A photographer by profession, Monisha Ajgaonkar specialises in pre-wedding and wedding-related photo shoots and films. However, with the travel restrictions in place, The Photo Diary founder had to forego her plans temporarily. Instead, she has taken it upon herself to keep love alive, this time by shooting couples in long-distance relationships using the power of technology. By Bayar Jain
1. What inspired you to create the Love in the Lockdown photo series?
With all that is happening in the world right now, I was perpetually attracted to couples in long-distance relationships. I either chanced upon their profiles on social media or happened to be in contact with a few of them. It was inspiring to see how individuals, especially in long-distance relationships, were battling through being apart with intense faith in their relationships. They mutualise their emotions and the feeling of helplessness and come up with their own ways of coping with it without giving up on each other or on their relationship. During this time, I also came across a few video call shoots, but I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to capture it as though I wasn’t doing the shoot virtually; instead, I hoped to give it a personal touch so that I could communicate the couple’s story perfectly and curate moments that reflect their emotions.
2. Take us through the process of a typical virtual shoot.
Since you’re not physically present at a location and do not have control over the surroundings, there are slight limitations during these shoots. I need to ensure that the shoot is done using a phone for better clarity. For example, the clarity of FaceTime on an iPhone is much better than that of an iPad or Mac. Further, I ask the couple to share a few details prior to the shoot so that I can plan it accordingly. I ask them to share videos and photos of their homes (to understand which background could work best); light sources; and props and clothing. Choosing a time – especially for couples in different time zones – is crucial too.
Each couple has a unique story to tell, and to be able to bring the vivacity in the shoot is the main motive of this series. Having said that, each couple also has their own distinctive quality and essence. While some might want to keep the shoot creative and quirky, others might prefer traditional.
3. You’ve been doing portraits for some time now. How has the current situation changed your work?
Considering the current situation, there has been a drastic change in all aspects of my life, especially my work. I undeniably miss travelling for work and using different types of equipment and tools. Under normal circumstances, I would require a big team to help me carry out operations, but the number of team members required now has minimised to an extent. It has definitely been an unconventional experience, but it has also opened doors to infinite possibilities and opportunities, paving way for us to work out of our comfort zones and explore a variety of scope and niche.
4. How do you think this period will change the lives of photographers?
Weddings have always been about shooting with 300-500+ guests, large-scale operations, a variety of extraordinary celebrations and much more. Now, there is going to be a visible contrast. Weddings will be more intimate, and the number of people required for the shoot will also decrease. No destination weddings for some time now!
When it comes to pre-wedding shoots, couples have always chosen exotic spots, both, domestically and internationally. Travelling for these shoots played a big part in our work as it helped us understand their chemistry before their wedding. The prevailing conditions and social distancing norms will now only let us shoot at locations and dates close to the wedding ceremony.
5. Do you think photographs can play a role in changing societal perceptions of a certain topic, particularly with respect to LGBTQ+ rights – of which you’re an advocate? How so?
Just like a painting displays many emotions and messages with each stroke, a photograph has the power to entail and thrust similar emotions too. My pictures are a reflection of me and my beliefs. They are the true manifestations of my feelings, how I’d like to change the world, and things that make me angry. Having said that, the main intention of the shoot needs to be prominently put across. If the picture conveys that, people are most likely to get inspired by it. When a picture carries some directive and substance, people relate with it in some ways.
It wouldn’t matter whether people understand and accept the LGBTQ community, but if the spirit of the picture is relatable, they would definitely be inspired by it. For example, a photograph of a gay couple that portrays the angst of not being able to be together in public could resonate with another couple who is separated due to religious differences.
6. Shooting couples can be a very intimate affair and the subjects could be hesitant during the shoot. How do you overcome this, especially now that you’re not with them physically?
Having lost the advantage of being able to conduct shoots in person is really challenging. Sometimes, conditions change at the last minute despite prior planning. In such scenarios, being available physically would help tackle the problems. However, with virtual and technical mechanisms being our only saviours at the moment, both the parties need to understand the intent of the shoot and cooperate with us in case of any uncalled hiccups. With such clear understandings of the operations, the process becomes easier. There can be times when the subjects are hesitant, but it’s our job to make them feel comfortable and encourage them to enjoy the shoot so that their pure and candid emotions can be captured.
7. Once the quarantine period ends and travel bans are lifted, what would be the first place you go to for your next project?
I wanted to travel to Croatia this year even though I didn’t have any particular theme or purpose in mind. For my next wedding project, any opportunity that requires me to travel, I’ll take it! Travelling is one of my favourite parts of my job as it keeps me satisfied and productive at the same time.
8. As a Mumbai-girl, what are some of your favourite spots for photography?
Some of my favourite spots in Mumbai are definitely sea-facing, especially Marine Drive. I have lots of memories attached to that place. The others would be the empty streets of Bandra or the vintage architectural buildings in Fort.
9. Which are some of the most scenic and picturesque road trips from Mumbai according to you?
The most picturesque road trips from Mumbai have to be a jaunt to Lonavala or Aamby Valley City, especially in the monsoon. A road trip to Alibaug and Matheran are a few of my other favourite journeys as well.
Related: Meet Sephi Bergerson – The Photographer Who’s Taking Lockdown Portraits Using FaceTime