The story of Vivek Kunwar could somewhat be related to one of the famous and central characters in a blockbuster Indian movie, albeit his story being a lot less filmi. Similar to the movie character I am talking about, Vivek is an engineer with an immense passion for photography. However, unlike the movie character, Vivek went on to do his MBA and also pursued a corporate career for sometime before he started his journey as a professional photographer. Today, Vivek has some of the biggest brands in his list of clients, and he also happens to be one of the very few accomplished underwater photographers in the country. Meeting with Vivek was yet another occasion that reaffirmed our belief in achieving success by pursuing one’s passion.
In his exclusive conversation with LifeBeyondNumbers, Vivek Kunwar talks about finding his passion, his journey so far, his work and lots more…
I basically happen to be a software engineer. I did my engineering and then as a natural progression went into MBA. Post MBA, I worked for two years with a steel major called JSW Steel and then I came to Gurgaon. Here in Gurgaon I worked with an advisory company, Corporate Executive Board(CEB). The work of CEB is that of helping CEOs of big companies in taking decisions by supporting them with all the key information that they want. I worked there as an Analyst; so that was pretty much an advisory role that I was in.
Photography hit me when I was in engineering college. Then the bug graduated to the next level when I was in MBA. I wrote to Hindustan Times along with my photography portfolio and to see if there were any assignments. And they gave me some assignments, and that is when actually my journey as a serious photographer began. I traveled quite a bit and did a lot of work with HT. This was when I was still working with CEB. Then I started getting some assignments from corporate clients, and Lotto was actually my first big client. Before that I used to do small assignments here and there. So after Lotto happened I kind of realized that I could have a potential career in photography also, and then things matured on their own. I quit my job one and half year back.
Incidentally enough, my dad used to do photography long time back. And he quit photography even before I was born and his camera was just lying there. And he gifted me one camera when I got into engineering and that’s when I picked up the camera for the first time and started playing and clicking pictures with it. I never even knew that he was into photography and suddenly I realized he had a bag full of equipment and it intrigued me. I did my internship after MBA which was the first money that I earned. I put all that money into photography gear.
The Photography Career And Business
The investment for starting my photography business came from me out and out. I pumped in all the money from the job savings. And yes, here being an MBA helps. I almost do all the business development myself and finances are being also taken care of by myself. Just two and half months back we started a forum called IndianDigitalArtists.com, and that is where my software skills from the engineering come in handy (laughs…). We are trying to create a community of photographers and film-makers in India, where artists can come in and network and showcase their work, see what other people are doing, get inspired and inspire other people.
The business has evolved itself into more of a production house now. So we do all kinds of stuff from motion pictures to short films and animation projects off late also. I started as a freelancer all alone and now we are a team of 5-6 people working full-time. We are group of creative people – digital artists, animators, copywriter and that kind of stuff. We have somebody who is a psychologist and she does the corporate work for us, a software engineer who takes care of the techie part. We have a couple of digital artists who are mass-communication people and are experts in digital art software and animation. Apart from that we also have a group of 8-10 freelancers who work very closely with me. I give them work for almost 20 days in a month, so they are pretty much on roll, but technically they are freelancers. I am also one of the very few underwater photographers in India. I don’t think there are more than 4-5 underwater photographers in India, although I don’t have the exact number.
My business has grown almost entirely on referrals. We haven’t done any marketing effort as such. Like in any creative field, in photography and film-making also, how your get your business is also a creative process in itself. I never knew I would get into film-making. I got into photography, and all of a sudden some client asked me to do some motion work. I did and I kind of liked it, they liked it and motion also took off. I work a lot with corporate clients like GlaxoSmithKline – they are one of my very big clients, and I also work with Nissan, KFC, a fitness brand called VivaFit. Basically, I do a lot of corporate and fashion projects, I work close with designers in their launches and other stuff like that.
I don’t do too many forward looking planning, to be very frank. As I said, it’s a creative process in itself. I kind of keep doing the next level of assignments and it evolves on its own. For instance, just 5 months back I never thought we had the capability or the expertise to get into animation. But all of a sudden, we thought that we’ll do a project for ourselves and we gave one month to animation. We see that we have 3-4 people who are really good at that now. So you can say we have developed the capability in-house for animation also, and we have done some really really cool animation projects for a lot of people. So it’s evolving in itself. Two months back we participated in a short film festival. That was pretty exciting. That was my first entry into film festivals. So, going forward we’ll be doing a lot of documentaries and making a lot of short-films, trying to pitch them through film festivals. That helps us grow our network and brings in more business.
And we are trying to balance the commercial and art aspect of what we do. We do a lot of personal projects also. We invest a lot in ourselves as in we take up challenging projects which are not being commissioned by anybody. For instance, we are planning to do a very high-end animation for an NGO. They are not paying us for this project, but then we need to learn animation and take that to the next level. So we approached this NGO saying we wanted to do an animation for them, and they obviously agreed because we are doing it for free. So these 20 days of effort will help us learn a lot. We have a very fair distribution of commercial work and what we do for ourselves. We try and have at least 30-35% of our time every month dedicated to our own learning and growth. So everybody in the team has the choice to just set out of everything else and try to learn the next level of things. And it has actually helped, and in the past one year it has grown like that.
The Challenges And The Learning
Your own business is always exciting. You don’t know what’s going to happen next and the pressure is always there. But it’s a good pressure to handle. I operate in the name of Vivek Kunwar, because in my industry the projects come to the person and not to an organization. So when somebody has to hire a photographer, they would not give an organization the right to do it. They’ll always want to know who the photographer is, because it’s a very personal and creative process. Even in motion pictures, clients ask for who the director is, because that’s the most important thing. Everything else falls in place on its own. So I’ll continue to run the business like this only. I’d want to be at the centre of the business because that helps in doing the right amount of quality checks and all. They are a lot of people who work like production agencies, but I’ve seen that after a time it is very difficult to scale up because when you decentralize, employee handling and quality control becomes difficult in a business like ours. It’s a personal choice one has to take – you either want to be a business man or you want to be an artist. So, while I don’t want to sacrifice on the business completely, but then I would like to grow more as an artist than take this as a profit making venture. Obviously, profits are needed for sustainability and we are doing well in terms of finances now. But yes, being an artist is what’s in my head right now.
It’s very easy to get stuck into one line of projects and not go to the next level of things. So someday who has been doing, say, wedding photography might just do wedding photography for the next 10 years. Unless he/she puts a kind of cap to how much wedding photography that he/she wants to do and start learning fashion. So you always have to put a bar to how much projects you want to do for commercial purposes and how much art you want to create. And unless you’re creating art, it’s very difficult to push it to the next level. I have seen many people fall into that trap and keep doing the same thing over and over again. Because you know, when money flows in it’s very difficult to say no to projects, but then it’s very important to say no to a lot of projects. It’s better to stay away from projects that are not adding to our expertise. For me, there might be a very low budget project which is very creatively satisfying, I would love to take that up as opposed to one which might be a very high paying project but not that creatively satisfying.
We, at LifeBeyondNumbers, wish Vivek Kunwar all the success in the future to do more amazing work, keep following his passion and inspire others to follow theirs…