Most know Pratik Naik for his high-end fashion photography retouching; others know Bella Kotak for her conceptual fairytale-inspired portrait photography. But not everyone knows of their powerful collaborative relationship, which will be further revealed at StandOut! Photographic Forums: Los Angeles seminar in October.
Bella Kotak grew up on the warm, sunny coast of Kenya. Despite the sunshine, she moved to Oxford, England at about 16 years old, where she is currently based. By about 2006, she began an architecture degree, when she came across a group of photographers in the midst of a 365 Project (take one image a day for a full year) on Flickr. At the time, she was looking for new ways to express herself artistically—she spent much of her time drawing and sketching—so she borrowed her mother’s point-and-shoot camera and began taking self-portraits. “I wanted to become more at ease in front of the camera and get better at Photoshop so I could apply it to my courses,” she says. “Then I got really into it, bought a DSLR and that was it. I began to shoot weddings, and friends would commission me to shoot portraits of them.”
Years later, in 2013, Bella was given an opportunity to attend a creative retreat in Bali. She tells me this was a turning point for her photographic vision. “Prior to that I was shooting anything from lifestyle and weddings to fashion. In Bali I realized I loved to shoot spaces and portraits and to really be able to tell a person’s story, a bit,” she says, in her unmistakable Southern English accent. “After that, my work became a lot more focused, and that’s when I fell into my current project, In Bloom,” which led her to a retouching workshop in London a year later.
In the early 2000s, digital retouching was, to say the least, a new part of the then rapidly changing industry. This was when Pratik Naik first started using Photoshop, which, oddly enough, was before he was took his own photography seriously. Of course, this quickly led him to producing his own work, and by about 2006, he went on to teach his first retouching workshop in California. “At the time it wasn’t something I was interested in because I didn’t think [retouching] had any relevance to anyone else,” he says. “But I gave it a shot and the workshop was great, and I was really happy with the results.”
As a Texas local, this was also the first time he went to California, and one of his first opportunities to meet with other successful creatives outside of his immediate circle. “What I learned was that I really enjoyed teaching, and really enjoyed the experience,” he says. “From there, I continued working with small groups and other photographers, and it grew into larger seminars and workshops.” This brought him to London in 2014, where he was to teach a retouching workshop for high-end photography.
Although both Bella and Pratik facetiously admit that they’ve told many long-winded fictional stories about their initial encounter, it was at this London workshop that the two first united. For Bella, it was a chance to break away from impersonal YouTube videos, and get legitimate answers to her questions. And for Pratik, it is remembered as an immediate personal and creative connection. “What I initially remember about [Bella] is that I was so compelled by the work she was doing, yet at the time she had no idea how amazing her work actually was,” says Pratik, as Bella exhales in awe on the other end of our Skype call. “From there we just connected and stayed in touch; we connected so well on a personal level it was amazing.”
Since then, the two have worked in tandem as a capture and retouching dream team—you can catch the duo’s next workshop at StandOut! Photographic Forums: Los Angeles in October, where they will discuss “Imagination and Perfection” and reveal more about their creative process.
See more of their work below.