Like most people, my relationship with photography started way before I held a camera in my hands for the first time. On our wall at home, there was a photograph of my grandparents from the 1940’s, probably taken a few years after their marriage. I remember asking them a thousand times, in utter disbelief, if they were the same two people in that photograph. My grandparents always said ‘yes’ and were amused at my question. I couldn’t believe them because the photograph was showing me something from the past, and the reality looked so very different. In another photograph of my aunt, uncle, and cousin; a very candid and lively moment captured and although it was made years ago, what was shown in the photograph seemed real in the present. The photograph told me the truth and it also lied to me, at the same time. It’s just that I’m now able to articulate it, and recollect the moments of absolute fascination with the photograph.
I grew up in a small village called Chegunta, in Telangana state, India. My life took many extreme twists and turns, and after four decades of craziness, I’m what I’m today. My wife Kavya and our son Ishaan have been my strength, and they have always been supportive of me.
I enjoyed drawing and painting more than regular studies, and my love affair with the arts started at a very young age. Camera was introduced to me in my B.F.A, and I didn’t do much with it except for a few snapshots. It was only when I bought my first 35mm Film SLR camera, I took my hobby seriously. Thanks to photography, my travels became frequent and more interesting, made new friends, interacted with a lot of strangers, and I was exposed to random acts of kindness from totally unexpected situations.
Just like attempting to perseive architecture through music, music through mathematics, mathematics through sculpture, sculpture though language, language through painting, painting through dance, and so on, my work can be considered as an incomplete text because although each of these attempts are made to communicate successfully, the essential aspects are lost in translation. Each of these art forms are intrinsically different from each other and yet they are all devises to explore the inner self and for me it is photography. The more I photographed, the more I learned and the more I learned, the more I photographed. However imperfect, I love what I do and I do it sincerely.
Photography helped me see life with intensity, and depth that I otherwise would not have. It started as a hobby, became a serious passion, transformed into a profession, and now it is my way of life. People tell me that I chose the road less travelled, and with all due respect, I tell them that there is no road at al. First, I must pave it to walk on it.
My major project is titled ‘Consciousness’ and it probably took me at least five years to bring it to completion.
Consciousness for me is an unending, ever-changing flow of imagination that never ceases to grow; with and without a singular answer. Contemplating, observing, reacting, and presenting everyday things and questioning my perceptions is what I am passionate about and that is what this project is about. What makes this project uniquely positioned is the choice of everyday subject matter juxtaposed as visual pairs. This decision is to stimulate curiosity and challenge conventional thinking. In the contemporary context, considering the time in which information bombardment and cognitive overload are the new normal, in the context of photography, we must question not only the topics it depicts, but also the role of photography, the photographer, and the photograph itself. Within the framework of conventional human progress, this might seem like an anti-development strategy, but I believe that it is not. We take too many things for granted too readily, and as a photographer, I attempt to slow down the pace through this body of work, Consciousness.
This project is a visual exploration through constructed narratives. It is a play on awareness, perception, and imagination as if one is trying to solve a riddle. Regarding aesthetics and personal style, my strategy is; to pull and push the viewer from the visuals for cognitive friction, to bring out surface textures for emotional intimacy. I predominantly use active framing and capture the images both on film and digital cameras.
I think a lot and sometimes a bit too much, and I read and write, and I walk a lot. Most of my thinking, and actually photographing happens during these walks. Along with the images, I diligently construct sentence fragments and extend the narrative for an additional layer of my own way of storytelling.
For analog, I use Kodak Tri-X 400 ISO B&W 35mm format and push it to 1600 ISO. For digital, I use Canon Mark II camera, and all the images are converted to black and white using Silver FX plugin. I mostly work in black & white because I realized that color, in general, has rarely impacted me emotionally. I do not have any childhood memories that I associate with color and all I ever liked was white or black, and technically, those are not colors. Robert Frank once said “Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”
However, I do produce color work occasionally, and may be the color started impacting me at this juncture of my life. I’m yet to figure it out.
Interest and any future projects
I experienced and observed a strange but prevalent social conditioning to excel in everything one does, and we are made to believe that anything less than excellent would lead to an unhappy life. Once upon a time, we looked at the stars and drew constellations, then we looked at the valleys and constructed industries. Later, we looked at our empty homes and made televisions and now, we looked at our bare hands and made cell phones and yet, we search for that happy life. In the name of human progress, we built great civilizations in-excess of everything, and nothing could satisfy our thirst for greatness. We are plagued with violence through wars, poverty, hunger, disease, discrimination, and have accumulated an abundance of utterly futile fame. All this is because, I think, we as a society are afraid of being ordinary and average.
Initially, I used to take up a new project only when I finished with my current one. My inexperience didn’t allow me to deal with more than one idea or concept. As I got matured with photography, I now work on at least 9 to 10 projects simultaneously. I guess, my mind is engaged and fired-up this way as of now, and I don’t know how long it will go on like this. There is no right way or wrong way with this, but what’s important is not to get comfortable with your work.
I think, there is great beauty in the ordinary. There is a lot to learn from the ordinary. So, I decided to pursue this topic for the rest of my life. As of now, it is with photography. As of now, I’m focusing on two major ongoing projects called ‘Conversations’, and ‘Absence’. And by the way, ‘Absence’ is conceptually opposite to ‘Consciousness’.
Don’t think I can list all of them here, so I will name a few.
Even though I do get inspired from photographic work (Minor White, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Josef Koudelka, Masahisa Fukase, Daido Moriyama), many of my influences come from non-photographic disciplines such as philosophy (Immanuel Kant, Jaques Derrida, Carl Jung), poetry (Adi Shankara, Jalaluddin Rumi, Annamacharya), cinema (Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt, Narsing Rao, and literature (Sri Sri, Thapi Dharma Rao, Ayn Rand).
Some of my favorite books are ‘On Photography’ by Susan Sontag, ‘Camera Lucida’ by Ronald Barthes, ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ by John Szarkowski, ‘Photography Between Covers’ by Thomas Dugan, ‘Light Readings’ by A.D. Coleman, ‘Concerning the Spiritual In Art’ by Kandinsky, ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankel, ‘An Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramhansa Yogananda.
Galleries and museums overwhelm me sometimes. So, I walk around quickly and settle down in front an art-object. I remember visiting SFMOMA and sitting in front of a photograph for almost four hours. It was an image of a makeshift chair by Mexican photographer named Anthony Hernandez, and the title is ‘Landscapes for the Homeless # 18, 1989.