In addition to being his hero, Arjun Menon believed that his father, a helicopter pilot with the Indian Army’s aviation arm, was GI Joe personified.
“Imagine flying a heavy metal machine, in some of the harshest environments on earth,” said Arjun to The Better India, giving the examples of the Himalayas, various rainforests and deserts, where his dad undertook combat and paratrooper training.
“Growing up, GI Joe used to be my favourite cartoon show, but I used to think my dad does all these things every day without anyone even making a big deal about it,” he added.
Sixteen years ago, Arjun lost his hero in a helicopter crash.
Arjun, who went on to become a travel photographer, always wanted to pay a fitting tribute to his father. But he didn’t want to stop at just that. He yearned to bring forth the life of an Indian Army officer—the situations they endure, the terrains they conquer and how, above all, they emerge triumphant.
“The Indian Army is known to be one of the most versatile armed forces across the globe,” Arjun informed TBI, adding that “I wanted to work on a project that explored and highlighted what makes the men, women and machines of the Indian Army so extraordinary and multicultural.”
Thus was born, “The Extraordinary,” a photo series of the Indian Army in action.
Speaking to the Condé Nast Traveler, Arjun said that initially, the Army officers were sceptical about the project.
“I don’t blame them at all. I was a random photographer asking to be sent to their secret bases for taking photographs. It took a while for them to get back. Then, I had to make multiple trips to Delhi to discuss the idea. Once they realised I was genuine, they were fully supportive and went out of their way to make it happen. From arranging para-trooping sessions to helicopter rescue drills in difficult locations, they were as pumped for the project as I was.”
Working pro bono and funding the project from his own pocket, Arjun clicked mesmerising photos of the Army officers in action.
Here are some pictures from “The Extraordinary.”
1. As fascinating as the Army life is to us civilians, there are several aspects of it that we are not necessarily aware of. An army officer almost always evokes the feelings of pride and respect, but how well do we know their jobs?
Arjun explores these questions.
2. “Somewhere deep inside I wanted to highlight what the life in the army is for some of these men and women in a contemporary way. I was seeking to create a product that resonates with the energy and heart of the Indian Army,” he said to TBI.
3. “[The] Indian Army has been at an all-time low at recruiting officers and soldiers. In fact, as of 2018, the Armed forces are under shortage of over 52,000 soldiers. Over 7600 posts of officers are lying vacant in the Army alone,” says the Army kid who hopes that through his lenses, he can inspire some people to join the armed forces.
4. Speaking to CN Traveller, Arjun said that while he could not disclose the names of these locations, he has shot in some of the remotest areas in the mountains, deserts and rainforests of India. The team would spend some days scouting the perfect location and planning images before clicking them.
5. Recreating rescue drills and pseudo combat situations weren’t easy, and the entire atmosphere would put Arjun in a pressurised spot. But he was determined to overcome all odds to capture awe-inspiring images.
6. Recalling how the following photo was clicked, the photographer said, “We had three helicopters in the air holding position, and more than two dozen soldiers and officers on the ground. With so much happening, there was zero room for error. But there was so much dust and wind all around, I wasn’t sure if I nailed the shot. My hands were trembling when I started reviewing the photographs. It was either the dust or the focus—something was wrong in every frame.
Had I just blown up one of the most amazing opportunities? But then, I found that one image that turned out exactly as I had hoped. This is that shot.”
7. Both the human support and technical equipment is captured in the photo story.
8. And sometimes even the lighter moments…
9. Explaining why he chose to release the project at this time, Arjun said, “As we are approaching the Republic Day, I feel it might be the best time to release this exclusive project. This content is relatable for a mass audience, and the timings couldn’t be better scripted.”
10. This photo series by Arjun Menon gives you a glimpse into the lives of army officers on the field, and truly captures their energy and spirit.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)