A place where I see happiness
I was born in a village in the beautiful Ramnagaram district of Karnataka, in a family dedicated to farming. We have a Mango orchard and I grew up in this small idyllic town famous for being the location where the iconic Bollywood movie Sholay was filmed. In the rural areas, where life is very hard and unpredictable, the most sought-after job is a government job, so my family suggested applying for one and I got selected for the job of a police constable.
I have always been interested in arts and culture. Since childhood, I have enjoyed trying different forms of expression, from writing to singing and dancing. Once relocated to Bangalore, I had the opportunity to collaborate with art spaces and met many interesting visual artists, scholars, filmmakers and photographers who influenced me. I got hooked to photography, I realised that it was the form of expression that allows me to pursue my artistic interest. Indeed, that was a turning point for me, and when I decided to take my photography to the next level.
I want to draw notice towards realities that many times go unnoticed for the society. There are many real heroes, achievers working hard to change the society we live in, to make it more equal, and to bring more justice to our immediate surroundings. They act on a small scale, they don’t make headlines, yet they bring about a real and positive change. They are the focus of my work and to bring them to bigger audiences is my main target.
Photography is a means to express my artistic point of view. Given the way I practice, which is mainly on the streets, photography gives me the flexibility and versatility to capture the reality the way I like to show it. I am very influenced by the magical realism art movement, in which reality is shown through a curved mirror, and allows me to focus on the eccentric side of reality that is often missed, showing the public act as a masqueraded performance. At the same time, it gives me the opportunity to open debates with my images, through its different layers. Basically, I use photography to create a positive impact on the audience and the subject matter too
A place where I see happiness
My projects take a long time to mature — I build a very close relationship with the subjects. We build mutual confidence, through which they give me access to their private sphere. I get to know them very well, and we build very strong personal bond. I am familiar with their intimate wishes and sorrows and their struggles. The process of earning the trust of the people I work with is the most difficult one, but once they have confidence in me and I become very familiar with their character, the shooting becomes an easy and natural process.
The moment of taking the photograph is the last step of a usually long journey along with the subjects. We have dedicated time to understand each other and feel comfortable in the situation, sometimes years, therefore the moment of shooting comes naturally and my subjects feel at ease. I try as much as possible to become invisible and non-intrusive, so I can capture the real essence of the subject.
I like to convert the mundane into something extraordinary. My subjects are negotiating constantly between the two identities of the ‘self’ and the ‘popular’. The act of masquerading is indeed a highly paradoxical process. The risky nature of such performances is also in the process of creating a new alternate identity. I believe that in every person there are several layers of personalities intertwined -- some of them more public than others, and some layers are not even visible to the person itself. Undoubtedly, I have to deal with multiple personalities myself — a very particular background and personal journey which reflects in my work and my interests — yet more in a subconscious way than intentionally
Street as Studio
I had the chance to meet Byagadehalli Basavaraj, a 46 years old rural teacher who for the last 20 years has been impersonating Gandhi to advocate Gandhism by walking around the streets of villages and nearby cities. I had documented his life for many years and till today, Being Gandhi is one of my most recognised bodies of work. I believe today, to occupy public space through performance and masquerade in the age of media, is taking a political stance. When a contemporary individual decides to occupy this space it recalls the inspiration of Gandhi and his successful public interventions like the Dandi March. To locate the self in public is to be vulnerable and to believe in the ethics of freedom with responsibility. Basavraj's act too, is one of remembering and honouring Gandhi. He believes that this act can, in a small way, make a difference in this fragile world ridden with conflict, by spreading Gandhian ideals to the youth with the power of his visual impact. My aim is to act as an amplifier for Basavaraj and take his act to a wider audience.
I am fascinated with the idea of masquerade and the roles people play in public and private, which led me to choose portraiture as a genre, but I add my personal twist to it. My interaction with plenty of vernacular characters, my wandering on the streets naturally led to Street as Studio work. Most recently my work is gravitating towards the concept of nostalgia, and A Place where I see Happiness is a body of work I am currently researching, taking advantage of all this time that I am spending in my birth place, with my family and re-connecting with the atmosphere and feelings of intimacy.
Street as Studio
My own journey as a farmer, migrant, policeman and photographer, and how I had to negotiate all these different aspects of my life have allowed to construct my personal narrative, has been very crucial in the way I approach my artistic practice by focusing on human nature. It took me lot of struggle to secure my family’s future, being the sole earner in my family, while following my passion as an artist, which is a very unpredictable career. I believe the main challenge is in our own minds and to gather the determination and sense of purpose to keep going no matter what.
The Pandemic and Beyond
I think I have accommodated to the new reality with a good spirit and I have tried to make the most of it. I decided to move back to my village with my family during this period, which has given me the opportunity to re-connect with my roots. Few years ago, I started to conceptualise a project involving my childhood memories and growing up with my mother. Nowadays, in a time of movement restriction, I have the opportunity to spend more time in my village with my family, to recreate and share those memories, and working on giving shape to the images I want to shoot.
Because of the pandemic some of my projects got postponed, I have started working on re-scheduling some exhibitions, travels, and shootings.