Photography isn’t just the art of observation. It’s a way of touching, feeling and loving in some form while finding fascinating things in an ordinary situation. Full awareness of what makes a good photograph is essential to the process because what you have caught on film is captured forever and leaves quite the impression of a voice unspoken. One photographer who is making waves through her unique style is Isha Sharma of Isha Sharma Photography.
Growing up in India and later moving to Canada, 24 year-old Sharma developed her love for photography after her father gifted her with a Polaroid i-Zone Instant Sticker camera at the age of 13. It was then that the young girl got into experimental photography, diving deep into a world of not just film reel but emotion and a way of capturing beauty found in an inimitable eye.
“I soon realized that I didn’t just want to take pictures of my friends and family and stick them on my locker,” she smiles. “I started experimenting with it and started taking more artistic pictures and realized how much I loved it.”
Sharma started taking her passion for photography seriously in 2005 with her trusty Olympus E-500. She defines her photographic style as dark fantasy photography but one can see quite a bit of light and a picturesque softness with the way she captures her subjects. She portrays a full freshness with her skilled eye often varied with an eclectic mix of beauty and truth. The young photographer who resides in Markham with her family is self-taught but modest about it.
“I didn’t know most of the important techniques but I used my creativity and my sense of artistic directions to take pictures. When I finished high school, I decided to enrol in the New York Institute of Photography to sharpen my techniques and to study more about photography,” she says humbly.
With the way she photographs, you wouldn’t know it but Sharma wasn’t always keen on photography growing up. She was more of a painter, expressing her artistic side but photography grew on her in time and through the years. “That’s when I really fell in love with it because I realized just how much I can express myself through it,” she beams.
Sharma looks to Diane Arbus as her biggest inspiration, a photographer known for her black and white photographs of unusual and marginalized individuals or simply put, those viewed from society as “ugly”. However, there isn’t anything ugly about Arbus’ work. The popular late American photographer captured quite the opposite, not just photographing people segregated by society’s norms but making others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.
When it comes to Sharma photographing her own subjects, many of her themes come from dreams or on nights from when she suffers from insomnia. One thing that many have noticed with her work is the way she focuses on the emotions of her subjects in many of her shoots, whether it be through expression or the eyes. Sharma believes it’s important to have that emotional connection and it isn’t as much as an effort as it’s more of a natural behaviour when photographing.
She believes in the natural eye for photography but chimes in that it doesn’t mean all photographers have it. “Anyone can pick up a camera and claim to be a photographer by taking snapshots but I do believe a true photographer takes their time and puts emotion into it – if your eyes are able to pick up emotions then yes, you do have a natural eye for photography.”
Sharma recalls the first moment she realized her passion for photography. “When I was 16, I did a photoshoot with my friend [and] it was very experimental,” she laughs. “It was a lot of fun to figure everything out and to put my ideas and then to capture them. I realized at that moment that photography was for me and it just helped me emotionally as well because I was able to take my mind off my problems and concentrate fully into the photoshoot.”
Her first photoshoot is dark, categorized as macabre and horror and delivers a genuine feeling of the creepy and mysterious; it can be seen here. One thing that Sharma hopes for is being able to use one of her vintage cameras in a future shoot. “I’m a collector!” she beams as she tells me briefly of her vast collection. It’s quite impressive and one can only wonder how she’ll go about a shoot with her defined themes while holding true to such tools.
Sharma is someone who admits she works better under pressure with occasionally getting good shots in the first few frames. She shares with me the details behind the “Black Star” photoshoot she took two summers ago. “I literally had three minutes to take the pictures and run because we didn’t have a permit to take pictures in that field and it was about to rain pretty hard. It turned out to be one of my favourite shoots!” she smiles.
Another shoot that is one of Sharma’s favourites is her latest, focusing on a retro themed inspired beach pin-up shoot involving model, Kelly Dixon. Sharma divulges that the shoot took about an hour to an hour and a half on a sunny Saturday afternoon but didn’t come without some complications and pressure.
“Usually my shoots go a lot faster but there were a lot of elements that I had to deal with. For one, you can’t tell by the pictures but there were a lot of people on the beach,” she stresses. “And they didn’t seem to care at all that I was doing a shoot and they kept either walking in between me and Kelly or behind Kelly.”
