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Rammohan Paranjape is a self-taught photographer, surfer, and an adventure traveller. His journey began in his early teens after dropping out of college, with travel, adventure and surfing being his muse. Inspired by offbeat landscapes, oceans, and extreme adventures, Rammohan has travelled extensively and documented some amazing expeditions and adventures across Indian sub-continent. This year he is celebrating a decade since he started documenting the surf scene , so we sat down with him to do talk bit more about his life, work and future plans!
My name is Rammohan Paranjape, and I'm India’s first surf photographer. I have been documenting the surfing scene for a decade now in India and have been pioneering the sport as well. It’s been an exciting journey so far from watching just a handful of surfers in the early years to a sizeable number of surfers and surf communities spread across the long coastal cities and towns of India. Apart from being photographer, I enjoy my time spent traveling to offbeat destinations, adventures and surfing.
There wasn’t any real plan or motivation for me to pick a camera or start-shooting surfing in the initial years, the entire process was very organic and happened naturally. When I decided to quit college midway, I knew I wasn’t going in the direction of graduating, having a desk job, stuck in some traffic in a city etc.… I wanted to try and do something new and exciting, which is when Surfing Swami (my teacher) introduced me to surfing and photography, both kind of took off at the same time.
Initially, it was just for fun - taking pictures of my friends surfing, traveling and their lifestyle for our surfing website which was quite popular. Then I started getting a little more serious about surf photography a few years later when surfing started to take off in India with a lot of media, magazines reaching out constantly for surfing images.
Another I thing I realized early in my career was that I wasn’t going to do any weddings, fashion or any commercial work which didn’t appeal to me but rather focused on surfing and adventure travel despite the fact there was no demand for such work. There is still none today, but it’s a passion to chase light and action.
There were a lot of difficulties and hardships for sure! I remember when I got really serious about honing my skills in surf photography, I didn’t have anyone to look up to or be able to learn under. Surf photography requires a lot of knowledge and understanding about the ocean, equipment and basics of water photography apart from general photography skill. Hence, it was a slow learning process with a lot of mistakes and overcoming them with a lot of patience and practice.
Procuring the right equipment was also one of the biggest challenges early in my career, as I didn’t make enough money out of surf photography and had to save up a lot initially to get my first housing. So these were some of the instances or difficulties I faced through my journey as a surf photographer, I think it’s still not easy not just for me but for most of the surf photographers around the world as the surfing industry has been going through a lot drastic changes.
I see there’s a lot of people who are taking up photography these days which is good for the medium but at the same time most of these people are picking up the camera for the wrong reasons as well. It could be for just for quick social media attention, gaining followers or for another 100 wrong reasons...
Especially in this age where smartphone cameras have become so much better and people are taking more photos than ever, it’s important that they don’t lose focus or pursue an art for the wrong reasons. Hence, my advice to a lot of aspiring photographers is to hone their skills genuinely, develop story telling, make sure their photos have an impact irrespective of what genre they maybe pursuing. Personally, I have always believed that if your work needs to stand out you need to either create your own unique style or do something entirely new, which nobody has done. It’s a long process and it may not look easy at the beginning but persistence and patience is the key. I am saying this from my personal experience... Ha Ha!
Honestly, I actually do a very few photography projects in a year but I do those with a lot of care and planning. Some interesting recent projects have included a surf expedition with Chris Burkard & Co which turned out to be a fantastic project where we did quite a bit of travel to some remote islands. Another was last summer, when I filmed water scenes for a documentary being made by a lady in Bangladesh, which showcased these amazing surfing girls who are defying the society and traditional norms. Their stories of adversities were quite amazing and had a deep impact on me. I am currently working on couple of stories, which showcase the deep relationship of fishermen, ocean and the impact of surfing on these communities.
Well, It’s been more than a decade since I started documenting the surf scene and over the years my photos have had an impact on the surfing scene in India, been widely published around the world, and I have worked with quite a few surfing brands and pro-surfers. After all these years, I feel there’s this momentum, which is driving the surfing movement in India. Building on this, my good friend and well wisher, Mr. Arun Vasu - CMD of TT Group, an Indian business conglomerate which has long been supportive of surfing in India - came forward to organize this photo exhibition to showcase my body of work and further bring more focus on surfing.
I have quite a few things in my mind, as always! :)
I want to publish a grand photo book on surfing in India, which also showcases India’s rich culture and it’s people. A unique book, which blends both culture and surfing, I would say. Apart from that, I am seriously pursuing making a film. It is a journey to unknown, never-before surfed spots on a remote island, that no one’s been to or even heard of. It’s a very ambitious project and will require quite a bit of resources but I am sure it will be once in a lifetime adventure.
As a photographer, it’s very important to have the right tools, and especially if you are an outdoor or adventure photographer. I can compromise a bit on the camera equipment at times but never camera bags and accessories because you are putting your expensive gear, yourself and perhaps others at risk too. Ever since I started using my f-stop gear, I have been more confident that my camera gear and accessories are taken care of and protected I can get on with my journey.