Technology, now like never before has allowed us to create whole new worlds, and visual experiences. Delhi-based Sanjay Nanda is a real visionary who apart from being a graphic designer is also a passionate photographer.
Nonetheless, his experiences as a visual designer has brought out the ability to see beauty even in mundane things. Photography has helped him release his intense creative urges and communicate what he feels and sees. And by using simple concepts and techniques that are grounded in the realm of fine art, he has carved a niche for himself as a professional Fine Art photographer. Excerpts:
Your sense of design and aesthetics is evi-dent in the images that you shoot. Did growing up amidst art influence your photography in any way?
As a Graphic Designer, I have a very good understanding of compositions and the various elements of visual design (lines, forms, shapes, colours, textures, proportions, space, balance, cropping, etc.). I use these elements to create my compositions.I mastered photography the other way around (vis-a-vis other professional/non-professional photographers), which probably is the correct way. Firstly, I learnt the art of photography and subsequently, the Science part of it. The technical part is very simple and can be understood easily in a few weeks, and this is what is taught in most photography workshops. However, the art part of photography is not taught by anyone. That’s why most images that we see lack in compositions. I already knew about compositions even before I started photography. I just had to fit what I wanted and how much I wanted into my frame.
My photographic process involves a persistent scouring of the urban landscape for the uniquely unseen; compelling moments of light, texture and form; and, many times, the decaying elements in the constructed environment. My attempt is to extract and synthesize the less seen, yet strangely elegant, fragments of the urban landscape in order to reconstruct an urban aesthetic.
Since I shoot a variety of subjects, thought provoking compositions with colour combinations move me. When I gets back to my studio, I re-assess my images, and then choose the ones that have a staying power. I am more interested in collecting the raw visual materials that allow me to explore the inherent dynamics and tensions of the picture plane.
When you shoot pictures, do you look for something in particular? In short, how would you describe your photographic style?
My style could be termed as ‘expressive minimalism’. i.e. interpreting the things I see by removing all the descriptive clutter, in order to express it’s meaning more lucidly to others. It is photography that interprets, rather than describes, what we see to oth-ers. It tells a story, going beyond conveying information for its own sake. By expressing our own metaphorical point of view about what we see, we can communicate ideas to others, triggering emotional, intellectual, and imaginative responses.
My images are a combination of abstraction, incongruity, and human values. Abstraction removes the literal, descriptive clutter and hones an image down to its essence and encourages unlimited thinking. Incongruity presents elements that seem to be at odds with their context and creates contrasts and juxtapositions that stimulate both the emotions and the imagination. Human values convey the emotions, beliefs, traditions and knowledge that we understand and share as humans.
Your creativity is simply out of this world and de-lightfully surreal. What is the mantra of your success?
This is because I shoot in an un-emotive manner. Emotions don’t dictate the shots. For eg. I don’t see smiling children, poverty on the streets, devotion in a pilgrim, a romantic sunset, etc. while shooting. I just see my subject as elements in a composition: forms, colour, shapes, space, etc. Emotion is the end-product expressed by the viewer when they see the final image.
I love colour (and also B&W stuff, which I believe are also tones of colour). Besides, I have played with colours throughout my entire career as a designer. Particularly in India there is a lot of colour and it is extremely difficult not to notice it. Since a majority of my compositions are tight minimalistic compositions or abstractions, only the very colourful or dramatic part of the environment is captured.
At times, I do boost the saturation a little since I am not shooting for documentary purposes, but creating work that can be classified as art. And, in that mode, it is acceptable to manipulate an image to create an aesthetic piece of work.
In fact, I shoot like an Art photographer, specialising in abstracts. In this genre of photography, the depiction of the subject in its complete form is not important. And like any other abstract artist (painters), I also abstract what I see, by simply removing everything that is not required in an image, while retaining the essence.
Successful photographers often balance two roles – that of a creative professional and a busi-nessman. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned balancing both the roles?
Early in my career I realised just being creative was not good enough, I also needed to market myself and my creativity. While for a few this comes easily, I had to struggle a lot to reconcile this. In fact, like most other creative people, I had to make a lot of effort to market my creativity. Unlike India, marketing creativity is a very organised business in the West. There are agents, who understand creative products and know how to market it precisely to their clients. But in India, we have to undertake the selling part all by ourselves, resulting in lengthy presentations which are often not very effective, thereby curtailing the time one can spend on creativity.
Looking through your body of work, is there one particular image that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?
This particular shot at the Tashi Jong Monastery in Himachal Pradesh while I was observing young lamas taking a breakfast break just after their early morning prayers. Apart from being serendipity, this is a good example of pre-visualising a sequence in street photography. This young lama had just collected his food and sat quietly eating his breakfast, while the other lamas rushed around either to get their meal, or to find a place to sit and eat. I could sense that there would be action around, so I positioned myself perfectly opposite him, and sat down to be at eye level to him. However, the lama was completely lost in his thoughts and oblivious of the action around him. It seemed for him even the meal time was a continuation of the meditation process. However, a part of the body of the other lamas are not visible in the frame, helps in drawing attention to the little lama. In addition, the overall blue tone of the image, (because of the sunny white balance), adds to the surreal mood of the image and contrasts perfectly with the yellow and maroon robes of the lamas.
Technical details of the image:f6.3, 1/125, EV 0, ISO 800, 34mm.
Describe the most technically challenging frame that you have captured in terms of aesthetics and techniques, and why?
This is an interesting perspective captured at the Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi. The image has been shot in the 4th dimension: space and time (shadows). I have always been fascinated by the geometric architectural structures within the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory. The instruments that were used to track the celestial bodies in time and space have always charmed me. These seemingly abstract structures create fascinating graphical forms which constantly change throughout the day given the movement of the sun across the horizon.
This frame was challenging because I had to shoot this with my whole body tilted at a very odd angle in a cramped spot. At the same time I had to keep the camera steady, since I was shooting at 200mm. In fact, I was trying to align all the diagonal lines and concentrating particularly at the centre point, where all the lines eventually would meet. I also had to wait a long time for the shadow to be long enough to reach the centre point. This image gives a sense that there is a prism which is balancing the rays of light and marking a point in space and time.
Technical details of the image:f8, 1/640, EV-1, ISO 100, 200mm.