Picture Perfect

Ambica Gulati

Hardev Singh Architecture and Interior Photographer

Immediately after his work with the Oberoi became public, the Taj group called in Hardev. The focus of each group is different: the Oberoi focussed on mood and Taj was a different ball game. ‘A lady called Camellia Panjabi headed the department and she wanted me to give them the same quality that I had done for Oberoi. Their agency head, the late Frank Simoes, among the finest copywriters I have seen, approached me to do their work.’

But professional ethos was different in those days. ‘I didn’t want to do the project as my guru Mitter Bedi used to do their work. He was based in Mumbai and I had never worked with him, but I admired his work and I felt it was unethical to walk into his territory. Frank even sent an executive to talk to me in Delhi. A week later I went to Mumbai and met Bedi there. He insisted I work with Taj as the brand had requested him to speak with me. I agreed but on the condition that the billing would be through him. We did this the first time. Then he passed away and I did a lot of work with Taj.’

After that, there was ITC and the Leela group. Leela had just inaugurated its property in Udaipur and needed to expose it. Its two main competitors were Taj Lake Palace and Oberoi Udaivilas. While Taj Lake Palace was the most iconic building in India after the Taj Mahal, Udaivilas was the epitome of luxury. Ironically, he had done work for both the properties but even so Captain C.P. Krishnan Nair, the founder of the Leela group approached him. ‘He said these are iconic buildings. How can you make Leela stand out? I told him I would give him a million-dollar picture,’ recalls Hardev.

Techniques and Technology

Having worked with many international groups and launched several brands, Hardev says he works hard to keep in sync with the changing technology. Way back in 2009, he ruffled feathers by giving out a statement that still photography would be a thing of the past eventually. He has shot with all kinds of cameras and lights. He has used drones too but says the future lies in videos and immersive imaging. ‘These two will keep evolving,’ he says, giving an experience of the new immersive technology videos that his son Harmeet uses now. The virtual reality aka a 360-degree walkthrough 3D is akin to taking a walk in the actual premises.

Each project requires rigorous homework. There are brand guidelines and talks with the respective people, then a sample presentation and finally the project. ‘I spend two to three days at the property as it is different at different times of the day.’ Technology keeps changing and new people also keep coming in, but it’s “the man behind the camera who makes a difference”,’ he adds. ‘I had a very good relationship with Bikki Oberoi for over twenty-five years. One day, over lunch in Jaipur I told him that you never show appreciation. The very next day, I got a letter from him saying how much he appreciated the work I had done.’

A project could take Hardev anywhere from a week to a month or two. Most clients look for fifty great pictures. ‘I was a master of films in the days gone by, very confident that every transparency was the perfect shot once processed. I have worked in all kinds of format, even large 8”x10” frames. I did these with Chef Manjit Gill (corporate chef ITC Hotels) and Tilda rice. I accept change and all my holiday pictures are now taken on the smartphone. Social media has played a large role in changing the way people think and operate now.’

The Journey Continues

‘I want to be here, doing what I do. Every day is a new beginning. Each project is different. You only compete with yourself. Once I am on the job, then it’s a sword hanging on my neck. I have to be able to produce better than before. My work is my baby. The right quality is a constant challenge,’ emphasizes Hardev. There is a magic hour for pictures and his desire is to keep seeing the hour to keep creating magic pictures.

People who resisted the change from film to digital haven’t reached this stage, says Hardev. ‘You have to keep your heart and mind open and keep learning. I learn on every project that I am on.’

Ambica Gulati
Armed with an experience of two decades in journalism, Ambica Gulati is a storyteller. She loves meeting people, exploring places and is turning into a photo geek. She has been part of an eminent coffee table book 100 Legal Luminaries of India, worked in magazines (Life Positive, Swagat, Outlook Traveller), written on food, culture wellness and more, and is bored when stationed in one place for too long. Follow her on https://www.instagram.com/ambicagulati/