‘Home Court has given me self-validation’: Celebrity photographer Rohan Shrestha
Earlier this year, the National Basketball Association (NBA) collaborated with celebrity photographer Rohan Shrestha, who has shot who’s who of Bollywood for leading magazines, for a coffee-table book titled Home Court. Launched in October, the book looks at unique basketball communities in India and captures the hidden stories of basketball enthusiasts. The journey, which involved two years of conceptualisation and eight months of storytelling, took Shreshtha to multiple cities like New Delhi, Dharamshala, Mumbai, Gangyap (Sikkim) and Periyakulam (Tamil Nadu). Recently we met Shrestha and he spoke about his journey of travelling across cities for this book, the biggest revelations he had and how much do equipment matter when it comes to capturing a good photograph. Excerpts:
Q: Please take us through the journey of this book.
NBA approached me in 2018 to collaborate for a project and I started brainstorming on what can be done. I first reached out to Manan Dhuldhoya, who has written this book and we brainstormed together on ideas. The diversity of India was kept at the centre throughout the process because we were looking at basketball in India and we realised that the best way to do it is to actually go out and figure. Our first stop was Sikkim and prior to going there, we had absolutely no idea about what we were going to do. We knew about the basketball community there but it wasn’t until we visualised it that we understood it and it is here that we started writing the book. The book is about people and their love and passion for basketball - the kids here knew the sport so well, in terms of history as well as in terms of tactics. I always saw basketball as a city-sport and something I associated with NBA and America but it was during this book that I realised that this sport is being played in Tamil Nadu much before NBA came into existence.
Q: How did you zero down on these five places? And, what were the challenges you faced while shooting the book?
When we started, we were clean slates. We took the help of the NBA and people here who know the sport and our landscape well to help us narrow down the places to five. Most portion of the book has been shot in monsoon, which is also a difficult time to play basketball because you are more likely to slip and fall. Getting these people together wasn’t easy as well, especially in places like Gangyap where the network is really limited, coordination becomes a challenge.
Q: What was the biggest revelation?
There are so many. First, the love of the game. In Sikkim, the girls have built the court themselves with the help of their family and then they went on to win the nationals. There was a coach who had an addiction to heroin (drug) and he would keep his mind occupied with basketball and that actually helped him overcome his addiction. We spent a lot of time with people while working on this book and I came across so many similar heroic stories. It wasn’t actually a job, it was a passion project.
Q: What was your biggest learning through this journey?
This was my first book. Being a ‘celebrity’ or ‘Bollywood’ photographer, we are looked at differently just we work with models and actors and I love this job - it has paid my bills and has earned me a name but we can do these kinds of projects as well. My biggest learning is - I can do this! It’s scary to walk into a new space like documentary-style photography. I have been a big fan of Raghu Rai (documentary photographer). He is one of my heroes and whenever I would look at his work, I would think that it is beautiful and at the same time, it is so different from anything that I have ever done. So, I tried dabbling in it this time. I won’t say my work is anywhere close to his but I am happy I broke away from the typecast of a fashion photographer. It is something that I always wanted to do, it gave me self-validation. When I look at it, I can’t believe it is my work. The other day, I was telling my girlfriend that if I compare my work in this book to my Instagram feed, it appears that a different human has worked on this book. Even my headspace during this project was very different. My time while working on this book has given me a new perspective as a photographer as well as as a person because photography is an aspect of me.
Q: You once said that it’s very important to have a distinct style. How would you describe yours?
In fashion photography, it’s an advantage to have a style because then you’re known for your style and it gets you more work. But I don’t think I’ve found a sense of style for myself. I shoot everything differently.
Q: Lastly, for all those who want to be a photographer, how much do equipment matter in photography? And, can you give them some suggestions.
Today people are clicking beautiful pictures with iPhones. I don’t think equipment matters at all. I intentionally keep switching my equipment so that I don’t get used to a certain thing. I like switching things around to have fun and to get different results. I think Sony works the best for underwater photography, Canon works best for me for editorials and Fuji worked well for this book. The equipment keeps evolving anyway and thus, there’s no point in sticking to one.