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Sikh Models... In Australia!


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Considering that perhaps less than one percent of people in Australia are Sikh* and only half of those are male, it's easy to understand how initially my idea was received with scepticism. Sure, the idea of producing a fashion spread using exclusively Sikh males as models seemed like a great idea on paper, particularly when it demanded that they were traditional in appearance and at least wore turbans. But as I presented my proposal for my final major study to my university lecturer in the first week of my final semester, the word "ambitious" was about as encouraging as it got as he flicked through my brief of ideas and the reasons behind them.

But I'm a great believer that ideas come to us like gifts. And that good ones should never be taken for granted or even worse, ignored. While I knew my work would be set out for me, I recalled some great words of advice from a friend back in the UK. "The first step is always the hardest, but with the second step we have the momentum of the first and so on.." I repeated these words to myself as I drove out to Melbourne's newest Gurdwara (one of two) early one Sunday morning to do my first scout for models.

Using Sikh models for a fashion shoot was a way I felt that I could portray the West's sudden move into India. With a booming economy, the sleeping giants of India and China are now awake and moving full steam ahead. And the changes they are bringing are rapid. India is going through a metamorphous almost exclusive to this generation. After thousands of years of traditional lifestyles, India is shedding old skin. With the west comes its consumer baiting images of the good life, and its influence is becoming apparent.

I felt that to portray this best, Sikhs would make perfect models for many reasons. First of all because they are so obviously Indian. Secondly, after a few encounters with Sikhs during a visit to India, they always came across as extremely proud, yet beautifully humble somehow simultaneously. Another point that was clear to me was that the there was a magnificent strength in the image of a Sikh male, complete with turban and beard, that hadn't been explored (as far as I could see) photographically in this style before. And lastly, and perhaps most of all, this generation of Sikhs are increasingly cutting their hair, shaving their faces and losing their turbans and taking on a more "western" look which visually would exemplify my point to a tee.

Pulling up to the half completed Gurdwara in Craigieburn, I didn't really know how people would respond to my idea. While I did want the photos to contain a small amount of wit, I was concerned that initially, I would be seen as someone out to make a mockery of the religion. As I introduced myself, two things became apparent. Sikhs are incredibly welcoming. I was offered food, drink and a tour of the facilities as well as an immediate meeting with the Granthis where I was able to explain the purpose of my visit. Also, Sikhs LOVE having their pictures taken. I went through a 1GB card in the space of an afternoon. As soon as I was free from taking one persons photo, it seemed as though there was another waiting beside me with their children requesting another photo be taken for them. By the end of the day I had my first model lined up. A sassy young law student who went by the name of Jagdeep. We organised a time for the following Thursday in the school studio. The first step had been taken.

The shoot went well, it was a new experience for me too as I'm usually out pursuing photos of a photojournalistic nature far far away from the confines of a studio. The next weekend I was determined. I ventured out to Melbourne's other Gurdwara and, on the back of one shoot, found it much easier to approach people as now it was not just an idea, it was a work in progress. I lined up two more models, one I was particularly enthralled by, who had only been in Australia a day.

As time went by I found myself immersed in Sikh culture and its people. It seemed like every day I was on the phone to a Sikh person or meeting one in town to discuss ideas for a shoot or an outfit. It was a demanding project but one that continually reaped rewards in a photographic sense. While all of the models I was using had never sat for a photo-shoot before, their enthusiasm, understanding and co-operation was inspirational in itself. I was getting results for every single session, regardless of the model. The project gained steady momentum as I ha d hoped and a strong body of work slowly built up.

With its completion I posted the work online. Already the response has been astounding. My professors were excited by the work, all of the Indians say that it was the first time they've seen this approach taken when photographing Indians and my non Sikh friends say it's a relief to see Fashion shoots that don't contain tall skinny white girls and guys.

For me, I'm just happy that it's worked out as I hoped it would. Sure I had doubts, but I had always hoped to find a way to combine the incredible lighting and creativity synonymous with Fashion Photography, with the intelligence and relevance of Social Documentary.

I still consider this a work in progress. Now that I've seen how it can work, I feel that I've scraped the surface of what can be achieved. I'm hoping to try this approach on the Streets of India itself. I feel that India can provide a stunning backdrop to some more smart and sexy Sikh fashion portraiture.

Conversation about this article

1: Jasika Kaur (Canada), February 21, 2007, 3:07 PM.

This is amazing. I'm truly proud of your work, Andrew, testing those boundaries. Thank you for taking those first steps. Hopefully, the momentum will push you through to your second and third phase...

2: S.S.Bamrah (Faridabad, India), February 25, 2007, 1:07 AM.

Bravo! The very idea is great. The moment you think of doing something, it is 90 % done. Go ahead and do us proud ...

3: Harinder (Pune, Inda), April 05, 2007, 6:45 AM.

Love you, O Khalsa! Let the spirit of the Khalsa soar in all facets of life. Keep it up ... you do us proud.

4: Puneet (Sydney/Australia), April 14, 2007, 5:39 PM.

You have really done a good job. Made me feel proud. Keep it up.

5: Mai (Seattle, U.S.A.), May 23, 2007, 12:48 AM.

I've always said that our Sikh men are the handsomest in the world. Thanks for proving my point.

6: Gurjeet Singh (Jabalpur, India), June 06, 2007, 4:56 AM.

Keep it up, buddies ... I know we can rock the world.

7: Dr. Tejbir Singh Sandhu (Amritsar, India), July 09, 2007, 8:52 AM.

Great have truly done a nice job. All the best for your future endeavours.

8: Maninder Singh (New Delhi, India), July 18, 2007, 11:32 PM.

Wow, that's a really great idea! This is a great way of presenting ourselves, especially in the face of the mischievious goofiness that we get by way of Bollywood. Keep it up, Andrew..

