing the world through a camera: V B Anand

[By Frederick Noronha] If you came across Verapaneni Brahmanandrao Anand, the name wouldn't strike you as familiar. But when a slim South Indian was introduced to me at V.B.Anand -- outside that age-old resource of reading material, Varsha Book Stall in Panjim -- the name immediately struck a bell. My mind immediately went back to all those scenic picture post-cards I had come across years ago. This was a photographer one was just waiting to meet.

V B Anand's claim to fame is that he showcased Goa (he subsequently moved on to other areas) in a way few did. Not only was his photography markedly superior, but he also moved away from the low-quality, low-cost viewcards that earlier dominated the market here.

How and why did he enter this field? "My father was a photography. From childhood, photography has been a passion. I was interested in it since my schooldays. Then, I joined a fine arts college in Madras (subsequently renamed to Chennai), and learnt painting and drawing. But I've stopped using the brush and shifted to 'painting' with the camera," he explains.

Being an artist by training does help, he feels, specially since 'writing with light' involves creating the right effect, the right mood, and the apt composition in the world of photography.

V B Anand has an interesting story of how he got involved with the world of the viewcard. "I once went on a trekking trip to Himachal Pradesh, that was around 1988. It was in my college days, and I wanted to send some viewcards home to my dad. But I simply couldn't find any good ones. On returning home, I mentioned this to my father, and he shot back to say, 'Why don't *you* make some viewcards of your own)?'"

As fate would have it, V B Anand already had made some very good photographs of his trip to Kulu Manali (in Himachal). "So I made some post-cards and took them back there there (to market them). Then the craze started. There was a very good response (to that set of cards)," he elaborates.

Back home, his sights next settled on Goa, which was suddenly booming as a tourist-destination-in-the-making in the 'eighties. "It was my second place (for entering the viewcards market), starting from 1988. First I started with six postcards. Now I have about 120 designs (on Goa). Goa Tourism map also carries my photographs. Likewise, a lot of Indian tourism offices also use my photographs," he adds.

What are his most-liked settings in Goa? Without hesitation, V B Anand replies: "Palolem and, in the north, Vagator. I like nature and beauty more. People and markets also fascinates me."

Like many other visitors here, he finds the people here "frank, loving and affectionate". Is this for real? Or is this just a case of running into what we expect to see? But V B Anand also says he got an encouragement in Goa which cannot be compared to the feedback in other destinations.

His cards were among the very first set of quality, if higher-priced viewcards put out in India. At a time when poorly printed cards were sold at fifty paise to a rupee, his sold for many times that price.

Says he: "Earlier, the potentiality on this front (quality viewcards) was not explored, and nobody seemed to know the need of the customers." Initially, his stockists were worried about the price. "But when they put it out for sale, these viewcards started moving fast. Many then stopped stocking the cheap cards and started selling my cards," he says.

After Goa, his next destination was the diverse south Indian state of Karnataka. "I started there in 1989. And, after that, almost every year I added one state. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, later North India. Rajasthan, Delhi and Maharashtra followed. Presently, I've started working in the east and north east (of India). And Kolkata, Darjeeling, Orissa, Bodh Gaya (Bihar), Varanasi (UP) too. Along with these, my main interest is to collect pictures for coffeetable books," he said in an interview.

Is working in a new place, specially in a country as diverse as India, really a challenge? Is it tough? Says V B Anand: "I never felt anything, probably because I'm so involved in the art. Taking photographs, so much so that nothing ever disturbs me. Language is never a barrier while taking photographs."

"They say love is blind. I say the same of photography," he says, suggesting the love of the art blinds you to many a problem. "I've been so much into it that I've never bothered where I've been and what I'm doing."

What are the main subjects he prefers to work on? Lifestyle, beauty of the place and landscapes, and places of historical importance are his priorities. "I prefer rural settings... places that depict that the real Indian culture is there."

Would he agree with the view that India is still a very under-photographed place?

"There's much to be done. In the meantime, we are also losing our photography heritage. Abroad, they have better collections (of early Indian photographs) than we ourselves have of India. In Mahabalipuriam for instance, in 1870s, there was an artist who has come and painted the place. But these works are not in India, but in a museum in London. Why not have similar museums collecting work here too?"

Of late, V B Anand says he's beginning to feel comfortable with digital photography. Says he: "Working with film involves a lot of constraints. Now, one feels (a sense of freedom). If you had ten rolls, you needed to think of 360 photographs. Now, if I go to any event, I take a thousand or twelve hundred pictures."

How does he store all this? On five cards that store a total of 3.5 GB of digital photos! Once each is filled, he downloads the pics to his laptop and then starts again!

When asked about his preferred camera, he shoots back without hesitation: "Nikon". His wife has been his strong supporter in his pictoral mission, says V B Anand, and she has also accompanied him on his travels.

His dad V K Rao died in 1990. He started in the career with still photograph for the then influential world of the movies. Then he left that and launched a portrait studio in Mylapore, Chennai, in 1959.

"He was a pioneer of sorts and produced educational film-strips for school students. These strips were made on 35 mm film. Instead of being sildes, they were on a film-roll. Each film had differing educational content. For instance, one would explain the growth of a butterfly. Teachers would display these in schools, helping students to remember better. That was in the 'sixties and 'seventies. A manual projector with a fan cost just Rs 1200 or so then. Dad had around 70 titles on different subjects," recalls V B Anand.

His next mission? Possibly working on Indian architecture and religious themes, with the foreign educational market in mind. He's also keen to look at travel CDs. Tamil Nadu Tourism, he explains, has made eight CDs of his photographs and supplied it to travel agents across the globe.

What are the nice and not-so-nice things about being a photographer in India? "Returns (can be low). Abroad, if you take a good picture, they pay you more. In India, that doesn't happen. India has both the talent and potentiality. There's a lot of scope for the new generation. Also, a lot of good colour printing priesses are coming up, some of which have international standards," says he. V B Anand sees the lack of respect for copyrights as one issue. "People copy my photos and put it up on their websites, which in other countries would not happen," he adds.

His plans also include a coffee-table book on Goa, depicting the beauty of the place and her people. Says he, with a smile: "I feel I have contributed to promote tourism through my postcards. The same happened with Varkala, beach near Quilon in Kerala. I made postcards of the place, and started selling in Kovalam beach, which is far south. Tourists started enquiring about how to go to that place. Along with the tourists the shop-owners also went. So I have now 40 card-outlets there now, selling my postcards."

Photography is still an envied profession, he feels. It gives him time to do things he loves and travel and meet so many people. "Earlier, I visited Goa upto five times each year. I would even come on long stints, and stay for 2-3 months. Lately because I'm doing work all over India, my trips have become less," says he.

CONTACTS: vbanand@hotmail.com 0938 1029496 vbanand.com

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