Picture Perfect

Ambica Gulati

Hardev Singh Architecture and Interior Photographer

Another Door Opens

Back in Delhi, someone suggested he meet someone in the tourism department. Hardev landed in the office of Allen Fernandes, publicity manager of India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). He loved the pictures and wanted to buy them, but ‘I just held onto them. I didn’t want to let go of them, not realizing that their worth layout of the drawers.’

Finally, two weeks later, Fernandes came back with a plan: Air India would make an audio-visual (AV) from the pictures and showcase them around the world, promoting Ladakh. ‘I traveled to thirteen countries with the tourism officers. Siddharth Rawat from Clarion Advertising made the AV. Air India paid $100 a day (the rupee was at 8.50 to a dollar then), provided accommodation and food. I saved a lot of money, eating only burgers most of the time. We went to America, Canada, Europe, and the last show was in Milan.’

Now, smitten and bitten, Hardev decided to travel all over Europe with all the money he had saved and bought a Eurail pass for a month. ‘I stored my luggage in lockers, sometimes showered in the trains, ate at bakeries on the station. After traveling all over, my journey in England. My maternal grandfather had moved to London and I stayed with him for a fortnight. And with all the money I had saved, I bought state-of-the-art equipment including lighting, came back to India and declared myself a professional photographer,’ he says giving a wide smile.

The Milestone

Lady luck was smiling on young Hardev. At that time, Bikki Oberoi, the grand man behind the Oberoi Group of Hotels, was looking for someone who could give him the kind of photographs he needed to showcase his hotels. ‘I have worked with him for over twenty-five years and he is a man with an eye for detail and quality,’ says Hardev who gives Oberoi full credit for making him into the name that he is today.

The group approached Madan Mahatta of the famous Mahatta Studio in Delhi, who recommended Hardev for the project. ‘Even the founder of the Oberoi group, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi, was present for the interview along with some senior people. I told them I had no idea about hotel photography. I confidently asked for a chance and Bikki Oberoi gave me that.’

Hardev was instructed to take five pictures of The Intercontinental, which was what The Oberoi in Delhi was then called. ‘I had no clue about lighting and literally struggled with the pictures. And as I expected Bikki Oberoi rejected them and told me I couldn’t do this. He said there was no depth, “my fine dining looks like an overlit coffee shop”. But I asked for another chance and we did this exercise five times. Finally, he relented and I was on the job. He wanted me to shoot five hotels including one in Singapore, the Imperial Oberoi.’ As Hardev didn’t have the lights, he asked Bikki Oberoi for an advance to buy the lighting. ‘I worked for fourteen to eighteen hours a day and every day the films were processed at Rainbow Colour lab in Singapore. Seventy-five percent of the pictures were rejected. During this time, I picked up everything from him. I sharpened my skills and got established because of him.’ Today Hardev and his son, Harmeet are impaneled for seventeen brands of the Marriott group internationally.

The Way Forward

Though Hardev did different kinds of shoots over time such as industry, fashion, lifestyle, ninety percent of his work has been related to the hospitality industry. ‘We have done micro specialty in hospitality,’ he clarifies, ‘working in-depth with brands to understand their guidelines and different departments and eventually giving them those “WOW” pictures that attract more guests to the hotel. The visual should reflect the identity of the brand. The moment people see the picture, they should be able to see that it’s a W or a St Regis,’ says Hardev.

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/