Interview #1 - Roshan Menon

Interview by Ezra Pilpus

Foreword:  I've known Roshan through Instagram a month ago, within a community of photographers in Malaysia. His work represents the vibrant and urban lifestyle of the city. He incorporates those elements into his portraiture works very nicely. He is optimistic and passionate in doing what he loves to do, as you can see in the interview below.

If you haven't seen his Favourite Five, then now is the time.


Ok, we can start by introducing yourself.

My name is Roshan Menon. I'm an economics student, pizza connoisseur and freelance photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Do you make pizzas?

No, sadly I don't. I'm more of going and trying other restaurants' pizzas and enjoying them.

Haha. What's your favourite pizza?

The quattro formaggi! 

I love pizzas as well.

Pizzas are so good.

Definitely. So what's happening with you?

Nothing much really. I just started college again. I'm in my final year now.

Oh, what are you taking?

I'm doing Economics and Finance. I'll graduate in June next year.

All the best for you.

Thanks! What do you work as by the way?

I'm teaching full-time and happen to do photography freelance as well.

Wow, you teach? That's awesome!

Yeah. Not my first choice, but the pay's good. Haha!

Haha, well as long as it keeps us going and covers the bills really.

I agree. It's all about the bills. So my next question is what draws you into photography?

Photography gives me this outlet to put all my "real world" worries away for the moment when I'm shooting. I do portraits and street photography. They both give a different feel of the escape.

So it's a therapy for you?

You could say that.
 
Remember your first shoot?

Haha, yes I do! My first was like an actual planned portrait shoot. It was so awkward. I didn't know what I was doing and how to direct the person.

I know the feeling

But after a few times, i've sort of found my flow to working with my subject

Were you on your own on the first shoot?

My friend was there, and he knew the model as well, so he helped me break the ice with her. I think at the time, for my first time, I was happy with the photos and looking back I still am (smiles)

Can you show me?

 

What attracts you to shoot portraits?

I think it's the ability to tell a story through the photos I take. The emotions portrayed by the subject, can be very strong and powerful. Take Steve McCurry's infamous Afghan Girl photo, for example. It's definitely an amazing portrait. I can feel and understand the story that's being told by Steven in that one photo.

So how's the industry/scene like in KL?

Everyone knows everyone really. It might not have been in person but everyone's heard about each other. At times we go out to shoot together or have collaborations on certain projects and just hang out whenever we can.

So it's a community?

Yeah. I would put it as a community. We're all good and respect each others' work.

That's good to know. Are there challenges?

I think they are, definitely. Probably, the first challenge would be locations - unless the person is adventurous enough to go hunting for locations. The second would be getting models/subjects. There is a tendency for a few of us shooting the same person over a period of time. There's nothing wrong with that, but you sort of get this moment when everyone is uploading the same photos on social media. I think the last thing would be the strict regulations, especially going up to rooftops to shoot city landscapes or late night portraits.

I love the rooftops shots

Yeah man! I'm no urban explorer but I love that side of the city. I know a few guys in KL via Instagram who take sick rooftop shots of the KL cityscapes which are breathtaking. I know a couple of guys in Singapore do the same thing as well.

Maybe you can describe how you approach the way you shoot. Let's start how do you prepare before doing a shoot?

Well, I usually go to Pinterest and look for inspiration and draw a mood board for a concept with few sample photos from some of my favourite photographers.

Then how about the day when you do the shoot? Your process and flow?

I try to make it early to the location so I can feel the vibe of the location. And usually, while I'm driving, I'll listen to a Spotify playlist I just made, so I can listen to the music that sort of gives me the feel of the entire shoot. During the shoot, I try to make conversations with my subjects, find out more about them and tell them about myself, just to seek ways that I can "connect" with them. Then, I tell them to be themselves and keep moving around to whatever they're comfortable with and try to create a story that I want for the photos.

That's so unlike me. I prefer quiet and calm!

Music helps me a lot!

I understand. Do you choose your playlist or ask the subject to pick some songs?

I have my own playlist and at times the model gives me a playlist or a few songs for me to listen to as well.

Awesome. Then, I wanna ask about the subject or models you choose. Any preferences? How they fit into your work and lifestyle?

Hmm. I don't have a specific type. I look at the eyes and jawline a lot in finding a model. But, I personally prefer shooting guys, I feel like I can connect with them better.

Connecting as in guys sharing the same interests?

Yeah, similar interests and background stories. And we're guys, we connect over stuff like football and beer. Haha!

Are you shy towards females? 

At first I was! And I still am, but I remind myself that me and the person I'm photographing are here to create beautiful images together and I should put that shyness aside.

That's true. What music do you listen to?

I listen to so many genres - hip-hop, indie, R&B, 80s classics and some old jazz.

What's the current album you listen to?

If You're Reading This It's Too Late by Drake

Know Yourself, haha

Drizzy got it all figured out. Haha!

