A New Angle: Photography duo Amit and Naroop on the lack of colour behind the lens
Sharing their hard-earned experience and advice from within the advertising and commercial portraiture worlds, the duo discuss the lack of representation in the sector and their work to support aspiring creatives of colour.
- Jenny Brewer
- 23 February 2021
- Reading Time
- 6 minute read
A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.
This week we talk to commercial photography and film duo Amit and Naroop, who have spent the past 18 years carving themselves a highly successful career and stellar client list, but often wondered why they are “one of a handful of BAME creatives”. Now they are using their contacts and sharing their experience to promote a more diverse industry via client work and initiatives for emerging talent. Here, they tell us what they believe needs to be done to instigate change.
It’s Nice That: What is your mission, and what about the creative industry are you hoping to change?
Amit Amin: In short, our mission is to make the creative industry more diverse. There is a serious lack of colour when it comes to photographers and filmmakers that are commissioned to shoot campaigns. In the advertising agencies themselves, there is also a huge problem with representation, so this issue needs to get dealt with on both sides of the fence. There are plenty of creatives of colour who are talented photographers, filmmakers, art buyers, producers, copywriters, etc., but the proportion that are pursuing it as a career and achieving success is tiny.
INT: Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to this point.
Naroop Jhooti: We are a photography and film duo that have been working together since 2003. As two young, motivated yet naive photographers, we never felt our colour would be an issue. We were even bold enough to brand ourselves by just our first names, Amit and Naroop, knowing that it would make us stand out and hopefully be remembered.
Like most creatives with minimal resources, we started shooting on the street, using whatever and whoever we had around us to build our book. This led our work to feel stylistically ‘urban’. The music industry spotted this and we built a name shooting music artists in grime, hip hop, dance and RnB. However, the term ‘urban’ ended up being a tough description to shake off and we had to work extremely hard to show commissioners that we could shoot more than just street, edgy imagery focused on talent of colour. Was this a form of discrimination? Possibly. Did we let it slow us down? No. I guess we knew no better and accepted it for what it was. We were just grateful to be paid for doing what we loved.
It was only when we had fully established ourselves as commercial advertising photographers and directors that we reflected on our journey and realised that even though we were in a good and ‘successful’ place, it surely shouldn’t have taken so long. There were so many jobs we should have got. So many rejections we had to face. Was this all purely down to our work not being right, or was it something else? With a good idea of most of our peers and having attended countless awards, exhibitions and other events, it became clear, most of the time, the only other person of colour we would see at events would be each other.
Feeling that we have a certain amount of clout and respect in the industry, we believe we are now in a position to speak about the blatant lack of representation and act as a source of change and inspiration for other creatives who are embarking on or thinking of following in our footsteps. There were so few creative role models of colour to follow when we were up and coming, we hope we can be those guys who the next generation look to for guidance and inspiration.
INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing, and why?
AA: Awareness. Even though there are fantastic initiatives like The Colour Balance and the work we are doing with the Association of Photographers, not enough people are talking about it. It is only when the issue becomes something you can’t hide from that action begins to take place.
Right now, Covid and social distancing are also a major challenge. A lot of the ideas we have require people to come together, a conference or talk kind of environment. Video calls don’t quite cut it. You can’t see your audience, you can’t transfer your energy and passion, and importantly, you can’t build the relationships. Once things get back to some sort of normality, things will shift up a gear.
INT: How are you tackling those challenges?
AA: To tackle the awareness issue, we are asking creative platforms that have influence to write articles and create content that will share the issue with its readership. We are also speaking with news platforms to do the same. This isn’t an easy job, especially as we aren’t PR specialists.
The AOP have been excellent to us and we have been holding monthly Zoom talks where we speak with creatives of colour or people who are passionate about creating change. These have been a great way to discuss the situation and what can be done to make the industry more diverse. We have also held Instagram live Q&As with young creatives of colour, answering questions they had and sharing advice. We have gone on to mentor many young photographers, helping to lay the foundations for their future.
Once we can hold talks in-person again, we have plans to try and reach young creatives of colour at schools, colleges and universities. This is where the change will begin. By speaking with aspiring creatives, we can share our journey and experiences and show them that it is an exciting, fun and lucrative career if you get it right. Educating them about how they should plan their career will help them speak with their families about pursuing it as a job. Families can offer a lot of resistance to a young creative as there is stigma about working in the creative industry and it not being a ‘real job’.
We are also working with advertising agencies to hold talks for their staff about the issue of commissioning creatives of colour. The talks we have done so far have been received very well and the agencies are putting a lot of their resources into shifting the way they work. We understand that change will take time and have offered our ongoing support to work with agencies and offer our perspectives on the strategies they have in place.
INT: How can the creative industry help your mission?
NJ: Education and communication. Agencies should be speaking with young creatives at schools, colleges and universities and sharing insights into the industry. Almost like a careers day. How would one get into the industry and what are the roles on offer, etc?
Agencies also need to understand what it is like for a young creative of colour. Coming from an immigrant family, a lot of the time, being successful and getting a secure, well-paid job is pushed onto the child. This can rule out creative jobs. Amit and I attribute a lot of our success to our parents. We were both supported and encouraged by our families and we owe a lot to them. So, knowing this, agencies should ask themselves what they can do to appeal to these young creatives of colour. Could they offer financial support? Paid internships? Better pay at an early stage? This is something for them to decide, but I think it would make a difference.
Commissioning creatives of colour needs addressing. No one is asking for a hand-out. The best person should get the job. But pre-judging the person by their name, colour or heritage isn’t right. Judge someone on their work, personality, confidence, creativity, ability, skill, likability, communication and experience, yes, but colour shouldn’t be one of the parameters. If you see good work on their website, you know they can deliver.