“The lockdown made me realise how we take everything for granted,” reflects Indian professional photographer Pritham D’Souza about the recent couple of years we’ve all been through. Not having used a camera for three months during this period, he decided to shake up his routine. ‘Quarantine Tribe’ was born out of a desire to provide hope in times of distress and disarray. Pritham tells us how he collaborated to create these images, and why hope is always around the corner.
The Covid-19 lockdowns are periods in our lives that I hope we never have to experience again. Probably one that we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemies either. But it’s been amazing to see the varied and wonderful photography projects created by photographers during this time. Maybe it gave many of them the break they needed from their daily lives to pursue personal projects. Or it’s possible that it kickstarted new ideas when they could not step outdoors. Either way, I hope such projects continue even if we never ever (hopefully) have to undergo another lockdown.
The Essential Photo Gear Used By Pritham D’Souza
Pritham told us:
They say gear is good but vision is better, and I would like to add that investing in high end cameras and lenses definitely has their advantages, especially with longevity and maintenance.
The Phoblographer: Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.
Pritham D’Souza: My name is Pritham Denzil D’Souza, and I have been clicking photos for the last 19 years now, professionally for 13 years, and I have covered a little over 800+ shoots in 15 countries ranging from weddings to fashion, to travel, architecture and lifestyle. The name “Metalfarmer” comes from the fact that I have been a die-hard metal head for the last 37 years, and I play bass guitar for India’s oldest extreme metal band, “Dying Embrace” (Bangalore). I have composed and released over 9 albums ranging from classic rock to instrumental guitar-oriented music, with me playing all instruments. I studied agriculture at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, and I belong to the first batch in the country to be trained in Hydroponics “soilless cultivation.” I’ve spoken on AIR, received nominations for the best progressive farmer, and have given workshops to farmers on “integrated management practices”; you add the 2, and we get “Metalfarmer.”
I worked on my father’s organic farm for nearly 8 years, and that’s when I started clicking photos to primarily document all the crops that we were growing. I started using a Nokia 6600 phone as it was the first to have a VGA camera with 9-second video recording. Then someone told me to use a simple point-and-shoot so I get better images and video. A few years later, someone told me to buy a bridge camera, the ones with the zoom lens, and that’s when I learned to use all the manual settings for the first time. Eventually, I started getting a lot better at shooting in manual mode, and my sister gifted me my first DSLR – the Canon 60D in 2010. My first paid gig was a heavy metal concert I clicked in Bangalore, and one of my friends who attended the gig informed me of his wedding the same year and invited me to it. Before this, I had absolutely no inclination to click people, but I attended the wedding as a guest and ended up clicking more photos than the traditional photographer present there. I noticed the photographer was staging every photo while I preferred to click candidly, as it is, capturing the moment as I see it. My friends loved the photos so much they recommended me to all their family and friends as the “candid photographer from Mangalore” – I soon founded “Photosynthe” and, with a team of like-minded, creative photographers, established ourselves as a premiere wedding photography firm. 12 years and 800+ shoots and events later, the rest is history
The Phoblographer: The lockdowns we’ve had over the past years have resulted in some excellent projects from talented photographers everywhere. Tell us how you came up with the idea for ‘Quarantine Tribe’
Pritham D’Souza: I always wanted to shoot headshots that had a tribal theme to them, and this we had planned for quite some time, even before the lockdown started. My last shoot was on 19th March, 2020 (5 days before the lockdown), and the Quarantine Tribe shoot happened 3 months later on June 3rd. I remember we were all still scared to venture out and shoot, and I was always masked up and wearing gloves.
The model/talent Bindiya is a genius when it comes to self-portraits and I used to always tell her that if she has a good theme, I would like to shoot it professionally using strobes. So when the lockdown happened, we decided to improvise even more. At that time, wearing a face shield was mandatory; we added that to the shoot as well. I got the shots I needed – the tribal headshots and one using the face shield. The vision I had for the shoot was of an apocalyptic landscape with the only few surviving people of the human race, all wearing their traditional attire and face painted with tribal art and designs, with one major inclusion, that of a face shield.