Honestly, what about him that people pay attention?

I think it's his flow of lyrics and beats in the background. They are really catchy and stick in your head. I'm actually listening to Back to Back by Drake right now.

 

Awesome. How about movies?

Movies. I love movies, man. I get a lot of ideas for shoots from movies.

So I guess both music and movies are influential to you?

Yup, it definitely is. You should watch The Bang Bang Club when you have the time!

I definitely check it out next time. Any other photographers that you constantly follow?

In Malaysia or internationally? Dead or alive?

Your call, bro.

Well, the one person who constantly motivates me to keep shooting and improving would have to be Razlan Yusof. He's an amazing photographer. He's humble and doesn't mind teaching other people about shooting and he's just a really great guy in person as well. I draw my inspiration from some photographers on Instagram as well. To name a few would be @bludshot and @6corners. But portraiture wise - guys like Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel and probably, Bruce Gilden are on the top of the list.

Do camera gears/apps matter to you in achieving what you want in your work?

I use VSCOCam from time to time for photos taken from my phone. Gears - they depend really. If I want to go wide, then I'll use a 24mm. Other than that, i think it's more of having an eye for it that really matters 

Lets talk about your choice in Favourite 5. Any reasons why? Is it easy or difficult for you to choose those 5? What factors do take in when you choose those photos?

It wasn't easy, haha. I think it's because each photo tells a story individually. Like, if you look at it and try to imagine what the situation would be like and what emotions are being displayed in that photo.

It is interesting to me that 4 of those are, I assume, from photo shoots and the one with the old man is not.

Yup, you're right. The photo of an old man was taken during a photowalk on street portraiture. 

Do you feel you are earning well as a photographer?

I don't usually get that many jobs. It's really once in a blue moon.

Ok, so how much do you think people value your work?

My friends and family constantly tell me how much they like my work and give me feedback for improvement purposes.

That’s good stuff, man

I shoot for myself, and I am happy that some people can relate to the photos I take.

Do you enjoy shooting still?

Yes I do! I always do. I try to shoot once or twice a month.

Do you feel a sense of competition or doing it for yourself?

I do it for myself. You can't avoid competition honestly, you've got people around you that's constantly going to be comparing your work to others.

Do you feel intimidated at least?

When I first started meeting and collaborating with photographers that have been shooting longer than me, I felt intimidated. But over time, I realised I've got to shoot what I enjoy and what I like.

I totally agree, bro

I'd love to work with Ridduan Ismail (TTFGA) someday though!

I met him a few years ago. Not sure if he still remembers me, haha.

He is super talented! The man is crazy talented and very down to earth.

How do you feel when people pay attention to your work (through social media) and to some extent, yourself?
 
I've met people at events who've seen my work via social media and gave their comments on it. I definitely appreciate each person telling me to keep shooting and I promise to keep doing that. When it comes to myself, I want to stay humble and keep growing personally. I just enjoy meeting people and getting to know them, sharing ideas, and that's how your name usually goes around really.

Anything that keeps you excited in the future?

The future is uncertain and the uncertainty keeps me excited.

Well said! Do you enjoy the process of shooting or its end result?

I enjoy the process. The end result - it's like a bonus from the hours you put in at the shoot. The real fun comes from spending time with the model/subject and getting to know them.

Do you still talk to your subjects/models after shoots?

Yes! We always keep in contact via social media and sometimes, we go out for lunch.

Let’s talk more about your work. I notice you shoot a lot at clubs or DJ shows?

Haha! I only did it twice. But I want to do more DJ shows for sure. Like I said earlier, music influences my work so I enjoy shooting music events 

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And you are slowly doing fashion?

Hmm. I would say I'm more inclined towards portrait and street photography. But I've realised how much what you wear plays an important part during a shoot as well.

I mean your fashion shots are good

I always think fashion photography would be more of the likes of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.  

I guess so. Do you travel often? When you travel, what do you capture?

I don't travel that much. I've had plans throughout the year to visit places but they never happened. I blame the ringgit for being expensive! But, if I ever go visit, I'd link up with other photographers over there and shoot with them. Take photos of some urban landscapes and maybe do a couple of portraits.

Haha, we have the same mind. I just care portraits too much than travel photos

Likewise! One day the people that I meet can hopefully take me around.  I also love architecture and geometry.

What aspects of architecture & geometry that you like? 

The leading lines and just how everything converges to one point. In some cases, some buildings or bridges are just amazingly on point with their design and it prompts me to just take the photo.

How do you maintain your beard?

Oh God, well I usually keep it for 2-3 months, then I'll trim it down. Beard oils are a bearded man's best friend in this case.

Do you use that Wak Doyok beard cream?

Haha, no I don't! I use the Bearded Bastard whenever I can. You can get them in Singapore but not in Kuala Lumpur.

Anything else you want to say?

Nothing else really.