Spreading Roots to Grow

With her 7-week-old son, Kabir, happily feeding in her arms, Rashmi Gill reflects on the words of her father, “Like a tree, your roots are what give you life. That’s what makes you who you are. Never forget that.” Gill’s roots, nourished by the rich soil of her Punjabi Sikh heritage, have helped her grow into a significant player in the New York photography scene.

Although she was born in London, Gill’s branches span several continents. Both her parents are Indian by birth, but her father hails from Kenya and, alongside her mother, they raised Gill and her two brothers in England.

Gill’s clientele is as diverse as her background. She specializes in lifestyle branding, portraits, and custom photoshoots. Her images, like her upbringing, are dominated by motion, careful color choices, and precise, yet natural compositional decisions.

Her portraits vibrate with life, capturing the power of a moment, which Ms. Gill views as an important, almost sacrosanct, privilege. She feels a photo “captures a moment that will never come back.”

“That piece of paper becomes priceless,” Gill explains. “I want clients to understand the value of what a photo can give.”

Redefining “Professional”

Gill notes that in the 21st century business environment, you don’t need a slew of letters trailing your name to be a professional. That being said, like many from diverse backgrounds, her journey began with a pursuit of the coveted alphabet soup.

Gill’s parents worked two or three jobs each to support the family’s life in busy, expensive 1970’s London. They stressed the value of education with the end-goal of helping their children become “professionals.” Back then, that put “successful” people into a limited selection of boxes: lawyer, doctor, engineer, and the like. Initially, Gill chose law. She completed her education and worked for a London law firm.

However, Gill’s parents also espoused a love of the arts. As a result, each member of the family, despite their secular endeavors, gravitates toward an artistic niche. For Gill, it was photography.

Gill’s journey as a photographer began as a humble side hustle. She exposed herself to several subsets of the genre – weddings, portraits, landscapes, pics of outings, events, gatherings – everything she could point her lens at. Soon, she joined the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers (SWPP). But she remained dedicated to her steady, reliable day job as an attorney.

A Difficult Decision

The tug-of-war between Gill’s two passions came to a head when the law firm for which she worked merged with another. She was offered the opportunity to join the new firm or take a redundancy. Practicing law in a modern metropolis like London offers stability and the potential for professional growth. However, something in Gill’s roots caused her branches to arch towards photography. She chose to let go of law and grip her camera with both hands.

A Growth Secret: Organic Connections

The line between a passionate photographer and a profitable photographer is thick. For many, it is more like a brick wall. To grow beyond this obstacle, Gill, who is inspired by mentor Sue Bryce, recommends a change in mindset. Bryce observed that artists, especially women, often have a hard time asking for money in exchange for their skill. Gill grafted Bryce’s mindset onto her photography business, inspiring further growth. Her solution is simple: “Give with arms open, receive with arms open.”

“I give from my soul. I give with open arms.”

Gill believes in giving all of herself, regardless of who she interacts with. This includes young women and girls who reach out to her for advice and guidance, as well as her clients, as she listens intently to their stories before ever mentioning money. On the other side of the equation, however, when it’s time to do business, she “takes with arms open,” never devaluing what she has to offer.

Even if an artist embraces the value of their work, it can be a challenge to cultivate new business. Gill solves this problem by, again, giving first. Her primary gift? A listening ear. Gill genuinely enjoys hearing people’s stories – professional and personal. With them, she navigates every twist and turn, triumph and challenge. And sometimes, the storytellers say they need a photographer. Instead of going into every interaction with a spade, digging to find business, Gill gently harrows the ground, then waits to see if anything sprouts up.

Anyone Can Do It

What if you lean more towards the introverted side of the social spectrum? For shy aspiring professionals, Gill’s advice is, again, simple: three questions. Think of three things to ask the person you’re going to talk to. Ask all three and listen intently to the answers. A conversation is bound to bud.

Turning Struggle Into Strength

As a woman of South Asian descent, growing up in England came with some predictable challenges, including overt racism. But Gill believes that this, and other obstacles are opportunities. When she was 11 years old, a racist tried to assail her with words, calling her a “Paki.” Gill took a moment, composed herself, and did what she does best, started a conversation. She took the moment as an opportunity to ask some important questions.

“Do you even know what you are saying?” she began. “Do you know what that means?” In a similar way, Gill continues to engage with racism and sexism today, giving talks at schools, starting discussions—drawing strength from the struggle.

Gill’s father was right. Without her roots, interwoven through the soils of India, Africa, London, and New York, Gill would be a much smaller tree. With each photograph, she extends a branch to her clients, giving them something that will last forever—something they can plant, nourish, as they grow their own roots.