Gandee Vasan is a master of commercial photography. His signature style blends photography, illustration and CGI to create timeless concepts which tap into the collective subconscious.
We chat to him about approach, motivation, challenges in image making and the art of reinvention.
How did you get into photography?
My background is Fine Art; I did a degree in painting, specializing in portraiture. So photography was an extension of that. I did a post graduate diploma in Computer graphics at the embryonic period of the craft. It’s interesting that all these disciplines are converging because of the continuous evolution of digital technology.
I was very fortunate to have worked in advertising doing creative manipulation of photographic images. This gave me an insight into the look and feel clients want in commercial imagery. So when I became a photographer, I was able to apply this experience.
What motivates you to keep making images?
What really drives any image maker is the picture they have in their heads rather than what they see. There is a quote from Degas : “Drawing is not what you see but what you want others to see”. It’s all about communicating what you want the viewer to experience. So if you have got something to say, you will say it whether with words, with music or pictures. They say creativity is more of a preoccupation than an occupation!
How has your approach evolved over the years?
Over the years I have learnt how to make the work more impactful while at the same time making it ambiguous enough for the viewer to create their own story around the image. The joy is to find an image that is open to interpretation without being crass. It took many years for me to understand that there are several layers within an image; an understanding that it’s better to do one great image than a thousand mediocre ones, making an image five percent better will garner a hundred percent of the sale.
Also with social media being so ubiquitous, you are able to test the response and make changes before finalising the image. The tech evolution has widened the possibilities of visual storytelling, allowing you to bring ideas to life in exciting ways which wasn’t really possible before. You are now able to produce impossibly fantastic ideas using Photography, Illustration and CGI and seamlessly merge them together. One is also able – within limitations – to use the same asset as a still image and as an animation.
What has been the best moment of your career so far?
The eureka moment was the discovery of “the collective subconscious”. I heard the term for the first time when I first started working at Getty over 20 years ago. Some images just seem to appeal to people across the globe, regardless of your background.
In the fine art world you hang a picture in a gallery and say “this is great art”. In the image library world there are millions of pictures thrown out into the ether and the same few seem to get picked time and again. That was a revelation and it has become an abiding fascination; certain books have universal appeal, so do films, games, software, gadgets and music. No one knows what the magic ingredient is.
What has been the most challenging moment of your career?
The most challenging moment is now! There are myriad challenges in both creativity and distribution.
This is a moving target, because it’s no good doing what has been done before. That means you have to come up with work that is truly unique and that requires putting the hours in.
You’re a master of reinvention, how have you kept evolving your work through changes in the industry?
I try not to live in a bubble and try my best to practice forgetting what I have already learned. Perhaps the secret of reinvention in the visual world is to follow a hunch and cultivate that hunch. Be totally “random” for want of a better word. What I mean by that is to do something with whatever you come across and make it something special: give it a narrative, give it a completely different look or use a completely different medium to what you usually use which can make it interesting.
What is the secret to mastering stock photography?
What I know for sure though is that the images that really sell are the unique ones, at least they are unique until they get plagiarised! It’s very obvious that it’s something that no one has seen before that sells over and over again. But it’s like that with anything; when the first mobiles came out they sold and sold. When the first cars came out they sold by the millions.
I suspect the future of stock – repeat sales – might not be the image as we know it but something adjacent; 3D models that are endlessly downloaded for 3D printing, clips that can be used in virtual reality and immersive experiences or animated gifs. Time will tell.
To find that unique image that appeals to “the collective subconscious” you have to create lots of thoughtful, emotionally engaging images that tell a story, a story that can mean anything you want it to mean. And that’s a tall order!