Photography is an art in itself. While some photographers use their skill to document the beauty of nature or wildlife, others turn their lens towards capturing the essence of human experience. Photographer Anjan Kumar is one of the latter.
Eschewing a world of fashion and glamour, Anjan focuses on taking portraits of people in simple yet powerful ways. Each story is an exploration of the universal essence of human experience and our connection to one another that extends beyond any boundaries.
We had a chance to have a conversation with him about his journey, interest, focus, and upcoming plans. Here’s what he had to say:
1) Tell us a little about yourself. When did you discover your interest in photography?
I’m from Chennai, raised in a typical conservative middle-class upbringing. I left for the US in 2006 to study Computer Science, and after graduation moved to San Francisco to work in a startup. Being away from home and thriving in the land of opportunity gave me the space to introspect, dream and identify my true self.
I was always interested in film making and keen to learn the art and science behind it. I joined a film school in San Francisco in 2011 to pursue a 15-month program. I learned to write scripts, work with actors, direct films and edit them. I enjoyed the process of giving life to ideas and seeing it come to fruition through the performance of the actors.
That’s what enthused me to pursue photography, and I started working with models in San Francisco. As I worked full-time in tech, I had only weekends available for creative work which was convenient to do photography projects.
2) What are you trying to capture in each portrait you shoot? What are you trying to evoke in the viewer?
My photography is an extension of my film making, I try to provide a narrative in each shot. I want the image to be treated like a scene from a movie. I want the viewer to be drawn towards the story in the shot, observe the state of mind of the subject, feel the mood and react to the emotion portrayed. I don’t control the narrative in a shoot, it’s a collaborative effort with the model.
Sometimes we might work on a back story or situation to develop a theme. Else it could be an improv performance that could involve role play or freestyle movement.
3) How did nudes become the main focus of the art portraits you create?
Basically, I’m not into fashion or glamour styles of photography. My idea of beauty is not about showing a model in designer outfits, perfect looks and photoshopped bodies. My perspective of beauty is in depicting reality, telling stories of the mundane, portraying vulnerability and imperfections.
This approach invoked a sense of raw minimalism and intimacy that brought about nudity as a way of expression. But it’s not intended to sensationalise the work or scandalise the audience, nor objectify the model or cater to the male gaze.
I got exposed to this form of art in San Francisco where artists embrace the idea of nudity without any fuss. My art happened to evolve into this style as more models were open to collaboration and experimentation. I don’t emphasise on nudity when I work with a model, it’s what they are comfortable with and what we develop as the concept for our shoot.
So I’m not sure if nude art is, in fact, the main focus, I think that’s just a feature of my work that has got more recognition.
4) How do you generally choose the subjects of your pictures?
I work with anyone that can act and emote, feel comfortable with exposing their personal, vulnerable side to the camera, and be willing to look natural and imperfect. I want the viewers to feel that the subjects are real and human, be able to connect with them and relate to their thoughts. I don’t want them to think that the girl in the picture is larger than life or feel intimidated by her supermodel persona.
I started off with the traditional approach of working with models to build my repertoire. But I enjoy creating art with newbies and non-model folk as well. They don’t have a perfected posing routine and it’s refreshing to document their natural, shy self. I get asked why I don’t shoot more women of colour, or of varying body sizes, or male subjects for that matter.
There is no bias or prejudice in my work, I’m interested in telling the stories and capturing the beauty of every person. But it takes time to experiment, learn and evolve, I don’t create art to check boxes off a list.
5) How does your experience in studying film and cinematography bleed into the way you approach photography?
Going to film school was the single most enriching experience of my life. All the lessons of direction, narration and working with actors that I picked up in film school are abundantly used in my photography. Not to mention the technical aspects of working with light and the camera, composition and framing as well.
Film is nothing but moving images, of say 24 frames in a second. A scene in a movie requires dialog, action, music, editing, set design and other elements to convey the story.
If I could tell a story visually through a single frame, that excites me. Photography allows lesser exposition in narration compared to film, and more abstractness and subtext which I love to exploit.
6) Since nude photography can be a sensitive topic, what are challenges you face while shooting?
I did most of my work in San Francisco, Seattle or Portland which are progressive cities in general. If at all, I’m only less radical or more old school than the local artistic communities there. With my nude photography, the priority was always to ensure that the model feels safe and comfortable during the shoot.
That wasn’t a challenge per say because they are all trusting and open-minded. I always take the time to get to know them, allow each other to understand our background and motivation, and build our work organically. I can’t recollect facing any challenges though, it’s probably a question better addressed to the models.
7) Now that you’re back in India, are there any upcoming projects from you we can look forward to?
Well, India is definitely a place where nude photography is a sensitive topic, so that will be a challenge. And modelling, in general, seems to be more commercial here, and fashion-centric or glamour oriented.
So I’m hoping to break some ground, although I’m not familiar with the art scene yet. I would love to invade galleries with my work, get commissioned projects, sell prints and have the common man/woman connect with my art. It’s been just a few weeks since I moved back home, I don’t have any upcoming projects yet.
Featured Image Credit: Anjan Kumar
Written by Disha Mukherjee