Mumbai-based Aesana Bhuta was always intrigued by the concept of photographs right from childhood. As someone who loved collecting memories in the form of photos because it helped her identify with the stories behind them, Bhuta decided to pursue photography professionally. She studied the concepts and entered the field with an understanding that there not only was massive competition but also she would need to constantly better her skills and adapt to changes the creative world faces especially when it comes to social media. At 24, Bhuta’s portfolio of fashion photography carries a varied experience of having worked with celebrities across television, modelling and the film industry. She now aims to enhance her skill and move up a notch by taking up film photography seriously.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Aesana Bhuta discusses her profession, her creative process, what it means to work as a young woman in the entertainment world, and why the industry still needs to up its game when it comes to gender equality behind the camera.
Suggested reading: Art & Stories We Make Define Who We Are Or Could Be: Rohini Devasher
Aesana Bhuta Interview
What made you turn to photography professionally?
My driving factor was the will to let my pictures convey a story. I wanted to freeze frames that would spur an abstract message for one and all to embrace the natural, unfiltered cut to themselves. It was a conscious decision on my end to take up photography professionally. It started as a hobby when I was a kid, but the switch to making it a professional endeavour was rather comfortable, thanks to the support of my parents and mentors.
Several approaches to photography are often portrayed as unmasking the subject’s personality and going beyond what people see at first glimpse. How does that process work for you?
The drill and the thought behind it differ for everyone. For me, it pivots around enhancing the natural layers of the person I am capturing amidst aesthetics at play in a shoot. One’s stance and inbuilt essence coming through the shot is my brownie for the win.
What is your creative process like?
I work on studying the person’s line of action, body language and features of the individual I am shooting to hatch down the zone that would suit their persona followed by a brief discussion with that person to align our visions beforehand. Seeking clarity, calculating the factors behind the execution, visualising the whole look and finally refining the rough cut to its artsy best make my set. There’s always a window to make end-moment changes for a better output onset.
What are your primary concerns while curating a project?
I try my best to work in a routine where I don’t get overwhelmed or feel anxious while curating a work project. I focus on giving my best in the things I ought to do over wondering if the results will turn out to be good. Having faith in my gear in being capable of adapting to the trickiest of shoots has brought me a long way.
Who are the photographers that inspire you?
I admire Rid Burman and Errikos Andreou for the art they create through their shots. The balance in their shots inspires me to the whole next level.
“The feeling of being responsible and strong enough to run a one-woman show without compromising on quality throughout the course is what my last project taught me and will always guide me.”
Is there a particular project you’re close to or identify with most?
I shot for the promotions of a Hotstar web series earlier this year for an artist named Sumedh Mudgalkar and that is going to be one shoot I will always hold close for the experience, wisdom and warmth I received while working on it. It was a wonderful learning opportunity. I remember working both as a stylist and photographer for it to create a look that proliferates to the personality he was playing and at the same time creates a breakthrough from his normal style.
How do you choose your subject when it comes to a specific art piece or series?
Honestly, I prefer planning a particular series or mood after knowing my subject rather than working the other way around. Understanding one’s vision and then assembling a theme accordingly is my method of going about it. This lets my series have its independent niche and simultaneously voice out the genre without looking too outlandish.
How has your experience been working as a female photographer shooting women as your subjects in your photography series portraying breaking-free?
My inclination towards being independent and decisive about my life and decisions around it has brought me to work on a series that focus focuses on embracing inner richness and strength. It all started from a single thought that if we don’t accept ourselves the way we are then how can we expect others to? And that’s where it stems from, women have so much to tell, so many experiences to draw from and show up for, but they need to be given that space where they can do that independently and with a free spirit.
How do you push boundaries for yourself?
I feel art is something that allows you to be liberal in your thoughts and craft without giving away too much that lies inside. It’s indeed one of the best things about it. I don’t follow one single method to construct my end goal. I sometimes use music, examples of situations, references and many other ways apart from the lighting techniques to focus on the mood I want to achieve. It also depends on how you articulate yourself to the frequency of the artist you are shooting. I push my boundaries by telling myself that I need to be up my skills along the way and not lose my love for the art.
How has your experience as a young woman behind the camera working in this huge industry been?
My experience has been satisfactory and full of lessons so far. Working my way up from scratch has been very insightful and I treasure it. There have been days that were hard & clashed with my bare minimums at work but those challenges just push me to become better. I am grateful for my parents’ support in making me reach where I am.
“I think one of the challenges for me is to stay active on social media being someone who likes to be low-key but I also realise that social media platforms wait for none and hence I keep at it while taking much-needed timely breaks.”
How challenging is it to work in a professional culture which is so demanding?
For me, transparency at work is a must and lack of that ruins the work environment. Of course, there are sleazy tactics too in this culture and they did get to me initially but my learning is that the only thing I can do is to choose my reaction and instead focus on my skill. I believe that I have to do so much more ahead therefore, I cannot overwhelm myself and feel the burnout because it will only reduce efficiency.
When it comes to gender equality, how has your personal experience been in dealing with gender bias? While the perception is improving, what do you suggest can help create an equal space by speaking from the viewpoint of someone from the inside?
There’s no denial in the fact that there’s a gender gap in the industry, however, it’s filling up fast. I don’t know if other female photographers have had coloured perceptions in this regard. So far, I have been lucky to experience a welcoming approach and the due leverage for my skills from my clients. What more can be done with respect to creating equal space is the first to build the mentality to do so. It has to be ingrained in mindsets that women are as capable as men, whatever the profession. With respect to the entertainment industry, women have been leaving a mark across genres and portfolios, and the industry and audience must acknowledge that. I believe a neutral mindset, humility and acceptance are what would fill the void.
“If the criticism is to push me towards a better version of myself then I am all game for it.”
Aesana, what does it mean to be gutsy with art?
Being gutsy means being free-spirited enough to not care about what others say. This also doesn’t mean that I am not up for constructive criticism. If the criticism is to push me towards a better version, then I am all game for it.
Is there anything new and exciting you’re working on next?
I am working extensively on campaigns and planning to step into film photography to further add feathers to my hat. I want to take up projects that hold a vital essence and meaning to themselves, and this would in a way help me get better as a person and an artist. I aim to create content that stays in people’s hearts for years and makes me content with the storytelling I want to do through photography.
“Our generation is known to have set expectations in all aspects of life and when we somehow can’t reach them or get delayed in getting them we become disheartened. I would like to say setting end goals and working towards them silently is good but we need to be mindful of not letting that pressure get to us.”
What would you like to advise aspiring photographers and those exploring their way up in the industry?
My advice would be to first think about what you would like to do professionally and why you like photography in the first place, the intention needs to be clear. Second, when you’re taking the path, please be less hard on yourself. One should just keep going and be honest at all times. I think my only advice for them would be to do whatever it takes to reach where they are aiming. It’s important to stay grounded water you do, wherever you are. That’s the only constant thing in the ever-changing wants and the inevitable highs and lows of life, irrespective of the profession.