Mumbai-based LGBTQ+ activist and entrepreneur Monisha Ajgaonkar is known for her stunning commercial and wedding photography. Founder of The Photo Diary, she has been using her skills and talents for many years to work on several projects that shed light on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India. The launch of Bloosom, a stunning photo series by Monisha Ajgaonkar showcasing the coming out of a transsexual person, has already received accolades. Team Optimist spoke to Monisha Ajgaonkar on Blossom and various facets of her subjects and work. Excerpts…
Team Optimist: How did you stumble upon the idea of Blossom?
Monisha Ajgaonkar: Since June was Pride International Month, I wanted to showcase the community and execute a shoot that hadn’t been done before. After researching a lot, I hit upon the idea of Blossom. It honestly took just 3-4 hours to ideate the shoot. In that time, I understood the requirements for the shoot and visualized the entire concept. I’d already planned for the shoot with Sushant because he’s such a talented artist and a very sweet person.
Team Optimist: Depicting gender — especially such a sensitive aspect as transsexuality — in a photo series is not an easy task at all. How did you proceed? How’s it different from other traditional portraits?
Monisha Ajgaonkar: Blossom portrays the transition of a young boy — who’s scared to come out because of society’s pressure — into finally becoming the Diva that he is. Since June was Pride Month and transgenders are being mistreated worldwide, I wanted to raise my voice for them and show my support. I want them to know that we’re there for them and they can be whatever they like regardless of what society wants. I wanted to portray that people can be themselves and be comfortable in their own skin. Just be the ‘queen’ you are. Also, this is the first-ever nude shoot that we collaborated in.
Team Optimist: Why did you choose Sushant as your muse? What was Sushant’s initial reaction when you decided to go ahead with him as the lead in Blossom?
Monisha Ajgaonkar: Sushant is one of the best Drag Queens in India and a hugely influential personality in the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve known Sushant for a long time and he’s a true talent. I didn’t want to shoot with a model who doesn’t feel the emotions I want to put the person through. For me, this shoot was very personal and I wanted someone to understand it, too. Sushant was the perfect fit. I didn’t have to think twice about the subject of my shoot. He’s a sweetheart to shoot with. When I discussed my idea of shooting Blossom with him, Sushant was ecstatic and wanted to do it as soon as possible.
Team Optimist: Can your photography, as an organ, be pivotal in raising awareness about LGBTQ issues?
Monisha Ajgaonkar: For me, photography is an organ for raising awareness in the LGBTQ+ community, but it may not be the same for everyone. Photography’s a form of art in which I can express my feelings without any barriers. Such projects help me portray my true feelings. For someone else, dancing could be a way of raising awareness. Everyone has his or her own way of supporting the community.
Team Optimist: What’s your advice to photographers who thematically focus on LGBTQ issues?
Monisha Ajgaonkar: My advice to photographers is ‘put your heart into the shoot’. Make sure you feel every shot and it must make you move from inside. Don’t go for monetary benefits. Just keep the best interests of the community in mind. Try and portray your emotions through the pictures.