Artist Spotlight: Ananya Rijhwani
In conversation with Delhi-based wedding photographer Ananya Rijhwani
With over four years of experience in the wedding photography industry at just 23 years of age, Ananya Rijhwani has a successful company under her name today. Her journey started out tough, with having to pay bills and phases of self-doubt and frustration when she was just 18 but she believes that every day is a new chapter and a new day to learn. Art came into her life when she was just 4-years-old in the form of Kathak and she realised very early in her life of her penchant for creating visual stories. Shooting weddings came naturally to her because of her love for the culture, emotions, the people, and the colours they hold.
In this very candid conversation with Ananya, we talk about her journey, her dreams, and inspirations and where she thinks life will take her.
It’s been four or so years since you’ve opened your wedding photography studio. How has your journey been?
Sigh. Its been a roller coaster ride (all in a good way) & I am loving and learning with every single bit of it 🙂
I started from Varanasi actually, my hometown. Varanasi/Benares as you call it is a small spiritual town in UP. I have been living in Delhi now for the last three years.
My moving out of my house, taking up wedding photography has made me learn so so much. From paying my own bills at 18 years of age to going through a lot of phases of self-doubt, frustration, and days where I had no one to actually applaud my choices in life, I have seen it all! But I have been blessed to meet some absolutely beautiful people who came as clients and became very good friends & motivators on the lowest days and what not! And not to forget, some amazing fellow wedding photographers who have been such a support at all times 🙂
How did you find your calling in photography?
Ahh… I grew up in a Sindhi family (Not at all Sindhi by thoughts haha). My Mom and Dad own this pretty little Bed n Breakfast aka Homestay in Varanasi. Unlike usual Indian kids, I was lucky to be growing up and exposed to people from different nationalities and cultures which led me to be what I am today. From salsa dancers to photographers to authors to administrators from different nations, people with such daring life stories. Interacting with all of them every day on my dining table for hours, opened me up to a whole new world.
I specifically remember being fascinated by this female Australian photographer who stayed with us for some 15 days and was in Varanasi to photograph ‘Death’. Usually, death & cremation are intense topics and not really talked about/shown to children but her images (the ones she shot) were so moving that I wanted to actually explore & learn and do exactly what she was doing. My father who has always been my push to everything in life never stopped me from experiencing it all. He let me walk around the city with her while she photographed it all as her project for her university, silently giving me my motto in life – to create everlasting visuals.
A lot of credit goes to my father & mother as well who enrolled me into Kathak really early (at the age of four), unknowingly sowing in me the seeds to grow towards ART.
Do you think that entering the wedding photography industry at a young age has been advantageous to you? Or has it put you at a disadvantage?
Advantages – I have a lot of time, to make mistakes, learn and do them all again & grow! Haha! Plus no pressure ever at such a young age to give back at home.
Disadvantages – I feel saturated sometimes (a lot of times in 2018 specifically). I end up feeling that I am mediocre & my work isn’t that great like others. Being mediocre has always been the worst feeling anyone can have and it gets really bad onto me turning into bad anxiety. But, this is when I take breaks, travel, shut off from everyone for days, and realise the advantage I have of working for my own self! Haha.. not really a disadvantage!
What pulled you towards wedding photography specifically? What do you love the most about shooting weddings?
I am a people’s person. I gel up with people easily. I love celebrations, colour, good food off-course. Also, I have always been very BOLLYWOOD, very emotional towards everything in general. I just had a very strong pull towards weddings always.
You’ve gone through a lot to get to where you are today. Any regrets? What are your thoughts?
I wish I had done photography non-professionally for some more time at least before jumping into it professionally. I started at 18 (I wasn’t really 18 by my mind then, I am not 23 by mind right now too lol!) and I feel it was too early (but only sometimes, and not always) and one of the reasons why I feel so done up now could be this as well.
The above is also not a regret actually but just a way to kinda tell myself that I really want to do more and more and not tire so easily with it all. Apart from that, I have learned so so much! I have grown into a better person more than being a better photographer. As I said above and I will say it always, I have met some amazing clients who have become some closest friends now & I wouldn’t trade anything for it ever! And the amazing places I get to travel to, not losing it all, haha!
