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Heroes in Uniform

Ace photographer Pravin Talan’s favorite subject isn’t fashion, nor is it food or architecture. It’s something very close to his heart – taking inspiring photographs of our special forces, both men and women.

It just so happened that Pravin’s friend once showed him a casual photo of men in uniform, most probably tired after a day of election duty. That set the bee buzzing in Pravin's bonnet and he started exploring ways to better that image. "I did some research and realized that we had no heroic images of our special forces. The only images available were shot in parades,” shares Pravin.

“Nobody knows what exactly the National Security Guard (NSG) or the Railway Police or the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) or even the Coast Guard does. I wanted to show what they do in a good light,” adds the photographer who went on to find a way. Pravin is among a handful to have travelled the length and breadth of the country, through deserts and subzero temperatures to heavy rainfall areas and from gold mines to coal mines to satellite launch sites to photograph our hardworking special forces. He has also spent time with para forces and commandos, policemen and coast guard to get those perfect shots.

Along with his striking photographs for the different forces, Pravin has also shot and collated images for coffee table books and calendars for the State Police and the NSG and others.

Joining the dots for Heroes in Uniform, his exhibition scheduled towards March end/early April this year in Delhi, Pravin shares his experiences in a tete-e-tete with Uma Karve Chakranarayan from Team Spice With Sam

Picture perfect

Whatever the wing – Cobra, Border Security Force (BSF) or NSG, you have to decide over a period of time what you have to shoot, look for key events and sometimes recreate a situation or a particular action. As I did this I learned a lot. To wear a uniform of our country’s security forces, you have to fight more than in active combat as the terrain is a major killer. Everybody is fascinated by the uniform, it has its own sense of pride and glamour, but beyond that, our soldiers are fighting with temperatures, weather, difficult locations every day. Imagine a photo of our women commandos camouflaged in the jungle or beside a tank with a heavy gun - my work is about great imagery to convey the message.

Often I come back with an injury after a shoot because I am not as fit as the commandos but to earn their respect you should be able to command your subject to get the best out of them. That can happen when they respect your physicality. It just makes me want to do better with every assignment.

Why do we need good photos of our security and defense forces?

Today wars are a lot about psychological warfare. You often see brilliant powerful photos of soldiers and weapons from the USA or China or Korea….the soldiers look like Ironman or Superman. When you showcase your strength in a smart way, it becomes a deterrent for other countries and is inspiring for our country. Half the battles are won in the mind so you have to inspire your own people to fight, to join the forces. Excellent photos are hence essential.

Tell us about your exhibition Heroes in uniform

It will be a huge exhibition in Delhi this year to commemorate 75 years of our Independence. I will showcase 75 unseen images in March end or April with the special forces as the theme. Some of my images can be downloaded for those who want to use them for their schools and colleges and for personal use, though not for commercial use.

What else are you working on?

Over the last two years, through my agency, The Art Of Visuals, I am making short films to help youngsters and families become more aware about how to deal with man-made and natural disasters. I intend these films to reach schools and colleges across India.

Just before we locked down in the first wave of COVID 19, we made a 3D movie on disasters like cyclones, earthquakes and fire and a complete book including a chapter on pandemics with the Disaster Management Department of MCGM. The launch is delayed.

I feel very strongly about our lack of preparedness so it needs to reach as many homes as possible.

We are looking forward to the exhibition and to the short films too. Watch this space for more.

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