The Unexpected Dilemmas of Shooting For Art

(first published in Oct 2008 for Art Concerns e-Mag)
I met this television producer once who was convinced that there are not too many takers for a special TV show on art because television fails to create the ‘wow’ factor that art entails. I was disappointed with that view. Not just because he belonged to the television medium – an extremely visual medium, but more so because his views were so degenerative.

In that sense, TV has the advantage of visual support that print does not. And in that sense, writing on art should have gone extinct. And in that same sense again, here's my thumbs down to all those lazy bone producers who shy away from covering art for television. Because the demand is certainly there. The curiosity is there. The freshness, the appeal, and of course, the investment interest!!

I strongly feel that it's an artistic challenge in itself to create that ‘wow’ factor in art across TV, to bring out the same experience that a person would feel while standing in front of the art or watching it on TV. And that's why I think TV reports or special shows on art are a valuable piece of art in itself.
Having reported on art for television for the past seven years, behind the scenes experience can sometimes be a major stitch, mind blowing- pleasant or a surprising grill. For example, I can’t ever forget my shoot with Sonia Khurana. Her company was great fun and I certainly felt she’s incredibly brave for her style of work. But all that fun translated into an excruciatingly embarrassing experience on the edit table when I had to sit with my editor and blur some of her works to make it comfortable for family viewing.
We know that Subodh Gupta’s works are overwhelming to look at but what you may be didn’t know is that his pile of dishes is so stunning that they give incredible results even in a badly composed frame! My cameraperson kept fretting over a bad day’s shoot; he thought he failed to do justice to Subodh’s art. But the final cut had all of us stunned and it soon became the talk of our team.

Subodh and MF Husain share a mutual admiration club but both of them are varyingly different personalities to shoot with. Subodh is overcautious and always politically correct on record, understandably so. Anyone perched at his steep and steady success would be. But since MF Husain has seen it all, been shown the King’s throne, been burnt in effigies, been chased out of the country – all that makes the grand old sage ‘Bindaas’ on camera. He is not just a reporter’s delight but the cameraperson’s delight, the assistant’s delight, the driver’s delight and anybody else whom you think could come along for a shoot! And with a Nirvanic smile he would say, “My life is like my Ferrari car!”

But the funniest part in my shoot was when Husain started talking about his ‘young’ days. That had us fervently looking for his pictures of youth so that we could match the visuals with his comments. Google didn’t help. Art books didn’t help. Why? Well, who ever remembers seeing a young Husain? Do you? Have you? That would mean getting pictures dating back to almost 60 years. The hunt for Husain’s young pictures finally ended at his son’s house, Shamshad’s personal album.

A shoot can also squeeze the patience out of a gallerist on the opening night. We arrive two hours before the opening to shoot the art works clean from the crowd. Oh, how we hate people cluttering up our frame!! But once the guests start huddling in for the cheese n wine and less for the art works, ahem, some gallerists wonder if it really was a good idea to call us with all our entangled web of wires and lights. But I must admit that the wise ones bear it all with a smile, knowing well that the final result on TV will be good for their publicity and archive.

I do end up shooting a lot of stories for the art investment market. It’s not only going steady but the approach to investment strategies is getting more holistic and foolhardy. In fact an investor recently told me, “You can also find art for your bathroom!” It’s interesting how years ago, while on a shoot, I had to attend to nature’s call and I walked into this washroom which easily housed a dozen Souza’s, all stacked up. But I just felt too disrespectful to use the washroom then. Excruciating choice to have made but I’m sure Souza’s Christian soul must’ve been eternally grateful to me at that point.


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