The Phoblographer: What does the word Tribe here signify exactly?
Pritham D’Souza: Tribe – is humanity, all the people on this planet. We have seen in the past – movies and books about the end of the world with a few survivors. This is what I wanted to show in the photo. If my photoshop skills were a lot better, I would have made a composite of a scorched earth landscape with a full-length photo of Bindiya, complete with tribal wear, face paint, and the face shield.
The Phoblographer: The face and body paint markings on the model – are these authentic Indian tribal designs? Who did these patterns?
Pritham D’Souza: All the paintings and designs you see on the model are done by Bindiya herself! She is extremely talented and an incredible self-portrait artist. It takes her just minutes to come up with a design, and if I was not happy with what I saw, she was ready with another one!
The Phoblographer: Was it all naturally lit? If so, was there some kind of diffuser placed outside the window to soften the light?
Pritham D’Souza: The shoot was done at the apartment of my teammate Rudresh Arora who is also an excellent photographer (graduate from Symbiosis School of Visual Arts and Photography, Pune), and he has assisted me on quite a few memorable shoots. For the one with the headshot, I liked how the background was perfectly complementing the model’s skin tones and makeup; this was shot just using window light. No diffuser, no light modifier, nothing. Just natural window lighting. I wanted it to look like a portrait, giving a soft effect, and I clicked this wide open at f 1.4 using the 35mm and 1DX MK III.
The Phoblographer: What range of emotions were you asking the model to imagine and display on her face, for these photos?
Pritham D’Souza: For the ones I shot in natural light, I explained to Bindiya that I wanted her to feel like a person being trapped in a room. Almost like solitary confinement. The emotions one would relate to such a situation could be sadness, loneliness, or dejection. And she conveyed them all perfectly. For the ones we used strobes, I wanted one showing a poker face, almost no emotion as if they are now used to this situation of helplessness. The final one with the red background, acceptance, with a grin, and a smirk on her face, symbolising hope and believing that all will be good one day.
The Phoblographer: YoYou’veoted that you picked up a camera after 3 months to photograph this series. Was this a self-imposed detox of some sort to get your creativeness refreshed?
Pritham D’Souza: Yes it was! I am also a musician and guitarist for the last 35+ years, and I started to play a lot during the lockdown but was itching to pick up the camera and shoot again. The “Quarantine Tribe” shoot kinda opened the floodgates for me to push myself to be creative using off-camera strobes and headshots. We did 2 more headshots at my teammate Preetham Aloysius’ home studio, and they are some of my memorable moments.
Full frame cameras and wide aperture lenses have a major advantage when it comes to shooting in low light conditions and this is something I use to my advantage when I am shooting weddings. I shoot weddings in natural, available light only
The Phoblographer: Is there a continuation of this series? One where she isn’t quarantined anymore?
Pritham D’Souza: There are a lot of shoots planned; my only problem is availability as I am a wedding photographer first, and since then, we have been super busy shooting weddings. The series is on temporary hold and will definitely have more coming soon, hopefully in the not too distant future.
The Phoblographer: How did the lockdown(s) feel to you? Apart from the restricted movement, what was the most frustrating aspect of it all?
Pritham D’Souza: The lockdown made me realise how we take everything for granted. It seemed straight out of a dystopian novel, where everything was restricted. No work, no income, piling debts and bills to pay, the sense of helplessness, mental torture, being repetitive and doing the same thing again and again, every day, for months. Try to get out of the house, and you have the law enforcers to deal with. It was a torrid experience for everyone. I kept telling people how we complain about the lockdown and how it affected our mental health, but at the same time, look at how animals are kept in zoos for the amusement of people, and they have to live in a cage or trapped for the rest of their lives.