What keeps you going? Tell us about your inspirations – work or otherwise.
My Dad – he is one of my biggest inspirations. He is 55, successfully running three businesses, never gets tired/bored of his job and is always smiling while doing his work. Since childhood, I have seen him go through so much in business but never has he been unhappy with his work. I have never seen him complaining or cribbing. I don’t ever see him getting retired. In fact, the older he is getting, the more fun-loving and more of an entrepreneur he is becoming (Not denying its difficult to control him sometimes haha).
He always tells me this one line which is my go-to line when I am low or in self-doubt “Don’t focus on earning more it will only bring more stress, focus on the value you want to create through your work, rest will follow.”
My team – Whenever I have given up, felt low, gotten frustrated due to workload, they have picked me up. They have been there at -ups and never ever has anyone backed off. Whatever I am today is because of what they make me. They listen to what I want from them, expect them, and deliver more always & I won’t deny that I am really bad at times with them while they create repetitive mistakes or with my mood swings, anxiety issues but they deal with it all, but they won’t deny it either that I love all of them and stand for each of them whenever they need me!
What does success mean to you?
Success for me means creating everlasting visuals. What do I mean by everlasting visuals here? Images that my client’s children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren will see. Images that will adorn the walls of the houses they live in. Images that will stand the test of time and will always be there.
I have been there, into these lists of ‘Top 10 wedding photographers in Delhi’ or ‘Top 20 of this and that’ and I won’t deny it that in the first few years of doing wedding photography it has always felt like a recognition and recognition feels good to everyone but eventually over the course it has all gotten down to creating simple imagery yet images that connect the bride & the groom to their families, to their lives, to their own stories.
That’s what success means to me. If my bride is happy and all gaga to see the image I created of her father while she was stepping out of her house for the last time, or when she sees the image I created of her fiancé waiting for her on the aisle while she walks towards him to a new life. That’s it! That’s all. It ends there for me 🙂
We’ve read that you do quite a bit of work with NGOs. Tell us about that.
I have always been associated with some NGO or the other and tried contributing in my own small ways. I have taught photography for a very short period of time with two Delhi based NGO’s where I taught a group of 14 girls how to operate a basic point & shoot camera. It was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done for anyone.
Now, with a team to handle & growing pressures, I don’t get the time to be there, to visit, or teach. Thus now I do my contribution in a different way where every wedding photography package that gets sold off, we give a certain percentage of the total package to either children’s education to some NGO when they need it or some plantation drive. And I do believe, everyone should do their bit of giving back, it’s the best feeling ever, to be grateful.
We also read somewhere that you wanted to fly airplanes and own a travel cafe. Does that still hold true? If not, what do you dream about now? What else do you love doing apart from photography?
Yes, I still want to fly airplanes. I feel flying, is the ultimate thing where human beings could reach. I mean you are in the air, between the clouds, can there be anything greater than that? It’s the greatest joy for me. Whenever I am on an airplane, I feel so grateful. Also not denying if there is one thing I really want to learn, it’s how to fly airplanes and I would do it really really soon!
Owning a small travel cafe is my ultimate thing in life to do for me, I feel. A quaint tiny cozy one in hills somewhere where I would be involved in the whole experience. Or maybe a homestay just like my parents.
Also, I have always been a dreamer, a dropout! That’s what I call myself. So ‘dreamer dropout’ was the back blurb of a book by Cyrus Mistry. I came across this book sometime back and fell in love with that line and since then it’s been all mine and I feel it completely fits me too 🙂
Apart from photography, I love reading, gardening, doing up my house and the studio, (you never find the same piece of furniture ever in the studio at the same place and my team gets really annoyed with me for it, haha!) and travelling of course. 🙂
So what’s next for you?
‘Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.’
One of my favourite lines I get from my father every time I plan too much or overthink about what’s next. 🙂
I love it when my life surprises me!
Dreaming and then maybe dreaming more and then dreaming a little more each day 🙂