Photographer’s Q&A – Adeel Halim
Adeel Halim started as a photojournalist with Reuters News Agency and now works as an independent photographer and filmmaker based in Mumbai, India.
His work has taken him across Asia, Africa and Europe covering breaking news and feature stories for international corporations, NGOs and editorial publications. His pictures have appeared in magazines and newspapers such as The Guardian, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Business Week, Newsweek, Geo, IL, Ventiquattro, The Wall Street Journal, L’express, The Economist, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, Vancouver Sun, Forbes, The National, A-magasinet, Audi Magazine, Mini International, China Daily, Financial Post, and Aftenposten. Other clients include Bloomberg, Climate Care, Johnnie Walker, Cotton Connect and John Lewis.
Adeel is represented by Polaris Images for editorial assignments.
His website is www.adeelhalim.com
A circus arrives in town. Photo © Adeel Halim
How did you get started in photography? You earned a law degree from the Government Law College in Mumbai, India, so why didn’t you become a lawyer?
I am happy I finished law and happier that I didn’t become a lawyer. Academics helped me to analyze things and form a good foundation that can enable me to pursue a master’s degree in documentary photography later on.
I always knew I wanted to travel and experience different cultures and lifestyles. Photography allowed me to this.
I started as a hobbyist shooting on film which helped me in the process of visualization. I spent a lot of time learning and mastering the basics of photography. I made sketches, marked exposures. I interned with then senior AFP photographer Robert James Elliot whose lifestyle was an inspiration – non-stop traveling and cameras always hanging from the shoulders. He helped me make my first portfolio which got me a job at Reuters.
Two child clowns pose for a photograph outside the tent area. Photo © Adeel Halim
For many photographers, working for a wire service like Reuters would be the ideal job. But you quit Reuters. What do you get from freelancing that you can’t get from working for a wire service or a daily newspaper?
It was an amazing job. The best part of it were the people and the incredible learning. What would have taken me years I learnt in few months. A wire agency is a daily world exhibition of pictures giving access to a variety of news events.
As a freelancer, I have the freedom to travel to places of my choice. I need not necessarily shoot everyday. I get to work with different clients ranging from editorials to leading corporations to NGOs to personal stories. It also gives me time to pursue other interests like studying films and researching the stock market.
I am now exploring and understanding the word “free” – it means I can do whatever I want to do.
A man feeds an elephant outside the circus tent. Photo © Adeel Halim
You shoot a lot of business photography for Bloomberg News and many of those pictures are published here in Canada. But you are also known for street photography. How do you approach this type of photography?
Evenings are livelier than mornings. It gives me more time to identify and then play around with my subjects because the light only improves as the sun is setting.
I like to compose images around a story. I like to witness daily life in different cities of the world. The creativity of existence is far superior to my creativity. Moments disappear and situations change completely. The energy on the street, the harmony in chaos amongst people and what they do is easier to capture than to set up.
I have missed many great photos though – the camera didn’t focus, the shutter burst was too slow or I missed the moment. But they are registered in my memory along with the experiences which will help me now as I am getting into commercial photography.
An acrobat balances himself on a set of knives with a clown standing on his back during a performance. © Adeel Halim
India is changing quickly and its economy seems to be booming. The world’s media is paying a lot of attention to India which may be good for your business as a photojournalist. But are you more interested in photographing the new India or the old India?
India is changing with the world. In some places, the change is fast; in other places, very slow. Like the contrast between the rich and poor, urban and rural, there is also a contrast between how the young and old India think. It gets interesting as this contrast is reflected in many daily activities – in beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles.
We are still in between. Some holding on to the older India, which is beautiful and culturally extremely rich and diverse, and some, like the younger ones including myself, accepting and changing without realizing the change because of western education, lifestyle and work culture, which is also great.
Urban areas, like where I live (Mumbai), are a place where everything co-exists with a lot of chaos – the old and the new. I like photographing in Mumbai. I like human stories, sometimes in relation to their environment, so I like photographing both the old India and the new India.
An acrobat balances on a ladder supported by a wire during a circus performance. Photo © Adeel Halim
Your recent multimedia story on a circus, (some images are reproduced here), is about our changing view of the circus and perhaps of life, itself, as we get older. When someone is young, photography, like a circus, may seem magical and glamorous. But as they get older, photography, like the circus, may become more routine and mundane. How has your view of photography, (or your relationship with photography), changed over the years?
I like nostalgia and revisiting good experiences I had in the past. I enjoyed photographing the circus. I am trying to find myself through photography. Finding a style, finding a lifestyle!
I am exploring the capabilities of the movie feature inside my camera. I am getting interested in motion pictures and learning the skills and art of telling stories through movies.
For the last 6-7 years, my interest and hunt was to photograph good single images and put them together to form a photo story. Going forward, I want to do some documentaries, once I know I can do them well, and approach photo stories in a more cinematic way of story telling.
An artist shows the audience a fish before swallowing it during a performance. Photo © Adeel Halim
What was your best or worst assignment so far?
The best so far was my unplanned, adventure-driven, first international trip to Africa. Reaching Ethiopia, we traveled to the Somalian border. On our return back to Jijiga, we were stopped and interrogated by the Ethiopian army for a long time in a desolate area at night. It was very dangerous, now that I look back at it. But at the time, and even now, it was one of the best adventures / experiences relating to photography.
What was your biggest photo mistake?
It was more of a personality / character mistake than a photo mistake but it is related to photography.
I was photographing a man who had lost his wife and daughter in a flood in central India. I noticed him crying and walked towards him to take his picture. As I was taking pictures, someone told him, ‘hey smile – look, he is taking your picture’. The man looked at me, smiled for a second and burst into tears again.
I was shocked to see my indifference and lack of empathy. It made me wonder whether it is more important to channel my emotions into an area that won’t affect me so I can continue taking pictures, or, to be affected and stop taking pictures when it becomes intrusive into moments where people want to be by themselves and have their feelings and reactions kept private. I don’t know.
A clown waits between performances. Photo © Adeel Halim<
What is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
It was from my teacher, Rob, after I bought my first digital camera, the Olympus E1. He said, “Mate – now all you have to do with this new camera is start doing all that you always wanted to do before buying this camera.”
These quotes are also advice I like to remember:
“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” – David Harkins
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I want to fear less and do more of the photography I love, which is to photograph different cities in the world and put them together, in exhibitions or books, to show the similarity in diversity of our one world.
Tents and equipment are packed in trucks as the circus moves on to its next location. Photo © Adeel Halim