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Verve People
March 19, 2018

Meet Shahzad Bhiwandiwala, The Boy With The Exceptional Talent Of Breathing Life Into His Toys

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

Warning: You might not be able to tell real from reel as the toy photographer’s image of Chucky from Child’s Play (shot exclusively for Verve) jumps out menacingly at you

If you mistook the above image for an ultra high definition still of Master Yoda’s exile on Dagobah from Star Wars, we’d forgive you for it. So would Shahzad Bhiwandiwala, creator of said photograph (yes, it’s the photograph of a Yoda figurine) and one of the few quality toy photographers in India, but not before he favours you with a roguish grin. It’s evident that the man takes immense pride in his talent — and we don’t hold it against him — because taking something as insentient as the miniature of an epic silver screen character and imbuing it with the heightened emotion of its life-size counterpart is worthy of praise.

When I first met Shahzad in college, he was studying commerce while pursuing his love for theatre, whenever he could find the time. Years later, when I bumped into him at a common friend’s birthday, his outward appearance had changed drastically — the quirky T-shirts had given way to crisp formals; the unkempt afro settled into a neat crop. What remained unchanged in the now-HR executive’s demeanour were his gleaming eyes and restless hands — always eager to catch something out of the ordinary. I sparked a conversation with him and delved deeper into how he breathes life into his figurines, of which he currently has 180, but hopes to add many more.

Excerpts from our interview….

What made you foray into toy photography?
Prior to taking up toy photography in 2015, I used to only photograph while on vacation as I didn’t feel inspired enough to bring out the camera at home. I happened to accidentally stumble upon the world of toy photography on Instagram while browsing through pop culture pages. It was an immediate ‘eureka’ moment for me as I have always been a geek and combining my love for storytelling and capturing the moment with my childhood heroes was just too enticing an opportunity to pass up.

How did you manage to get to where you are without any professional training in photography?
I lapped up every YouTube tutorial on photography I came across and browsed through the pages of other toy photographers. I learnt my way around a camera from YouTube but it was the toy photography community that really came forward and helped me figure out the dos and don’ts. That being said, I have to say that I’ve had to work hard to get to where I am. A couple of years ago, I helped a friend out with a photo essay using my Lego Stormtroopers and I thought it was capable of being the best project in the class. Let’s just say it wasn’t. In fact, it makes me cringe to look at it today but when I posted it on Instagram it was the first image to hit a 100 likes, so it’s special to me in a way.

How do you manage your time between your passion and your profession?
It’s not an easy task to maintain and give equal attention to what I consider two jobs. My day usually ends at 2 AM. I shoot on the weekends while weekdays are reserved for editing. My social life took a beating due to this erratic schedule but I can’t complain. In fact, I welcomed it because it meant that I could work on the same things that fascinated me as a child.

How different is HR professional-Shahzad from toy photographer-Shahzad?
The HR professional version of me is one who follows a set path and has tasks waiting for him. When I assume this persona, I execute tasks in a tried and tested manner like most jobs, so it’s all linear and straightforward. Toy photography, on the other hand, encourages you to break the rules. It allows you to create new worlds, new stories and relinquishes control of everything to the artiste, right from the emotion and the posing to the location and the editing. The more you bend the rules and change the game, the greater are your chances of succeeding. The overlapping aspect of both HR and toy photography is this: you can’t thrive unless you make a sincere effort to up your game or maintain the quality of your output, at the very least.

Tell us how you create your process of creating a single image.
It’s an eight-step approach that includes the following:
Conceptualising the shoot
– Picking a suitable location
– Selecting the character(s)
– Choosing an appropriate pose to highlight the character’s emotion at a particular point in time
Framing the image to highlights certain elements
– Creating the intended mood with the lighting
– Using special effects to amplify the final product
Editing the image, although I stick to only colour grading — everything else is done in the camera itself

How has your work progressed since you first started out?
Being highly self-critical of my work has helped me hone my talent since the benchmark I set for every subsequent session of photography is that it has to be better than the previous one. I am satisfied with my work only if, five months down the line, I still think it looks as good as the day I shot it.

KILL IT!! KILL IT WITH FIRE!! . . Time slowed, his legs gots yanked out from under him, he knew it was only a moment before the bronze behemoth ripped him apart! So he did what he was brought to do, he made a spit roast out of it! . . Flame Trooper from @acidrainworld is definetly a badass 1/18 scale figure!! I finally got the perfect setup to try a practical flamethrower effect! Lots to learn and improve on and no toys were harmed in the making of this photograph! . . #acidrainworld #aci #acitoys #artemision #acidrain #oritoy #kitlau #soldier #flametrooper #diorama #marines #lost #flamethrower #toy #toyphotogallery #toyphotography #toptoyphotos #toyunion #toycommunity #photography #epictoyart #toygroup_alliance #toysyndicate #toydiscovery #toyspotcollector #sony #sonyalpha #sonyalphasclub #sonya7rii #tcb_bestride

A post shared by Shahzad Bhiwandiwala (@sbphotographs1) on

Has the format of your storytelling changed in any way?
Storytelling is one of the primary reasons I decided to pursue this hobby as a passion. Most of the times, I hope that my photographs can tell a story without having to be explained, but every now and then, I like to write a small story, either to describe events that have already occurred or are about to occur. I like to switch things up from time to time to pique the interest of my audience.

How do you interact with your followers?
The Instagram story option has opened up a very public yet personal way of sparking conversations with your audience. Features like polls and tagging pages in your story not only help you connect with your existing audience but also allow you to reach your target audience. I once received a comment where a follower admitted that he was inspired to pursue toy photography after coming across my account. To think that my work could fire up the creativity in another person is the highest honour I could receive.

Can you name some of your milestones?
The first one would have to be the time when the account hit 100 followers. I was ecstatic when that happened since I’d never really expected to receive so much love as an amateur photographer. The next one was to get noticed by Asmus Collectibles. It was the first company I collaborated with two years ago and the mutual admiration has held up. Mine was one of the smallest accounts they decided to work with and I wasn’t located in the United States, Japan or Indonesia to boot. From what I could see, I was the only Indian they had collaborated with so it was a really big deal for me. I recently got picked by Exclu Collective, an exclusive toy photography magazine, as a senior photographer on their team and I’m still reeling from the excitement.

How is the toy photography scene in India compared to internationally?
I would say toy photography in India is at a nascent stage since I haven’t come across many accounts that upload content on a regular basis. The United States and Indonesia have a large concentration of toy photographers. I am hoping that the art really picks up in India in the near future; it would be fun to have official conclaves with fellow enthusiasts.

What are your inspirations?
My imagination is roused by the works of filmmakers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, Sergio Leone, Oliver Stone and James Cameron. The dream is to eventually take up photography as a full-time profession and pay homage to these greats in my own way.

Quick 5: 
A coveted toy that you have yet to own:
It’s actually a little more than a toy; I’ve been eyeing this life-size Stormtrooper armour for a while now.

Top 5 Instagram accounts of fellow toy photographers:
(In no specific order):
@Yasuke_79 (Felton Yasuke)
@Toysnoop (Yudha Alwin)
@Sgtbananas (Johnny Wu)
@Onesix_Shooter (Trevor Williams)
@Galactic_Warfighters (Matthew Callahan)

Dream photography collaboration:
Sideshow Collectibles

A figure you would bring to life if you could:
My 1/6 Hot Toys Darth Vader

Favourite series to shoot:
Star Wars, without a doubt. I must have watched each of the movies at least 10 times, if not more.

You can follow Shahzad’s work on @sbphotographs1

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