I have been photographing since the age of 15. Having started so early I learned a lot through trial and error. It is exciting to look back at my work since then and see how my experiences behind the camera are now influencing my work in front of the camera as a new actor. In November of 2016 I signed an English feature film (directed by the brilliant Jai Tank) here in India and began shooting right away. For almost a year leading up to the film, I had been studying as an actor with Bandra based acting coach, the wonderful Jeff Goldberg. What I stumbled upon on set was that a lot of what I did both technically and instinctively behind the camera as a photographer greatly correlated with my choices and techniques in front of the camera. I discovered 3 dominant factors that play a role in my being behind or in front of the lens: environment, mood, and passion.
As a photographer I know that whether I am shooting someone who is not used to being photographed, or if I am shooting a professional model or celebrity who practically lives in front of the camera, if I do not create an environment where my subject can feel their confidence, it will show in their expression and greatly influence the outcome of the shoot. Great work is a byproduct of being focused on the direction you want to go, so I have learned that noting to my subject and team what is working, is far more productive than pointing out every time something is not working. That may even mean continuing with positive reinforcement when they appear uncomfortable, as that will ultimately allow my subject to settle into their comfort and pose. I do not take this practise for granted no matter how experienced or professional my subject is; I am approached after shoots by even the most photographed personalities and thanked for the positivity on set, and for how notably comfortable they were made to feel in front of my camera. When a great environment is maintained, not only is the experience pleasant, but I am able to build trust with my team which in turn opens the gates to experimentation and creating images that are distinct and memorable. As an actor amidst a film shoot, the very same concept applies. From my own experience and conversations with other actors, I know that as a new or veteran actor, walking onto a set full of people and having to perform an emotional or intimate scene can be nerve-wracking. Since I signed Jai Tank’s film, Jai has made it a habit to express his confidence in his actors; not only does this make for a pleasurable experience and unify the team, but as an actor I feel confident about exploring my character and doing things that are completely new to me, and importantly I feel confident about opening myself up to both my own and my character’s vulnerabilities. On our set, there is simply no fear of making a mistake, thanks to Jai’s encouraging attitude. Similarly, because I know what I know as a photographer, even as an actor when I am watching my own playback after a scene, I know that in order for me to be honest to my character, I must abandon self critique and observe myself and the choices made as the character—even if those choices don’t necessarily appeal to my personal preferences, or the way that I like to see myself as Toranj.
“ I have the ability to move my team, and when we are moved together, we create work that move our audiences too. ”
As a photographer, I often tell my model or personality to recall a particular kind of memory or moment in their life (for example one that makes them feel pride) when I am wanting to capture a particular mood. Now, that I am working in front of the camera, I understand that that instinct is absolutely accurate. When a close up is being taken during a scene, the camera picks up the movement of every facial muscle and eye movement. If the sum of all body language is not sharply congruent with the speech and scene mood, the result is flat acting. We all know that body language plays a big role in communication, but even more specifically, our minds are able to interpret mood and genuineness from even the most subtle alterations in facial muscles. The camera amplifies this communication and as an actor I discovered that the best way to deliver an honest performance, is not to only be extremely present in my scene, but to develop my character deeply, so that the camera records both the dialogue between me and my co-actor(s), and the internal dialogue within my mind as the character to which my nervous system reacts to and therefore displays in my body, facial muscles and eye movements. More on mood, as a photographer I may sometimes ask my subject to slow down their breathing in order to relax their mood and alter their choices in posing. One day, on set while I was performing an intense scene that called for high energy and panic, I felt I was not hitting the emotional note I wanted to; I remembered this tactic of mine and decided to apply it, but instead by speeding up my breath. Not only did the alteration in breathing immediately help me feel the emotions necessary for the scene, but I felt it even change the chemistry in my body. The scene required high adrenaline, and I could feel my body producing it, so much so that I had to effort to calm myself and stop my body from crying after my director cut the scene. Looking at expressions and body language through a lens all these years has allowed me to spot genuine versus forced posing in images. A great example is when I photograph people smiling; if a smile is felt in the body (all facial muscles are lit up and it reaches the eyes), it can make the person looking at the image smile, whereas a fake smile can even make its audience feel uncomfortable.
While some people believe that the presence or absence of passion is a natural occurrence and out of our control, I believe it can be stimulated and is necessary for impactful work. I was raised in a family that wanted to direct me into law or medicine; needless to say I had to have passion to convince my parents of the life and career I actually wanted to pursue. However, no matter how much passion I started out with, because challenges come and go, and with it passion, I have found that passion is like a muscle that needs to be exercised at the gym; you need to focus into passion to keep it active and growing. For me, as a photographer or as an actor, I have discovered a passion activating ritual that is foolproof. Before a shoot and during the time it takes for me to be dropped to my set, I quiet my mind and remind myself of the reasons I do what I do. I also begin reviewing the things I am grateful for in my work. I express gratitude about how much fun I have focusing my eye towards all that makes the person I am photographing beautiful, I express how grateful I am to be performing with actors who’s work and focus inspire me, and I can go on and on until I reach my location. When I enter my set with a passionate mindset, whether I am behind or in front of the camera, my instincts become stronger and my mind starts to look for ways to make things work, I am making a commitment to excellence. Simply put, when I feel moved, I have the ability to move my team, and when we are moved together, we create work that move our audiences too.
As a photographer, my eyes always look for beauty that begs to be discovered, and to be remembered, and as a photographer turned actor, I am inspired to explore and bring to light the genuineness that make moments, scenes, characters and films undeniably memorable.
|Toranj Kayvon is an Iranian fashion, advertising and celebrity photographer from Canada. She has been shooting in Mumbai since 2012, and as of 2016 begun her journey in the acting arts.|