How this Playboy photographer is breaking barriers with a photo series featuring trans women
As Tamil Nadu celebrates Transgender Day on April 15, we catch up with L Ramachandran, whose series of photos, The Real Woman, features trans women from Chennai in a never-seen-before avatar
As a young boy from Kumbakonam, L Ramachandran never imagined that he would be shooting Playboy magazine’s famed ‘bunnies’ in Miami some day. A self-taught photographer, he started off by borrowing Rs 30,000 from his wife to buy himself a camera and a computer to carry out his post-production work. He had no knowledge of the technology involved, but “I did have an artistic vision,” claims India’s first Playboy magazine photographer. It was this vision that landed him his first shoot — for Murugan Idli Shop — which he carried out with a little help from his photographer friends. “The creatives I did for them almost a decade ago is what they use to this date. This shoot literally paved the way for me,” he begins, as we catch up with him at his Vadapalani office, which also doubles up as his studio to talk about his latest photo series, The Real Woman — a concept revolving around and featuring trans women from the city.
Madras to Miami
Riding high on the success of his first photoshoot, Ramachandran soon began to take up every assignment that came along his way. A few years later, he shifted focus to fashion and glamour photography, simply because he wanted to do something different. “It is very important to keep yourself current and updated on what the latest technology in photography is. That is what
I spent most of my nights doing,” he says. His work with the brand Style One took him to Mumbai, where he not only shot the models but doubled up as the art director, costume director and even make-up artiste on occasion. “I am the complete package,” he says with a laugh.
Soon after, he worked on a personal project — a nude shoot — quite the challenge, he says, considering he struggled to find a model from the conservative Chennai, who was willing to pose. “Finally, a model agreed, after I promised her that her face wouldn’t be shown,” he says. He then sent out these images to a few photographers in the industry, both Indian and international. A sensible gamble, for it caught the attention of a photo editor with a magazine in LA, who reached out to him on Facebook, inviting him to a workshop in Miami. “This is how I met my mentor, renowned photographer Jarmo Pohjaniemi, who was working for Playboy. He taught me everything I know about shooting nudes. I worked extensively with him after that and shot plenty of centrefolds for Playboy magazines of different countries including Spain, South Africa and Portugal among others.” Accolades and recognition soon followed, and still continue to flow in, a phenomenon that the photographer is now used to.
Getting under their skin
Ramachandran’s latest series of photos is called The Real Woman, a series of 10 photographs featuring trans women from the city in glamourous avatars. It was a book that he read last year, that affected him so much that he decided to work on a series on transgenders. “Transgenders exist in our epics itself— just look at Lord Shiva’s Ardhanareshwarar avatar, a perfect union of Shiva and Parvati. In fact, it is one of the concepts that we worked on, in the series,” he says. Working with trans women came with its own set of challenges, considering the fact that most of them were not professional models and had never posed in front of a camera before. “One of our models Namitha, is a professional model and she was instrumental in convincing the others to get on board. Of course, once they posed with us, they were comfortable, and nothing less than professional models,” he adds.
The concepts that he has shot for the series highlight not just the beauty of the trans women, but also the struggles they face, both internally and due to external forces, like the society. “There is the concept of a trans woman longing to have a child, something she biologically cannot do, but is one of her deepest desires. Yet another one is a shot of the many faces of a trans woman, highlighting the confusion she goes through, regarding her gender identity. For this, we worked with a dancer, Nazriya, who was able to bring out the emotions perfectly. Concepts apart, we have worked on a couple of high-fashion shoots as well,” he explains.
With this series, Ramachandran hopes to throw light on the problems that the community on the whole faces. “I also want to highlight the fact that they are no less than actual women, and they too are just as beautiful and divine.”
The series will debut shortly at international galleries, followed by an exhibition in India.