Music photographers from the Northeast Indian circuit: Meet Prabal Deep


TNT Y! | February 04, 2019

From Ziro Festival of Music to Nh7 Weekender in Shillong, Northeast India's music circuit has always been clearly characterised by live music performances as much as its noteworthy contribution to the Independent scene in the country in terms of compiled and single releases and videos.  The rich history, myth and mysticism of the music space in the Northeastern region is visible in the evolution of its live performance space displaying an array of musical styles and their socio-political contexts. Case in point: Ziro Festival of Music- only a few years ago- no-one would be labelled ignorant for not recognizing the town in the lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh. However, after hosting one of India's most significant music festivals for seven years at a stretch- the census town is now a mecca for all things music in the subcontinent at par with some of the biggest events around the country, including that of a Sulafest held annually in Nashik  or a Ragasthan held in Jaisalmer.

But the relationship between musicians and professionals working behind the music hasn't been manifest in the process- particularly when all of the documentation that ensures you find out about these events is single-handedly being carried out by professionals in the capacity of either journalists or attendees who write about these events who can only be complimented by photographers or film-makers who ensure that the high moments of these events burst into the public consciousness through their desired mediums.

Having said that, it is indeed an exciting time to be a music photographer or a film-maker. The internet age has not only propelled opportunities for more musicians to make themselves heard in better ways- it has in the process also created scope for all the people behind the music to showcase and sell their work. Hence, not only has the bedroom producer gained a chance at rising to stardom and earning a living out of what he or she does best, even photography enthusiasts who spent hours on their point and shoots can more capably turn their leisure pursuits into fully fledged careers.

Audiences fail to recognize the expertise and talent that it takes to do something well in the limitation of a genre. The same logic would apply to photography and film-making in music- a genre that involves limited or almost no set-ups and capturing something or someone as they move with the added impediment of often insufficient or inadequate light.  So what is music photography? And who is a successful music photographer? Read on in this multi-part series feature, exclusively on TNT-Y!   

Prabal Deep from Howly, Assam has been shooting musicians live for almost a decade now and his experience is manifest from his body of work. In addition to contributions for  Rollingstone India, High on Score , and more, he has been working as the official photographer for the most widely seen Classic Rock/Metal act of the country Girish and the Chronicles since 2014. His work is revered by many in and out of the Northeast Indian region and while his style is simplistic, few have the cerebral eye that he does.  

"I've been shooting pictures since I was fourteen years old. I started with a film camera-Yashica and spent a good three years with it. As a young photography enthusiast I never imagined myself in the music space. I was more interested in Wildlife photography. Now, that I think of it- I'm definitely shooting a lot of wild lives, but these are the wild life and times of musicians and not animals." Prabal jokingly comments.

A multi-disciplinary visual artist, Prabal's aesthetic is strong and mostly colourful pictures which makes his photographs extremely print and publishing friendly. He has, in the last decade shot over 50 shows and concerts for What's the Scene, out of which about 16 have been catalogued and has officially shot Plini and David Maxim Micic in the 2018 edition of the vh1 Supersonic festival in Pune along with stints in Ragasthan Festival in 2015, Shillong Open Air in 2015, Hornbill Festival in 2014 and the Hoobastank India Tour performance in Shillong in 2013.  However he firmly believes that his actual experience comes from shooting in small performance venues and pubs such as Turquoise Cottage, Hard Rock Cafe and Blue Frog.

"Today, every young photographer I meet wants to shoot a big concert with great on-stage production – even as they lack the basic experience of having to shoot in a low-light condition. I fail to see how one can make the best use of his equipment when he or she hasn't used it in the worst conditions. Everybody talks about how expensive or unique their rig is! I didn't even have my own DSLR when I started shooting religiously during the age of 17. I had a point and shoot to myself and would borrow a DSLR from friends when I felt the need for it. My first DSLR was a crop sensor Nikon D5100- I feel like I've done some of my best work with that camera. From randomly shooting Indian Ocean in one of their gigs and the likes of Alobo Naga at a Students Union function in Hindu College- I think it was the struggle of perfecting the art with limited equipment and resources that pushed me to designating myself as a music photographer." Prabal recollects.  

When asked who- in his opinion-is a music photographer, Prabal set out to paint a portrait with poise. "Anybody who has a genuine interest in music and can translate that interest through his pictures has the makings of a music photographer. However, what music photographers need to understand is that we ought not to create these images for ourselves- we must bear in mind what the person who's being clicked wants to look like. I would be able to explain myself better if someone asked me how I shoot Girish and the Chronicles. I have a specific process- after years of having toured with them and having shot them in different environments- I know in specific the songs I should assign to Girish, the songs I should assign to Suraj their guitarist and so on and so forth. This comes from an understanding of their music- which I think every music photographer should pay attention to. Watch their videos, listen to their songs, pay attention to what's going on. To put it simply-you need to know what the bands wants, what the music describes and more importantly how you want to ensure that the moment is portrayed correctly to the audience."

Prabal laments at the lack of a united community of photographers in the region. He believes that while many would recognize each other's work, an ego-clash of sorts holds the community back from mutually benefitting from each other. Having been influenced by the likes of Vijay Kate, Rose Haflin and Nidhal Marzouk ("You can almost hear the music in his photos!" he comments), Prabal found little guidance from his seniors in the field as a young photographer "When I started out- getting paid was a dream- but when I finally did started getting paid, I had no idea how I was supposed to charge an organizer or an artist for the work I was doing. Often I would end up spending way more than I was being paid- but I kept pushing myself to work harder because I knew I was doing this out of pure love. I feel like if I had the right kind of direction at the time- I would have definitely been more polished as a professional. That's where I feel the need for an organized community of music photographers. We've all worked with the organizer who doesn't pay on time- we've also worked with the artist who publishes your photographs without giving you credit, pay or even a basic intimation. How is every individual photographer supposed to fight these wrongs which are evidently so common?"

Prabal finally comes around to answering our second question with a grin on his face. Who, in Prabal's opinion, is a successful music photographer? "I feel like if a photographer can capture an image of an artist that is so intrinsic to the artist's image and presence that  it is the first thing that pops up in anyone's head when they think about the artist- that makes the photographer, a successful music photographer. I'm talking about that iconic Beatles shot, that beautiful portrait of John Lennon.. you get the drift."

You either have such insight or you don't and even if it seems like Prabal's wisdom cannot get much deeper, we are sure he will continue to excavate into the unknown as he soars high with his work. Catch him at an Indie gig near you, as he takes the Indian scene by storm. 

Find Prabal Deep at