With a background of four decades in photographing the myriad faces of Kerala, Ashok Koshy sets a new benchmark in the art of travel photography.
He has gathered a series of images that capture the diversity of the photographer’s work. Having traveled the region vastly, apart from experiences, Ashok has gained a series of masterpieces that have been documented with historical flair. His work is an ode to the artistry of India – be it the delicate forms of nature or the intense dance forms; the soaring and awe inspiring coastal architecture of Kerala or the temple elephants. Ashok’s elegant and personal tone in the images he shoots sets his work apart. He shares his vibrant journey with Smart Photography :
How were you first introduced to photography? What determined the shift to travel photography?
My early years at Lawrence School, Lovedale, was when I initially experienced photography. Back then it was mostly Black and White. We used to have an ancient camera and a make shift BxW photo lab, and those interested in photography were welcome to experiment in their spare time. I maintained no interest in photography while at school. After graduation I got to spend time at home, which is when I began testing my mother’s camera – an old Voigtlander and used it to photograph life around me. I then had a local lab process and print them on normal grade paper.
Once I joined Elphinstone college, I traveled around India to savor the freedom and this helped me in learning more about our culture and way of life. The feeling you derive from recording your travels is inexplicable. In the early seventies, I shifted base to London and worked as an apprentice with renowned photographer, Adrian Flowers. That is where I learned photography and the how-to of lights, as well as the massive impact you have as a photographer to capture images that may live across generations. Moreover, with Adrian I got to work on many major corporate assignments. The most memorable ones are Benson and Hedges campaigns, photographing Sir John Geilgud at the Museum of Mankind, Pink Floyd – Knebworth concert in 75 DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, Peter Sellers for the Olympus camera advertisements, etc.
To top this all, I was working in one of the best studios in England. I was involved mainly in studio work and E6 processing labs, with all the 8×10 inches, and 5×4 inches large format Sinar equipment, besides the 120mm format Hasselblads and 35 mm Nikons. He had a wonderful color lab and all the equipment required for processing and printing. To work and study under him gave me different insights, and the technical knowledge to confidently record the stories of travel.
Once you have decided your subject, how do you prepare yourself for the shoot?
Single mindedness is the essence to be able to maintain focus. Every day you decide what you want and how you are going to reach that goal.
It is the nature of a genius to be able to grasp the knowable, even when no one else recognizes its presence. There are efforts and results and the strength of the effort which is measured only by the results. Most of my photos are based on the quality of light available, and it is only when you fathom the value of life you derive the faith to do what is right. For that you need to be agile, supple and alert and responsive to change.
You are known for travel portraiture and for capturing the sense of the place in your photographs. How would you describe the work you do now?
In the eighties, I had the most inspiring moment when I had an opportunity to meet Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, and had the privilege of spending time with him at Magnum photos. Just to be there and discuss photography with him, and to understand his approach made me realize that a good photograph depends on how you recognize the quality of light on the subject, and to know the decisive moment. It was all about living the moment, so travel became a way of life. However, you do learn that all things are temporary and that change is inevitable.
What are the facets of a good travel photograph? Is there any particular equipment that you just can’t simply do without and why?
If in your photographs you can make the viewer feel like they are a part of a picture or the location, then your image is a good one. As we are all travelers, we will constantly be in search of distant lands to learn something new from.
For professionals, the equipment you use has a direct bearing on the type of photos you aspire for. Travel photography involves a lot of candid work which requires you to be invisible of sorts to get the right feeling in a picture. Hence long lenses are used. It all depends on the way you tackle and visualize the end product. Each subject has its own dimensions, and the way I see it is what makes me choose a particular type of lens or film. Of course, with digital equipment any kind of visual or lighting is possible. Some of my best photos are shot on the analog as most of them have been exposed by manual settings which makes you understand again the type of settings/lighting that you can use to get different styles of visuals from within.
Which is your favorite location and why?
As for my favorite place, I live by the backwaters away from the main city. I designed it to have the lagoon right up to the living room, where I can constantly be inspired by nature and the flowing waters, called Naksatra Mana. It was built to enhance the environment and to protect the wild birds and small animals that live by the waters.
Along with that, I get to see the first light of the morning sun on my deck where I do my yoga, meditation and play the flute. This keeps me focused on the future fleeting moments that life has to offer, and concentrate on the subjects I wish to capture.
How does travel influence the way you see the world and your art? Comment.
To be able to travel to distant places gives me the quality to accept that the only permanent thing in life is change, and as long as you are in sync with the laws of nature you will always have new dimensions to be in. Travel changes the way you think, and this factor has a major impact on the way we take photographs.