Born in New Delhi, the work of Vikram Kushwah is dream like in its conception.
Days spent at boarding school deep in the Himalayan mountains evidently a catalyst to the creative drive of a photographer whose images have a natural bias towards fantasy. It is these fantastical flights of dream like creativity which drive the work of Vikram Kushwah. Awash with obvious (and sometimes not so obvious) narratives and themes, Vikram Kushwah creates astounding visuals.
While Vikram Kushwah is at home in the fantastical, his ability in the commercial world of photography is equally engaging. Images are clean and skilfully captured while keeping an essence of the slightly off-beat fantasy driven world that Vikram Kushwah occupies.
Tell us about a young Vikram what was he like and was there anything in the way a young Vikram was that meant that he may end up as a photographer?
I always lived in the moment and do so even today. I was a daydreamer, a romantic (would not be bound by rules and boundaries) and that meant I was getting into trouble all the time in boarding school. That also meant the right half of the brain was super active, which perhaps has something to do with what I am and do today. I’m still very much child-like and I think that my work as a photographer reflects that.
Talk about childhood memories and the impact on you and your work.
At boarding school, I was a free-range child. Children’s storybooks fascinated me and the woodland spaces at school always drew me in. During mid-term breaks we’d go exploring deep and high into the mountains. I saw these things with a sense of mystery and darkness and these remained in my psyche through to adulthood until I chanced upon the medium of photography and started exploring these themes artistically. Natural settings, natural light and old spaces are an integral part of my work.
Dreams are otherworldly and are a window to one’s sub-conscious. This tension between the real and the surreal finds its way back to the sort of things I was always interested in.
We love Guy Bourdin and we also note your love for Tim Walker and Deborah Tuberville. What is it about their individual work that inspires you?
I’m drawn in by the sense of wonder and the prevalent uncertainty, especially in Turbeville’s and Bourdin’s works. Whereas Tim Walker’s pictures remind me of my childhood – magical, nostalgic and a warm summer that never turns to winter.
You were an assistant photographer in Mumbai. Talk about the learning process for you and how it impacted your photographic journey?
It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was assisting a fashion and advertising photographer and was constantly yelled at, even though I was still learning. I was 21. The job always came before the emotional well-being and safety of the crew. I learned what not to become. One morning I woke up and booked a one-way ticket to back home. I decided to undergo formal education in photography.
Britain, a country with a rich art heritage. Here, I was introduced to photography as an art form.
What was the catalyst for the move to the UK and how did the move have an impact on your photographic journey?
Back when I was an assistant photographer, it was a very commercial environment. There was hardly any outlet for photography as an art form. Photographers were predominantly treated as technicians in my experience. That was the primary reason for the move to Britain, a country with a rich art heritage. Here, I was introduced to photography as an art form.
How do dreams play an important part of ‘you’ and your work.
Dreams are otherworldly and are a window to one’s sub-conscious. This tension between the real and the surreal finds its way back to the sort of things I was always interested in. Surrealist
Automatism is something that fascinates me. They would sit in a cafe and draw in a semi sleep state – lucid dreaming translated on paper!
Elements of your work are more than just capturing an image-there is a great deal of stage management. Ofelea and Memoirs Of A Lost Time are amazing. Talk, to us about inspiration, creation and themes in those works and others.
I’m always trying to tell stories through my pictures – single frame short stories. The ingredients range from my own childhood imagination to the Surrealists, Freud essay on The Uncanny (Das Unheimliche) to spaces and time. Ofelea directly relates to Freud’s theory on The Uncanny, whereas Memoirs of Lost Time translates other people’s childhood memories into carefully staged and interpretive photographs. These people are in the images themselves. Elements of stories like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and artist Rene Magritte can be found in this series. There’s a series I started working on, based on Hans Bellmer’s dolls. It’s called ‘What If These Were Legs’. Even while shooting fashion stories for magazines, I strive to achieve narratives.
Can you talk about the Exile series which was difficult in terms of the actual work and of course what it reflected in terms of the turmoil going on for you personally?
Exile is about the vulnerability I and my wife faced in the face of our actual exile from Britain, after an immigration caseworker had failed to competently do his job. As a result, I was not allowed back in Britain and this was a country I had called home for 8 years. My wife, who is a British citizen, and I were forced to move to Europe (where I could stay under EU law). We, and our three dogs, found refuge in an isolated part of Sweden, a frozen land with forest all around. It felt like exile in the literal sense of the word – cold and desolate. The series is reflective of that piercing feeling.
You recently won the Portrait of Britain. It’s an image with an engaging simplicity to it.
Jasmine, my subject for the photograph, is the 14-year-old daughter of a friend. She is in her second year of cancer treatment. Prior to the illness, she had long, cascading hair, which was sacred to her, and was the subject of one of my earlier photography projects. Chemotherapy has now reduced her hair considerably and she does not step out without a wig. With all the complexities that come with teenage life, something as severe as this illness and its repercussions has made adolescence doubly challenging for Jasmine.
This photograph shows her silent resolve to move on, it captures her tenderness and innocence. I find Jasmine’s gaze very powerful here. I asked her to look away from the camera for this one, and it’s the slight dis-engagement that I find interesting. We will never know what went on in her mind in this moment but to me it tells the story of her perseverance, and her calm demeanour during what, at times, were arduous cancer treatments.
Is there anything new you are working on-can you talk to us about that?
I have just wrapped up a fashion shoot for The Financial Times, How To Spend It magazine. It will be out in November. As a personal project, I’ve also recently shot a body positive swimsuit series featuring people of various ethnic backgrounds, skin colour and body types, in swimsuits – a celebration of the aesthetic of the female body and its immense athletic capabilities. A couple of projects are under wraps now, but they will be on my Instagram and website as soon as I’m able to talk about them.