When you flip through the photobook Invitations, Encounters, the first thing that strikes you is the beauty of the everyday. Some people are praying, some are selling flowers, children are playing in the water and some people are simply sleeping.
This is life in India as seen through the lens of Andy Vernon-Jones.
His photobook also serves as an important lesson for brands to get on board with.
You hear it all the time. Brand belief. Brand values. Pillars. They’re all great and necessary things, but what does it mean to put action behind that?
Funded as a Kickstarter campaign, Vernon-Jones was surprised (and a little nervous) when he saw Patak’s as one of the contributors.
“I wanted to know what that relationship is between someone producing something cultural and creative and a company that’s interested in that creative output,” he says. “[It’s a] connection to a brand that’s not traditional sponsorship,” he says.
“I was excited to get the pledge, just totally tickled.”
Of course product is paramount. But looking at content creation solely through that viewfinder can be extremely limiting.
“To really connect with consumers, brands have to put purpose before products,” says Ron Tite, CEO of The Tite Group the agency that represents Patak’s. “They have to put their money where their mouth is and back it up with actions. Investing in individuals who share that belief is just one way to do it.”
Vikram Verghese, head of marketing for AB World Foods Americas, says the brand is keenly aware of that.
“At Patak’s, our passion is bigger than celebrating Indian food; it’s about Indian culture as a whole,” he explains. “The same way we love sharing cultural insights with our audiences, Andy’s photobook opened the world to the beauty of everyday life in India. His project was the perfect opportunity to support the community we believe in."
And this is the exact community that captivated Vernon-Jones.
After several trips to India, Vernon-Jones always knew he’d want to photograph his trips but didn’t know he’d publish a book.
“The different cultures that exist in that country mixed in different ways was the beauty of the place,” he says.
But two trips and thousands of photographs later, Vernon-Jones had a story on his hands. It was the invitations into peoples’ homes and encounters with those on the streets that inspired the book, and later its title.
Just don’t mistake his photographs as an offer to "oh and ah" at the exotic.
“Somehow there’s a real premium place on how other or different people are,” he says. “I wanted to get people to see across the difference and have a moment of warmth or appreciation for each other.”
Sharing these connections was something that Vernon-Jones thought should be a tactile experience. In the middle of people championing digital, sometimes mainstream media is still the way to go when it comes to distributing content.
“It’s not about the glitz of a nicely designed website or a glossy picture, it’s something a little more tactile.”
To him, he wanted it to be something people could spend some time with, put it down and come back to discover something new.
Tite explains it’s not so much of a digital backlash, but that people are craving real and authentic experiences with the brands they engage with.
“The hottest gift at Christmas time? Colouring books. Vinyl sales are through the roof. Independent book stores are back,” he explained. “As good as digital is, there are some things that you just can’t duplicate in the digital environment. This is the perfect example of that."
While brands start to rethink how they express their values and communicate with their communities, Vernon-Jones is looking to create another photobook.
This time, it will be a little closer to home. “I think there are different challenges when photographing something new and outside the daily life experience. So I want to find a way to make pictures as beautiful and inspiring as they are in Invitations, Encounters but about my own friends and family.”