The genres of street and documentary photography have dominated our monthly Profiling Photographers series so far. This month, we're delighted to feature the incredibly talented Munsif Molu. Munsif splits his time between Dubai, Mumbai and Toronto, producing stand-out fashion images for leading retailers, publications and events. We quizzed Munsif about the genre of fashion photography, ran-through his inspirations and discussed the more technical aspects of his creative process and workflow.
Gulf Photo Plus: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your photographic background?
Munsif Molu: From a very young age, I have always been intrigued by imagery. I remember browsing books and magazines at libraries or bookshops looking at photographs and avidly following the works of photojournalists and fashion photographers. I also remember being fascinated by documenting everything from early on, i went through many disposable cameras. The mundane and special occasions, the family holidays and get togethers, i remember shooting everything. I never really considered photography to be a 'career' choice and somehow got consumed with the pressures of getting a 'good' education and a 'good' job; eventually settling into a corporate life while the camera took a back seat. When i moved to Dubai in 2005, i quickly got bored of life, of brunches and parties and long work hours during the week. To break the monotony, i decided i would take advantage of the amazing destinations that are in close proximity and off i went with my first digital camera to travel. And to take photos. Along the way some of my photos found themselves in local magazines and i was hooked again. In 2008 when the economy slowed down, i thought it was the perfect opportunity to take a sabbatical and focus my attention on my camera. I moved to India and decided i would spend my time just shooting. I approached photographers who were around me, whose work i found to be of interest and i expressed my interest in learning from them. Having never had a formal education i was looking for ways to hone my eye and learn the technicalities and these relationships really helped kickstart things for me. This sabbatical was a turning point, i got deeply engrossed in taking photographs and i have never really stopped since then. I feel like I'm still learning and i keep challenging myself with every project that comes my way. If I'm not shooting for a client, i am initiating personal projects, the motto is to keep shooting and learning. My journey thus far has meandered all over the place, from a travel/documentary/photo journalism space to portraiture and fashion, and who knows what next. As long as i get to document my journey and tell stories, i'm happy.
GPP: The fashion photography industry is very competitive. What techniques do you use to make yourself stand out?
MM: It sure is, and its very saturated. There are very many fashion photographers and some really good ones at that. The internet has made everyones work available to you instantly and we are bombarded with imagery. As much as its great that we have access to so much inspiration, it can also be very distracting. Instead of trying to stand out, I've preferred the approach of focusing on staying as close as i can to my voice and to what excites me visually and aesthetically. And to create a body of work that will over time, hopefully, stand out because of this authenticity.
GPP: What is your thought process for location scouting? When shooting studio, how do you approach it differently?
MM: I'm always looking for a story and /or a character. I might walk into a location and be inspired by it to build a story and character around it or i could have a character in mind and i would keep my eyes peeled to find the right location. In the studio, i also like to create a story. Whether its the the treatment i will use or the costumes that will tie it together my ultimate objective is always to end up with a selection of images that tie together into a story.
GPP: Is there one piece of studio kit that you wouldn't be without for a shoot?
MM: I'm not a kit or gadget kinda guy. I like to keep things simple but it doesn't mean i don't like to experiment with different tools available to be creative in the image making process. Photography is a technical skill and its about understanding and playing with light so i always get excited when i get to try new techniques and create images that use light in new ways. When i have full creative licence, i enjoy trying out new light setups, in fact each time i enter a studio i try something new or different from the last, it keeps things exciting for me.
GPP: The above images are some of the best you've made so far in your career. Can you pick one and tell us more about it?
MM: I'm not sure they are my "best", but they are a selection of images that bring a smile to my face either because they remind me of a great experience or of a vision that i managed to manifest. The collages were fun to shoot, i spent two days in March ( in mad heat ) wandering around Dubai looking for imagery that i would use for a commission i was assigned to work on for Fashion Forward. We then shot the models featuring each of the designers presenting at the event. Working alongside the Art Director, we threw all the images on a board and merged the two shoots into a story, a really fun creative process. Seeing 24 of these images printed in life size posters and exhibited at the event was a nice high, i must admit.
GPP: What photographers from the past or present influence you the most?
MM: i think my main influences would have to be fashion & documentary photographers. And more than being influenced i would prefer to say that they provide me inspiration. There are so many to list and i wouldn't want to single out or leave anyone. As i've mentioned previously the internet has opened so many doors for us to explore and experience. We have had amazing fathers (& mothers) and we also have some phenomenal talent in the contemporary world, both locally and internationally.
GPP: Your projects are a collaborative process. Tell us what it's like to always be working with new stylists, models and designers.
MM: It sure is and i LOVE to collaborate. Every experience ends up being unique and i feel blessed to work with other creative individuals and be a part of each others story. That said, its very important to find & collaborate with creative individuals that are on a similar wavelength as yourself, when a team is in sync, the magic just flows. In the last year, I've travelled quiet a lot and have reached out to people in different parts of the world through instagram, reaching out to those whose aesthetic & vision i enjoy or them reaching out to me because they've liked what i do. The idea that its so easy to do this today than it ever was before is very powerful for me.
GPP: What projects are you working on now?
MM: I've been on a mission this year to work with as many creative people as i can bring together. My aim is to create as many self-initiated stories as i possibly can, its the only way that i can have creative freedom to create stories that resound for me. I'm also excited by the idea of working on fashion stories that are produced out of new locations like Mumbai, Istanbul and Toronto, markets that each bring a unique aesthetic, be it the creative talents that exists there or the fashion that originates from these places.
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