We caught up with Shahzad Bhiwandiwala, whose latest body of work titled Indian Renaissance has received global attention.
1) What is your inspiration behind Indian Renaissance?
As an Indian, I have rarely seen Indian artists tackle "what if" scenarios relating to Indian art and cultural history. Keeping this in mind, I came up with Indian Renaissance – What Could Have Been, a what if scenario where Indian royals were inspired by the European renaissance, specifically the high renaissance period, and how that historic change would have translated to modern day Indian fashion.
I had always been curious about how the European renaissance would have influenced India and this project brings these thoughts and ideas to visualization and is presented through the perspective of a single fictional royal family, The Garhwal Gharana aka The House of Garhwal spanning generations from an alternate timeline 15th Century to the 21st century.
2) What are some of the challenges you faced when coming up with the creative concept, and how did you overcome them?
A frequent challenge I face when coming up with a concept is to make sure the project reflects my personal style as a photographer while having something meaningful to say and not just being a means to an end to create pretty photos.
To overcome this challenge, I take a three-step approach to coming up with a concept:
• Pick a broad overarching topic. In this case the European Renaissance.
• Focus on a single point within the overarching topic. The High Renaissance Period.
• Add a unifying element from a topic that I am passionate about. Indian Art History and Culture.
I have found that this approach to concept creation has definitely worked for me and is something that makes my projects very personal while also being accessible to others.
When it came down to execution of the project my biggest challenge was that my team and I had only a 3-day window, when the first wave of lockdown opened up in Mumbai in mid-2020, to accomplish this project. Getting the stylists, talent, designers, videographer and hair & makeup to come together for such a production heavy project in the middle of a pandemic was both an amazing learning experience and a showcase of what can be created when a group of creatives who share the same passion for their art come together.
A special thanks to casting agent Swapnil Ghone for bringing together the talent for the project and a huge thanks to the stylists at The Costume Team (TCT) for bringing my ideas to life by bringing on board designers such as Gaurav Gupta, Begada, Amani and many others.
3) Can you share your thought process before starting a shoot?
Apart from the usual checklist of charged batteries and working tethering cables, before starting a shoot I make sure that everyone on the team has a very clear idea of what we are going for. Should the need arise, there are moodboards for everything from makeup, hair to posing so that there is inspiration available at the turn of a head. I draw a lot of inspiration from cinema and theatre and the right soundtrack either elevates a scene or has it falling flat and the same goes for a photoshoot. Every shoot has its own playlist and I cannot stress how important this is to create the right atmosphere to truly allow the model to perform.
I do a lot of light testing leading up to the day of the shoot and create lighting diagrams for the setups I feel could work. Of course, these are more of guidelines to reduce trial and error on set as opposed to full and final setups which ends up leaving room for spontaneity. For me, the key to successful image creation lies in marrying the concept and the lighting for the project. For Indian Renaissance this came about through layering hard and soft light to accentuate the outfits while using softer light on the skin. My go-to is a combination of Profoto D2, B1X and A1. The Air TTL remote is what keeps everything running smoothly.
4) Are you looking to create more images under Indian Renaissance?
I feel there is a lot of potential within Indian Renaissance and I aim to expand from royalty to common people for the next segment and see how I can apply the concept in that perspective. I am already in planning with my team for that but don’t have a commencement timeline on it at the moment.
5) So, what's next in the pipeline?
I am currently working on a fine art portrait project with documentary elements within the San Francisco Bay Area’s Indian and Persian Zoroastrian community. Being a Zoroastrian myself this is a very personal project for me and one that I hope to share with you at a later date.
About Shahzad Bhiwandiwala
Shahzad is a narrative and editorial photographer based in the Bay Area in California, USA as well as Mumbai, India. Ever since he was a boy, he had a deep appreciation for the visual medium of story telling be it stills, theatre or movies. As he started creating his own stories, he chose photography as his medium to tell the stories that he conjured up in my head.
See more of Shahzad's works here.