Celebrated wedding photographer and LGBTQ activist Monisha Ajgaonkar lives a life behind the camera. But a big part of that is devoted to the commercial work for which she is well sought after. However, all the while, another part of her keeps craving for that creative mojo that only a different type of work can give, which often has nothing to do with money.
The latest in her series of these creative forays, pursued purely for passion, is “Blossom.” It’s a photo story on the coming out of a transexual, through sensitive photography that depicts various emotional stages that the subject goes through in the quest to come out confidently about one’s identity.
“Through the year, my hands are full with wedding photo assignments [through her company The Photo Diary] but I do make time to do photo/video series every year, where often the subject is the LGBTQ community. The idea is to represent their concerns and issues creatively because the society continues to have biases against them. I feel that talking about the subject is not the only way to bring attention to the issues of the community. Two years ago, I had done a short film on a lesbian couple as I wanted to show that they were just like any other normal couple. I think it conveyed the message I wanted to put across nicely,” says Mumbai-based Ajgaonkar.
She adds that the shoot was conducted as an ode to the International Pride Month observed every year in June. “Transgenders are being mistreated worldwide — even in the Pride Month about 12-13 people are killed only because of their identity, so I wanted to raise a voice for them and show support. I want them to know that we are there for them and they can be whatever they like, regardless of what society wants. With this photo series, I want to portray that people can be themselves and be comfortable in their own skin. Just be the queen you are.”
In “Blossom,” her subject is Sushant Divgikr, Mumbai’s well-known Drag Queen, and it shows him transitioning from a young boy, who is scared of coming out, to becoming the “Diva” that he is now, embracing his true identity and going about his life with confidence.
The series is a brilliant conceptualization on the phenomenon of coming out, which Ajgaonkar took less than half a day to ideate and execute. A release from her company describes it thus: “It begins with a young and naked boy scared to show his face to the world with dead branches on his back. He then tries facing the world but is still covering his face as he is not comfortable revealing who he is. And then, his face is half-covered with flowers as he is slowly trying to embrace his identity. The photo series gradually shows the flowers moving away from his face and then he is seen with half face make-up, all set to become the real Diva. And finally, the young boy is no more scared and is seen in a completely different avatar, showcasing his true self in a stunning rainbow outfit.”
“Blossom” is the first ever nude shoot executed by Ajgaonkar and was jointly curated by the photographer and the muse. Members of Ajgaonkar and Divgikr’s team who were part of the shoot were: Mayuri Nivekar (stylist), Ankit Anil Trivedi (makeup artist), Akash Shah, Aryan Gupta, Netram Shah (production), Swapnil Shinde (outfit), and Noyonika Nalavade (assistant).
It wasn’t difficult to choose Divgikr, a known voice in LGBTQ activism, as Ajgaonkar has known him for long, and brought authenticity to the highly personal subject, which wouldn’t have been the case with any other model. “Sushant and I had done a project together earlier and he seemed fit for this shoot as he does a lot of gig in London for the LGBTQ cause,” she says.
Despite the apparent ease with which “Blossom” has been created and executed, Ajgaonkar admits life outside the camera is not as easy for the members of the community. “Here in Bombay, certain sections of people are opening up and embracing LGBTQ individuals as regular members of the society. However, the society as a whole has a long way to go. I don’t know the situation about other cities of the country —
acceptability for transgenders may not be even at the level of Bombay. What I do know is that if you are rich, then your alternate sexuality is not an issue and you are accepted as who you are, but if you are a transgender from a modest background, nobody will accept you,” says Ajgaonkar, driving home the point incisively.
Until then, projects such as “Blossom” remain one of the safest options to raise awareness about issues that concern the respectable existence of members of the community.