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Sameer Raichur is an alumnus of National Law University, Jodhpur and a former Associate at Trilegal. In this interview with Bar & Bench, he takes us on a journey from his days as a corporate lawyer to discovering the artist within.
Bar & Bench: Why law?
Sameer Raichur: Mostly for a lack of options. I think back then, getting into a law school was a lot easier than it is these days. Nowadays, people look up to graduates from National Law Universities. I wanted to do engineering when I was in the 10th standard, but afterwards, I lost interest in it. I never wanted to get into medicine, and I wasn’t really aware of what options there were apart from these. At that time, I happened to be reading a lot of legal pulp fiction like Grisham and a couple of Archers. Those books made it sound cool to be a lawyer!
B&B: What were your law school days like?
Sameer Raichur: They were okay, considering the fact that Jodhpur is kind of an inhospitable place. We were a bunch of 500 students in a campus away from civilization, away from everything we’ve known all our lives. I picked up my first camera in law school. So, I’m grateful for the experience because it taught me a lot of life lessons.
B&B: When did you first discover your passion for photography?
Sameer Raichur: The passion came much later. After I graduated from law school and worked for a couple of years, I decided to go away for about three months. It was during this period I discovered my passion for photography. Till then, it hadn’t even struck me. When I quit my job, I had no idea as to what to do with myself. I had a bit of money saved and was young, so I thought I should get out and see something I haven’t seen before.
B&B: Tell us about your days at Trilegal.
Sameer Raichur: During law school, I had heard so many things about law firms, and when I joined one, I found that it was a completely different experience. Half a year into the job, I had realised that I wasn’t suited to the environment. I realized at Trilegal, that as an introvert, it’s going to be very hard for me to make it in this environment. When I was told that I needed to put myself out there to be successful, I instead chose a route that was more suited to my personality.
B&B: And after quitting, you took a trip to the Himalayas. Was it there that you understood your true calling?
Sameer Raichur: It wasn’t really a revelation, but it did want to make me learn more about it. I was just really happy taking pictures, and that had been the case in my third year in law school. I wouldn’t call it as the remedy to my existential problems at the time, but it sort of put things into perspective.
B&B: You did a course at Hallmark Institute of Photography in Massachusetts. What kind of exposure (no pun intended) did you get there?
Sameer Raichur: It was great. I was just a hobby shooter until then and it taught me how to be professional. They started from the bare basics and trained the students as if they had never seen a camera in their life. I was really grateful for that – no question you asked was stupid. It was a very welcome and open environment, very different from my law school education. For a change, I was actually interested in what I was learning. I wanted to do well and became quite competitive. If you ask people from my law school, they would not describe me as fierce or as a go-getter, I was quite easy-going back then.
I had great mentorship at Hallmark – there were people who really encouraged me. Two or three of my instructors were very instrumental in making me believe in myself. The biggest challenge I was faced with was learning how to be an artist after being a lawyer. Though there are grey areas in law, it is comparatively straightforward. As an artist, what you’re not doing is as important as what you are doing. Like in a picture, the negative space is as important as the picture itself.
B&B: Your recent project ‘Because We Come from Somewhere’ was recently adjudged the co-winner of the TFA-Tasveer Emerging Photographer Award 2015. What was the inspiration behind the project?
Sameer Raichur: My father, a recently retired investment banker, decided to take on the duties of puja and administration of our ancestral family matha (temple) in Savanur Haveri district for a year, my mother in tow. Essentially, they would be living as priests. So, the project was an effort to understand our family’s past. I really haven’t had too much exposure to my relatives or my native place, because we’ve been moving around a lot – my dad had a transferable job. I wanted to understand why I am the way I am.
It started with this other project I shot about non-Kannadigas living and working in Bangalore. In each picture, I tried to infuse some characteristic of where they’re originally from. This friend once asked me, “You keep talking about roots, but do you know your own?” I realised that he was right, I didn’t.
B&B: What are the prospects of photography as a career in India?
Sameer Raichur: If you’re talking about financial prospects, wedding photography is a very lucrative scene. If you have talent and know a few people, there’s always scope for that. I know a lot of photographers who are doing great wedding work.
However, that doesn’t work for everyone. As a photographer, the gestation period can be quite long, you have to be prepared to put in the hard yards. I am relatively new to the profession, having been a photographer for around three years. I haven’t tasted the kind of commercial success I had when I was a corporate lawyer. So, I’ve had to take an enormous pay-cut and only since the last year or so have assignments been coming in. I would take the optimistic route and say stick with it, be patient, and find your niche – that’s most important. You need to really shoot and figure out what suits your temperament.
For instance, I tried wedding photography by working with Big Shaadi photographers. I realised that it didn’t suit my temperament at all. I’m a person who likes my space and prefer to shoot things in a more natural state. I don’t like asking people to pose and do things.
On the whole, I wouldn’t say that the prospects are bleak, because there are a lot of people doing many different things.
B&B: What essentially is a day in the life of a freelance photographer?
Sameer Raichur: I am in the process of setting up an office, but currently I work from home. Being a freelancer, the most important thing is to stay disciplined and set deadlines for yourself. There are all these swathes of time that go by when no one calls you for work. You need to figure out ways to keep improving yourself and your craft. In the initial days, it’s just shooting for personal work like say a blog.
A photographer’s journey doesn’t end when he shoots the picture. There’s a lot of work in looking at the pictures again and trying to compartmentalize the work. I also try creating a story around the pictures. So, there’s a lot of effort apart from the actual shooting. Then there’s website development, putting your work out there, etc. I try to shoot something every day, no matter what it is.
B&B: What advice would you have for those who don’t want to pursue a career in law?
Sameer Raichur: The conventional routes taken after graduating law schools are not the ones everyone should be pursuing. When I graduated, I got caught up in the hype of getting a law firm job, even though I knew I wouldn’t be suited to it. There are so many things you can do with an education in law. Personally, how I benefited from doing law was that it gave me a great work ethic. There are so many things you can take from it. People might say that it was a waste of five years, but that’s not true. There are so many interesting things that people with a law degree are doing nowadays. One person even commented that a lawyer-turned-photographer was a cliché! A friend of mine is looking to work in Africa in the field of Humanitarianism. She is in the process of contacting a few Humanitarian agencies she used to do pro bono work for when she was in a law firm.
It’s really important not to be sucked into the fact that there’s money to be made out there. You have to be true to yourself, not everyone is suited to a stressful 12-hour a day schedule. People shouldn’t shy away from trying different things.