A road less travelled: How photographer-influencer Ankit Sharma rode to fame in the automotive creator space
Meet the man behind Man Made Machines (MMM), a venture designed to give an insight into how beautiful life is on a machine on wheels. The Trichy-born and Haryana-based digital content creator who studied journalism at Christ University, Ankit Sharma is an early disruptor in the Indian creator economy, breaking into the relatively uncommon automotive space as a photographer and videographer, eventually going on to chart his own destiny.
While Man Made Machines has carved its own space and identity — commanding 181,000 (and counting) followers on Instagram — Ankit has had more of a happy-to-be-in-the-background profile. So far so good but not anymore.
Marking his maiden and rare media appearance at the YourStory Creators Inc conference 2022, Ankit was in between covering the prestigious Dakar Rally 2022. Which meant almost a month of being in the desert of Saudi Arabia, sleeping in cars and surviving on fruits. It was both the most fun and painful part of the project, Ankit says. “Creativity is not something that comes depending on the city, it just comes from within. I wouldn't say that it’s a calling or any of those cliched bits but it is something that you know you want to do, because once you do it, it's like an addiction, you get a taste of it, and you want more and more and more,” says the new-age creator.
How does it feel to be on the top especially when one lives a dream of a lifetime for any motorsport photographer? “I've achieved the dream that I initially had when we used to have conversations in college, ‘Dude, I want to cover top motorsport athletes and this and that’. There's one thing that people used to say — and I never believed them — that when your dream comes true, it's going to scare you,” says the 23-year-old automotive influencer.
Does success extract its pound of flesh in return? “I'm not in the right space as I'm trying to figure things out. Because once you’ve reached the top, whatever it is that you have dreamt of, the next question is: How are you going to sustain it? Right now, I’m caught in that confusion, planning things, and working on how I can take this higher and higher. Even though I'm working every day, creating the stuff I always wanted to create, I'm questioning everything ahead. It's not not exactly a good space, but I'm in a peaceful state because the more I question myself, the more I know what I want to do. I think I'm in a good space and bad space at the same time,” explains Ankit.
The India automotive market demand was pegged at 4,266,062 units in 2019. The market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3% from 2020 to 2027. According to statistics published in April 2018 by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), India is ranked fourth in the top ten global car-producing countries. The country’s automotive sector is powered by the rising population, increasing disposable income, and ease of availability of credit and financing.
Camera, childhood and college
“I came from a city where photography was nothing, it didn't exist properly. And me being a Haryanvi in Tamil Nadu was a little complicated. For any creator, one major part would be to believe in yourself and like your work,” says Ankit, explaining what it takes to achieve your dream.
When Ankit was in his eighth or ninth grade, he had persuaded his dad to give him a phone. It was a Vivo (then not well-known) with a 0.3 megapixel camera. He would go around and capture flowers and bits and pieces of nature. Additionally, his family owned a Kodak film camera. Like any other regular Indian family hailing from Haryana, which Ankit describes as being both “narrow-minded” and “open-minded” at the same time, Ankit’s family would visit temples during holidays. Ankit would venture into some self-styled street photography during those trips, photographing the ice cream vendor and others on the street.
“When my dad would develop the film, he would see that there are a lot of useless images, which are not that of our family, and at that point of time the inner Haryanvi of my dad would come out, and he would say, ‘You're never touching the camera again’. That’s because I was ‘wasting’ a lot of film. I loved that mechanism of clicking an image, then rolling it, twisting it and pressing it,” recalls Ankit.
Later, Ankit would also come across his neighbour’s digital Kodak camera. It had a 3x-4x zoom as well. “I would take that, water the garden and try to see if there were insects too. So, I think that's where it grew at that point of time (the passion for photography),” recalls Ankit.
He was 10 years old at that time. By the time he got to Class 10, Ankit was sure of what he wanted to do in life. His dad, he says, had zero hope but Ankit passed with 80 percent. Later, he managed to persuade his dad to get him a camera. It was for Rs 28,000 and this was a time when he had to do with 2g data, as the world has yet not had its tryst with 4g data.
“I would just set the screen timing for 30 minutes, pause a YouTube video, let it load for 25 minutes, come back and watch the video,” shares Ankit.
Ankit did his schooling in Tamil Nadu, and he describes the rigorous school timings and the education system as “unwanted”. At some point of time, he was so disturbed that he had stopped going to school.
Ankit wanted to join Christ University with two intentions and the first one was dissolved in a week’s time. “I wanted to go there to get to know the industry and build connections. Within the first week, I was aware that this is not going to happen,” says Ankit, adding that he had realised early enough that the education system, which could mean a million things for a million others, was not for him.
