Mumbai-based editorial and commercial photographer Parikshit Rao was not always a fan of ‘playing with colors,’ and, before last March, had not been to a Holi festival in over twenty years. But when a new friend from Delhi insisted that he join in her family’s celebration this year, Parikshit brought along a pocket camera and an idea for a new personal project.
I thought of this idea two nights before we celebrated Holi: I had just finished a small corporate headshots assignment—at the same time, I was mulling over why my friend was so in love with celebrating the festival and why I didn’t feel the same way. The “headshots” angle of the corporate shoot was playing on my mind, I guess, which led to this project.
I had prepared the shoot idea as a backup plan to keep me engrossed in what I do best—in case I got bored with all the colors. The idea was to simply capture people’s natural reactions when sprayed with color and water, typical of Holi.
Parikshit was far from alone in his antipathy toward the festival.
In India, Holi revelry can get rowdy and troublesome, especially for women, so it’s not really everyone’s cup of tea and I understand that. In fact, most of my female friends do not like Holi. I personally don’t prefer Holi because some inorganic colors irritate my skin and are hard to wash off for days after the event.
The origins of Holi are deeply rooted in the culture and lore of India, with variations in the telling and celebration across regions and families.
Largely, it marks the triumph of good over evil, involving a battle between the Hindu god Vishnu and an evil king named Hiranyakashipu and his sister Holika. I come from Southern India and grew up with this narrative as the origin of Holi. However, if you view it from a pagan standpoint, the festival officially marks the start of summer and end of winter in India. You can literally feel the air start to heat up after Holi gets done, especially when I’m in my home in the Himalayas.
The location for the photoshoot was the terrace of a private home in New Delhi, which contributed to the uninterrupted sky in the background of the images.
My friend’s mother has a lot of nice flowers and potted plants, and with the comfy chairs and shaded section, it’s really a lovely space to have a gathering or party or just see the sky and feel nature. In a congested city like Delhi, her large terrace is considered to be a blessing and it is exactly that.
In terms of gear, Parikshit had several Holi-specific factors to consider that differed from his usual assignments.
The color and water of the festival made me nervous about using my trusty DSLRs and L-lenses, as they are my workhorses and I couldn’t afford to junk them, in case an assignment came up. The G16 I went with was the perfect compromise between great quality RAW files and a small form factor, plus it is weather sealed to some extent.
On an editorial or commercial shoot, I’m usually carrying around 15 kg of gear—lights, stands, tripods, cameras, lenses etc in large, prominent bags. Here I was relieved to be using only the G16. Compare 200 grams in your pocket to 15kg on your shoulders! Also, because it was a Canon, I knew the colors would match DSLR quality and operating it would be a breeze.
The pocket camera, however, had its limitations which Parikshit discovered on set.
The RAW burst speed on the G16 is terrible; it only shines with a higher burst when shooting in JPEG. Somehow I missed this, and had to shoot a few retakes to get the position of colors, water and faces the way I wanted them in the frame.
Continuing with his minimalist approach, Parikshit opted to shoot the project using only natural light.
The main challenge was to plan the exact look I wanted, use the exact time and location when golden light from the setting sun was focussed on the subject’s faces and sync timing the shutter with the colors and waters being thrown. This minimal approach challenged me to revisit and sharpen my instincts—just like how I used to shoot back when I started my career using slide film for travel magazines back in 2006.
As for the energy at the photoshoot, he remarks that it all came together organically, without any of the pre-production planning usually required for an assignment.
When we started, nobody knew exactly what I was aiming for. Once I got a few pictures and showed it around, people got excited and happily posed a few more times till I got the perfect shot. Everybody brought some beer and wine to the party so it felt more like a normal house party with friends than a photoshoot.
In terms of publication, Parikshit knew going in this project was intended for friends and family, but he had an idea of how to frame it in his portfolio for clients as well.
If someone is interested in publishing it, great! If not, that’s fine too. However, I have this project in my portfolio to illustrate my campaign-oriented approach to work, in case a commercial assignment comes along that demands such aesthetics or explores similar themes as well.
Thinking back on this self-assigned project, Parikshit wrote,
The festival turned out to be great fun with this lovely bunch of people. I will definitely go again next year and explore another angle of Holi. I would really like to thank the Oberoi family and the lovely friends who played such a big role in making this project look good.
Only when you’re interested in the subject will your pictures shine. If your idea somehow touches upon the common factors and emotions of humanity we all share, even better.
See more of Parikshit’s work on his website.
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