Niraj Mehdiratta is a bit of a modern renaissance man.
You could say he can do it all, except he has his sights set on more. After a stint in finance, Niraj took his talents to the food industry and opened up his first restaurant. Not one to be defined by one aspect of his personality, Niraj can be spotted snapping photos of friends or curating his impressive shoe collection.
Niraj’s interest in photography only came recently, after being inspired by the people and places around him. Despite having only a bit of experience under his belt, it’s clear that this is one of his callings. Niraj’s Instagram feed is full of perfectly plated meals and wanderlust worthy adventures. We’re excited to have him as our Guest Instagrammer this week. Head over to our feed to see Niraj’s snaps of the week and read on to hear all about this multi-talented guy.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Houston, which is always close to my heart. Growing up in an ethnically rich and diverse city has really been the formative experience for me. Houston gave me an immersion into other cultures, customs, foods and people. Those perspectives stay with you throughout your lifetime. They shape who you are, who you become, what you spend your personal and professional life doing.
I call Austin home now. I love this city for it’s sense of community and it’s laid back vibes. It’s a slower pace of life here and I really enjoy that. I own a small wine bar in Austin, called Apothecary which turns six this year. I’m also a partner in a music venue in downtown Austin called Holy Mountain. Along with that, I love balancing creative projects, whether photography or something style or design related.
One of my passions is definitely travel, I’m always in search of new perspectives, new places, new spaces. I spend a lot of time reading, definitely enjoy fiction, Murakami to Henry Miller, but mostly read about the Middle East and foreign policy. I’m still a high-school debate nerd at heart. I love good conversation, which sounds obvious, who doesn’t, but I’m a dreamer and I love when I’m around like-minded people who can sit around at a table and talk for hours on end. That’s how my favorite travels go, with friends, spending hours on end at the same cafe discussing everything and nothing, or as in Paris standing on the street for hours with a few bottles of vin.
What’s unique about your story?
Evolution. I want to keep evolving, I want to constantly try new things, learn, have new challenges.
I went from 5-6 years in the finance industry to jumping into restaurants and small business without any previous experience, guidance or mentorship. It was time to evolve, it was time do something unique for myself. I’m always looking forward to what the next evolution of my life can and will become. I’m always planning the next evolution of my businesses and professional life as well.
Balance. We don’t stress that enough in our culture. We work, to work more, to attain more. I don’t want an “empire” or to climb a corporate ladder. I want the balance of working at what I love, but having plenty of time with friends and family, and having the means and time to see the world constantly. Time is a currency.
What inspired you to start taking photos?
I’ve been fumbling around taking photographs for the last three years, self-taught. We all see things in unique ways, we all have stories to tell. That was my simple inspiration.
What’s your favorite thing to photograph?
My two favorite things to photograph are spaces and friends. I started my wine bar out of a love for cafes, coffee shops, wine dives, etc. I’m always enamored by the way different spaces are designed, how they function, the mingling of people and spaces.
I really enjoy taking candids/portraits of friends as well. When we’re out at a cafe together or traveling somewhere across the world, I love having a record of those moments to look back on.
What do you like most about photography?
I love telling the story of a moment. I love capturing something as it happens, natural, in the moment. It’s another reason I enjoy taking portraits and candids. We were here, having these conversations, creating these memories. I think there’s a beautiful romanticism in that.
Where do you find inspiration?
When I’m out of my day-to-day patterns is when I really open myself up to new thoughts, ideas and see things with a different perspective. I find inspiration for imagery in words a lot. A quote or lyric will stick in my head and I’ll see something and a connection forms and inspires a photograph.
Conversation with a few key people in my life is always inspiring. I have a small, close inner circle, as sociable as we all are, there’s only a few people I go to for advice and whose perspectives, thoughts and advice I trust. Those people inspire me immensely.
Who are some photographers that inspire you?
I’m inspired by the work of my friends, whether through their Instagram feed or portfolio work — Justin Bridges, Sean Hotchkiss, Tyna Hoang, Justin Chung. We’re all of course inspired by the past, Henri-Cartier Bresson to Helmut Newton, this list could be endless. I’m inspired by the 70’s film field photographer set. I think part of me wishes I could’ve ended up as a Middle East photojournalist, that would’ve been a nice marriage of personal interests.