Riddhi Parekh figured out her life’s calling – photography – after quitting her job in an ad agency. She enrolled for a diploma course in the Shari Academy of Professional Photography Institute in Mumbai.
For one of her assignments, Riddhi (now 32) decided to travel to Mathura with four male classmates, and shoot the festival of Holi there. “None of my female classmates accompanied us since they have had bad experiences at Mathura. In fact, they asked me to rethink the trip,” she recalls.
Determined to find out for herself, Riddhi left for Mathura for a nine-day shoot. On the first day itself, when Riddhi was about to leave after shooting inside a temple, she felt someone touching her. “You can differentiate between someone trying to push you and groping you. There was no space to get out. I got molested while I was stuck there and I didn’t even know who’s touching me since there was such a crowd,” she adds. Confronting would have proven futile. Those men seem to have the answers ready too: ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai’ (Don’t be offended, it's Holi), or, ‘Tum Gopi ho, hum Kishan, humara haq banta hai’ (I am Lord Krishna, you are my Gopi, I have this right on you).
But Riddhi was not willing to give up and leave on account of being a girl. Next day, she wore her brother’s over-sized windcheater that she was carrying to protect her gears from water, tied her hair into a turban and smeared her face with colours. “I camouflaged myself as a man and for the next nine days of the shoot, nobody touched me,” she says.
Almost 10 years later, Riddhi is proud of the photographs she clicked at Mathura, which are still in her portfolio. Today, she is a commercial and fashion photographer and has shot the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Radhika Apte, Raj Kumar Rao, Ranbir Kapoor, Ayushman Khurana, John Abraham, and IPL team Kings XI Punjab. She has also won the National Geographic Show Cover Shot 2, Heritage City, and has been featured multiple times in the magazine.
Presently a freelance photographer, Riddhi has been an assistant to veteran photographer Nrupen Madhvani. She has won Best Fashion Photography and Best Food Photography Awards at Luxoculus photography exhibition in Mumbai.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Riddhi had not considered photography as a career choice until she was 22. Prior to that, she had wanted to pursue many other career options, and had chosen graphic designing. But when she found herself studying Mass Media in Mumbai’s Bhavan’s College, graphic designing seemed like an unattainable goal.
She had joined an advertising agency as a Brand Planner when a conversation with a colleague got her thinking. Riddhi recalls that they were discussing their ‘dream jobs’ over a cup of coffee, when she exclaimed, “I want to be a pilot or one of those Nat Geo photographers.” This one heartfelt conversation got her hooked to the camera.
While her immediate family was used to Riddhi constantly changing her mind, her extended family and friends were skeptical about this choice, as they had never even seen her sport a camera.
But Riddhi was sure. She quit her job in 2008 to pursue photography full time. And that, she says, is her biggest achievement, adding, “Figuring out my life’s calling and pursuing it was no longer a dream.”
In 2008, with her first camera – a Nikon D60 – in hand, Riddhi left for Goa with her friends. She ended up clicking 3,000 pictures – of birds, flowers, trees, landscape, sunsets, and whatever she thought would make a good frame. Still unsatisfied with her lack of knowledge and understanding of a camera, Riddhi got herself enrolled at Shari Academy of Professional Photography.
Riddhi got her first gig while getting into a fight with a shopkeeper in a printing studio, for under-developing her images. An employee with the Aditya Birla Group overheard her conversation and asked Riddhi if she would like to shoot a small event. “I was offered Rs 5,000 for two days of work and I happily agreed to do it,” she says.
Being a woman in a man’s world
After spending almost a decade in the industry, Riddhi feels that she never really faced bias upfront, for being a ‘female photographer.’ However, being a female photographer has definitely influenced how her subjects perceived her.
She believes, more often than not, she is at an advantage for being a female. “Kids, strangers, and other women seem to be more comfortable with a girl approaching them,” Riddhi says.
Having said that, there have been times when she has felt unsafe, and even a “bit scared” to shoot. There are certain things that are unsaid in the photography industry.
“Nobody asks me about automobile photography. Unless you have a huge portfolio and have put it out there, nobody is going to approach you for automobile photography,” she says.
Riddhi tried her hand at wedding photography for two years, but gave it up because she felt that her creativity gets stagnant at weddings. “I enjoy fashion and food photography more,” she says.
Speaking on facing challenges in a man’s world, Riddhi says “Art cannot be distinguished on the basis of gender or who is shooting it, painting it or making it, as long as art has some substance it. On an approach and aesthetic level, I may have been subconsciously more empathetic to female subjects and shoot them with more vulnerability on the basis of reliability,” she adds.
Riddhi has worked across Europe and Asia for various projects. Her favourite experiences include witnessing northern lights for the first time in Norway and the sunset at Pamukkale in Turkey while bathing in the hot spring pool, the first view of the Eiffel tower appearing majestically between the buildings in Paris, and experiencing the art and culture at Hoi An in Vietnam.
“Memories good or bad while traveling can never be painful, even my bad experiences while traveling has taught me something valuable," she said.
Riddhi describes herself as an “unsatisfied artist at best,” always trying to out-do her previous work. Her biggest challenge continues to be “to never let go when the going gets tough.”
Talking about staying relevant, Riddhi says that a camera is a means of communication - whether it is a fancy DSLR or a mere phone camera. “What you do with it is what makes the difference. If you are true to your mind, your art, your skill and yourself; your ideas will be original and anything original or at least authentic will stand out. Your image, the message, and the story it conveys is what makes it relevant; not the medium,” she adds.
Getting leads in the Instagram era is no big deal, as long as one continues to put oneself out there.
“Idea is God, passion is the fuel, and persistence is everything. The day I stop being persistent, everything will go away in a flash,” Riddhi says.