“I think the sole reason I went to college was to make friends to understand how I can grow, even if it's on my own,” shares Ankit. He would go and meet different brands and communicate with people. His real learning happened in those three years when he got to understand the industry and its people, the ruthlessness included.
“When you're entering the creator space, it can be really difficult if you don't have a good portfolio or a solid work background. I'm happy that I did it in college because at that point of time, I had nothing to lose, I didn't have many things to take care of. It was best that people gave me a bad experience at that point of time as because of that bad experience in those three years, I knew what I shouldn't do when I got out of college," says Ankit.
There are like two ways to work in the industry. One is to follow how the industry works. The second is creativity, to follow your own instinct. You have to have a bit of both worlds — commerce and creativity, advises the motorsports digital content creator.
The Instagram advantage
“Instagram is super-crucial for me, because I’m not there just to earn followers. I’m there to build connections that I can't otherwise build if not for this platform,” Ankit explains, talking about the virtual friendship that he picked up with a fellow photographer from the Czech Republic.
“So, this guy from Czech Republic, we had been on and off talking to each other about work and stuff for three years. And after three years, he asked me, ‘Dude, I love your work, would you want to join this rally? It was a huge jump for somebody like me, who had never covered any other rally,” shares Ankit, adding how is also covering the Formula Three Asian Championship in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The best part is there is no proper guidance, no one’s instructing you about angles and sides, says Ankit, sharing how it comes organically to him. He feels like he was born to do this. Eventually, he has proved to be the person who might be there at his first race, but whose content is hardly amateurish.
Riding on love - Mona Lisa and mean machines
What are the machines Ankit swears by?
“If you would have asked me (this question) a year back, I would have probably told you a Land Rover Defender (ideal car) and a Honda Africa Twin (ideal bike). But now I don't think I need a bike or car ever! I'm pretty sorted because I'm working with so many different brands and different spaces that I get to experience all these cars and bikes courtesy of my work. I love them all,” says Ankit.
He likens his “deep-rooted” love for bikes and cars to the human quest for art, something like the enchanting Mona Lisa painting. Art shouldn't have limitations, it should cross all limitations to encompass what it truly is.
Motorcycles and cars are created with so much of love and passion, that it kind of reflects all the love. It’s an intangible feeling, from how it looks to how it feels, combined with how it rides and how it makes the rider feel as a person. It’s an intimate relationship. “That's something hard to explain: I've been doing this for so many years, but I can still explain it in a new way. It just keeps on going. There's always a new explanation of how beautiful these things are because when you're riding or driving, it's like, you don't want to think about the work, you don't want to think about all the mess that might be in your head. It's just you on the road in different locations. It's a beautiful thing,” elaborates Ankit. That's why Ankit is always on the move as he doesn't want to stagnate in one place and explore the same thing again and again.
The road ahead
“I want to do a lot of motorsports. From the Instagram perspective, whatever content that I post regarding motorsport gets the least amount of likes, as opposed to the travel beat,” shares Ankit. MMM executes end-to-end campaigns for brands launching a new product or coming up with a new feature. As per the website, the MMM experience captures the bond between the human and the machine, providing a glimpse into their intertwined lives.
When it comes to Man Made Machines, Ankit believes the journey has only started now. If one looks at the swelling over $100 billion market creator economy simmering with the potential of 50 million creators, creators are not only making content on social media platforms but monetising their content as well. This makes them first-of-a-kind content creators who are also creator-preneurs.
“The economy for this particular sector is huge. I know the ins and outs on how much money a person can make through these social media platforms. It's super crazy. I wouldn't want to do a monthly job ever in my life and I know I can't do it anymore. So, that is the confidence that it gives you. And, yet at the same time, just because there is so much money in this sector, there comes a point where advertising and marketing agencies start instructing you. This is what has to go out. I don't take up 99 percent of the campaigns that I’m offered because they want me to do what they want because at the end of the day for me, it's not just about the money,” says Ankit.
In a post shared on his Facebook page. Ankit writes: “While I keep trying to make better images I find myself getting better as a human everyday, cameras have helped me learn lessons that no school, college could ever teach me. It's a curse and blessing at the same time. I have given all my time and money into making images and am scared about the future, but I still can't leave it even for an hour, and will do it all over again.”
“I think I wrote in 2018-2019. And it's still true. It's not something that's ever going to change. When I'm making an image, it’s as if one last image but there is no one last; it’s never the last,” signs off Ankit, heading for his next adventure.
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