9: Chaz Singh (England), August 11, 2007, 4:25 AM.

Excellent. You should definitely take this further. If you need a U.K. guy, give me a shout: look at my work on google - "chaz singh".

10: Harpreet Atwal (Toronto, Canada), August 20, 2007, 4:50 PM.

Wow! I just happened to stumble across this article, and I'm glad I did. Your pictures are fantastic! Keep up the good work!

11: Bikramjit Singh Babrah (Amritsar, India), September 07, 2007, 1:48 AM.

Well done; I realy like it. Makes me proud to see all the work Sikhs are doing around the globe for our culture.

12: Kultar Singh (Delhi, India), September 11, 2007, 1:58 AM.

Tht's awesome! I am amazed to read this. Go on, sardara! You are doing great work.

13: Paramdeep Singh (Melbourne, Australia), September 15, 2007, 5:12 AM.

AWESOME is the only word for you, Andrew. You have done an incredible job and each and every Sikh in this whole world will feel proud and be thankful to you for doing this ... Keep up the good one, mate!

14: Kulwant Kaur (Santa Fe, U.S.A.), October 30, 2007, 10:12 PM.

Fabulous! Andrew, this is great! Yes, there is a certain wonderful quality to Sikh men, indeed! Keep up the good work!

15: Pritpal Singh (Delhi), November 17, 2007, 8:07 PM.

This is amazing. I'm truly proud of your work, Andrew, testing those boundaries ... Great job! Hope to see more from you.

16: Khand Kaur (London, U.K.), December 06, 2007, 4:27 AM.

Wow ... I have to say that this is amazing ... the models, the clothes, the backdrops ... it all looks great and it sounds like an interesing ride to get to this stage! Just one question ... where are the female models?

17: Aroop Nandre (U.K.), December 16, 2007, 5:49 PM.

Andrew, this is a great article. I am begining to get very disappointed with the constant mockery being made of sikhs in Bollywood movies and TV screens. Good Luck.

18: Arshdeep Singh Thapar (Chandigarh, Punjab), August 04, 2008, 3:39 AM.

Awesome work, man. Thanks, Andrew. I'm thrilled that you've used Sikh models. They make great images! Carry on the good work.

19: Manmit Singh Arora (India), August 23, 2008, 4:52 PM.

It's really great work done by Andrew. Thanks for this article.

20: Luiz Carlos (Rio de Janeiro, Brasil), September 10, 2008, 3:55 PM.

Great. Your work is amazing.

21: Karanjit Singh Heer (Melbourne, Australia), September 15, 2008, 11:15 AM.

Wonderful job, Andrew! You've made us all proud of our distinctive identity. I offer my assistance to you, mate, for this great endeavour!

22: Amanpreet (Australia), September 27, 2008, 8:20 PM.

I am a Sikh-Australian and I love your pictures. It is an interesting experience to see ourselves through the eyes of a non-Sikh. Pease keep up your great work. God be with you always.

23: Amanpreet Singh (Punjab), November 15, 2008, 6:09 AM.

You are doing exactly what I'm tryng to do here in Punjab and India. Nice to see some one who holds the same thought. Go ahead, man. Success is waiting for you eagerly.

24: Tim Johnson (New York, N.Y., U.S.A.), December 15, 2008, 5:01 PM.

Great concept! We need more Sikhs modelling for H&M, Calvin Klein, Polo, Prada, etc.

25: Sahib Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), January 31, 2009, 4:05 AM.

These pictures are realy fantastic. I really enjoy viewing them. I hpoe, in the future you will show more photos like of such Sikh models.

26: Shaan (U.S.A.), April 23, 2009, 2:28 PM.

The two models in the black puggh particularly look great!

27: Gurvinder (India), November 01, 2009, 2:08 AM.

I also want to become a Sikh model. Where can I get some guidance?

28: Jagpreet Singh (India), January 07, 2010, 11:48 PM.

Hi, all: Please have a look at this Sikh Model/Actor:

29: Karan Singh (Chandigarh, India), January 26, 2010, 1:35 PM.

Awesome ... I am a Sikh model in Chandigarh, Punjab. There is no reason why Sikh models cannot shine in this industry ... I believe they look equally good, if not smarter, than any other guy!

30: Amanpreet Singh (Bangalore, India), February 05, 2010, 9:52 AM.

Keep up the good work. Your work will certainly bear fruit and will benefit the Sikh nation all over the world.

31: Baljeet Singh Arora (New Mumbai, India), March 02, 2010, 9:35 AM.

Hats off to these models!

32: Savinder Singh  (India), March 26, 2010, 8:02 AM.

Raj karega Khalsa! We should promote pooran Sikh models as much as possible.

33: Satwant (UAE), September 16, 2010, 3:19 AM.

It's very good!

34: Mandeep (St. James, Western Australia), November 29, 2010, 11:49 PM.

I met Andrew three years ago in the metro train and he showed me these pictures. He is a fantastic person with great respect for Sikh culture. He told me that he will help Sikh boys who want to become models through his work.

35: Dilpreet Singh (Moradabad, India), December 25, 2011, 10:43 PM.

I too would like to be a successful model one day.

36: Amandeep Singh (India), April 13, 2012, 3:33 AM.

I want to become a Sikh model. Where can I get some guidance? and is there any career in this ...?

37: Harneet Singh (Delhi, India), September 14, 2012, 11:21 AM.

To which e-mail address do I send my pictures if I want to send them to [EDITOR: Please send them to]

38: Karan Singh Chhabra (Delhi, India), November 05, 2012, 1:54 AM.

I too am a commercial Sikh model.

39: Ashok Singh (Ulhasnagar, Maharashtra, India ), January 04, 2015, 2:21 PM.

All nice pictures!

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