Shooting 2.1 people per minute

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Sydney photographer Rajesh Kumar attempts to establish a new world record. PRIYADARSHINI CHIDAMBARANATHAN writes

Rajesh Kumar likes making people happy. He likes watching their faces light up when they see themselves caught on film and hearing them say, “Wow! That’s fantastic!”

“It’s intoxicating,” he says enthusiastically.

Rajesh made over 1000 people happy at the India Australia Friendship Fair (AIFF) in Sydney Olympic Park on August 19.

This 39-year-old Sydney resident set out to establish a new world record for the highest number of individual portraits taken in a single day. He managed to take 1010 photographs within a space of 8 hours, shooting an average of 2.1 people per minute. The world record is still in the process of being verified, but the numbers are still mind-boggling.

So how did the idea to create a record originate?

“I have been taking a lot of photographs, and wanted to do something different. I wanted to exhibit my unique skills to the world and establish myself in the growing Indian community here in Australia,” admits Rajesh.

The aim was to garner publicity for his wedding photography business, and it has worked. He has received a few enquiries after the event.

To hit the ground running for the event, Rajesh started planning three months in advance, listing everything he would need, from volunteers to light fixtures. “It would have been a far greater challenge without the support of my six volunteers and sponsors United Indian Association (UIA), and Dragon Image Australia who sponsored my equipment,” he states.

One of Rajesh’s first challenges was converting his minuscule 2.4sqm stall into a makeshift studio. With the help of his volunteers, he got groups of people to come in and get their pictures taken. Most of them wanted to be photographed together, and had to be persuaded to have individual portraits shot instead. Persuasion in Hindi, a language he does not speak, was also a challenge.

For Rajesh, this was very different from his usual relaxed studio setting, as he had to have an eye on the clock and concentrate on shooting as fast as possible. But he still got complimented on the quality of his photographs, and on his ability to remain cool under so much pressure.

The worst period of the 8-hour day was the half hour when Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived at the event; Rajesh was only able to take 12 photographs in that half hour. (Of course it would have been quite a coup if the PM herself could have sat for him, but sadly that did not seem possible!)  However, once the Prime Minister left, he and his team were back to working with the crowds, persuading them to come and have their photographs taken.

Rajesh gallantly multi-tasked throughout the 8-hour period, continuously snapping with his camera, monitoring the video, sending SMS updates to the organisers with every 100th milestone, updating his Facebook stats and even being interviewed by a TV crew.

There were a variety of participants ranging from small children to senior citizens. “Relax”, “Smile”, “Pose” and “Thanks” were words Rajesh repeated constantly throughout the day. He got participants to relax by cracking jokes, and the ones about actor Rajnikanth really got his audience smiling.

Rajesh’s favourite photograph is of an Aboriginal man. “He had a didgeridoo with him but I asked him do something different,” he says. He ended up with a shot that stands out in the collection. Rajesh also remembers a girl who came in as part of a dance troupe, raising her hands and asking him, “How should I pose?” but he had shot her before she had even stopped speaking.

The collection of photographs will be composed into a montage and presented to UIA to display in their office and at various art exhibitions. A time-lapse video of the event will also be available online. All the individual pictures have been uploaded on Facebook, and about 200 people have seen their photographs so far. Those who would like a high resolution picture can send Rajesh a request on Facebook, or email him.

In spite of a sore neck and the immensely stressful experience, he says, “I enjoyed the event 110%, and all the people who came to get photographed also enjoyed it.”

This is a man who seems to thrive under pressure. He works as an Emerging Technology Specialist by day, and spends the rest of his time as a photographer.  As the official photographer in Sydney for the Australian Banking & Finance magazine, Rajesh spends many of his evenings at corporate events. Weekends see him at weddings and birthday parties across the city. He is also involved in video production, covering weddings and corporate events. He has also shot a few community-based TV commercials that aired on SBS, TVS and some online channels.

Inspired by one of his colleagues at his office, Rajesh decided to turn photography into a business four years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. He bought his first SLR five years ago and currently uses a Nikon D90. He enjoys portrait photography because he gets to meet so many different people.

With no formal training in photography, Rajesh believes it is his hard work that has brought him where he is today. “I don’t believe in luck too much, hard work yields profit, that’s what I believe in,” he says.

Rajesh’s advice to budding photographers is to keep practicing. “It’s not just about the camera or the lens, it’s practice that makes a person perfect,” he avers.