Despite the issues the two dealt with during the day, Dixon expresses an enthusiastic admiration for Sharma, saying the photographer made it work. “She has a really good eye for things,” she says. “Working with Isha was actually a lot of fun!”
The pictures are nothing short of gorgeous with a fresh contemporary vibrancy that is reminiscent of the 1940’s pin-up models like Betty Grable and Bettie Page. Sharma loved working with Dixon, expressing how great of a model she was to work with. “She has lots of experience with pin-up modeling. She has never done a photoshoot outside a studio before so this shoot was a challenge for her because she had to deal with people, the sun and environment.”
Though the two ran into some interferences like a film crew that abruptly began filming, they managed to do the best they could though Dixon disclosed that the sun was relatively harsh. Sharma adds, it was quite an obstacle to the day. “I like to work in overcast days and this day, the sun was very bright. When it’s sunny, you have to deal with strong shadows and that can be distracting.”
However, it helps when your model is accommodating and mature as Dixon helped Sharma figure out the right angles and positions.
“She did a great job and she was the type of model who knew that I know what’s best for her and she listened to me, gave me her input – when a model knows what she’s doing, it makes the job much easier,” Sharma shares. “Overall the whole experience was great! I had so much fun. I definitely want to do more pin-up shoots and hopefully I’ll get to work with Kelly again.”
Dixon expresses the same warm fervour. “I’d definitely work with her again and look forward to seeing more of her work myself,” she says. “It seems like she’s just getting warmed up.”
Sharma is a no-nonsense photographer with a solid head on her shoulders, getting her drive from her emotions. “Photography is an outlet for me and I need it to keep myself sane, so to speak,” she laughs. “It’s a passion that comes [from] within me.”
When I ask her what her process is like, she hesitates and sighs. Sharma is a careful thinker with a cranium full of naturalness and inventive heart. She smiles and it lights up a room. “Well, I usually jot down my ideas in my mini notebook that’s already filled with lots of ideas for photoshoots. Usually when I jot the ideas down, I write a detailed description of exactly what I want, so the locations, the outfit, the make-up, the lighting, the props.”
When a model comes along, Sharma usually looks through the list to see which shoot they would suit the most. “It really depends on the photoshoot, what we do [and] the actual taking picture part usually doesn’t take that long for me personally because before going into the shoot, I know exactly what I want and have a clear vision.”
After she takes the photographs, she edits them in Photoshop to add another aspect of creativity. This surge of originality can be seen in various shoots of hers, one that captured much attention was “The Marionette” where the photographs don’t just showcase art in a mainstream form but an arcane beauty. Sharma says, “I use Photoshop for doing creative things, like manipulation, more than altering or fixing my photographic techniques.”
However, living in a world of airbrushing and negative body image issues have been a focal point in recent years as magazines and advertisers blur the image of the norm, “perfecting” what should be seen and what shouldn’t. Sharma makes it a point to not ever take away from the initial image, exclaiming that Photoshop is important but it depends on how well you can use it and not be excessive.
She loves photography and in some sense, it’s become an extension of her very identity. To put it simply, she reveals it is the one thing that lets her be herself.
“I’m a creative person and I use creativity to express myself. Of all the art mediums, photography has always appealed more to me. I love that I can share my visions with people through photography [and] it’s very therapeutic for me as well because it does let me express myself.”
Sharma’s advice for those hoping to achieve their dreams of becoming full-fledged photographers is one word: experiment. She thinks for a moment, then smiles. “You know, my biggest advice would be to experiment and think outside the box! Anyone can take a snapshot or a picture of a pretty flower but when you start challenging yourself, only then does photography really become creative and interesting.”
The beauty of photography is that it’s something that can show a truth, perhaps in a small voice by simply recording a gamut of feelings written on the human face. Without spoken words acting as a narrative, it can lure our sense of awareness and acts as a major force when explaining man to man. Isha Sharma proves it with the way she captures an image.
To see the rest of this featured photoshoot starring Kelly Dixon as well as Sharma's past work, be sure to check out Isha Sharma Photography on her official site and join her on Facebook for updates and news!