Interview with Janvi Bambhania and Arka Chatterjee, USA - Vision and life

#21

Janvi Bambhania and Arka Chatterjee from the USA

www.janviphoto.com


1. Janvi and Arka, you`re a couple with the same passion for photography. Please describe your way into the photographic world. What does it mean for both of you to share something that`s an important part of your life?

It’s great to share life with someone who also shares the same passion for photographic arts. Having this common interest has allowed us to work together on creative projects and travel to beautiful places in search of unique imagery. It’s almost cliché to point out how common interests enrich our lives, but there are practical advantages as well. Our joint love of the visual arts is what makes it possible to stay sane while being married to a committed artist. There’s never a time where one of us is sitting impatiently while the other hikes off to set up the perfect image. We never question one partner’s decision to temporarily but selfishly put the image-making process ahead of everything else. Because we know that the choice to commit to the image is driven by a creative compulsion that neither of us is willing to set aside.

Janvi: It means the world to share my life with someone who I share creative interests with not only in photography but also in art and illustration. Since I was a child I always knew I wanted to pursue a career that would provide an outlet for my creativity. At a young age, I developed a strong interest in photography through my love of magazines, movie posters, and music album covers. Being drawn to editorial photography early in life, I chose study photography in college. And while that education taught me how to process my own negatives and prints in the darkroom, I also eagerly embraced the emergence of digital photography because it allowed me to experiment and receive instant feedback in-camera. After college, I collaborated with Arka on a variety of projects, and we started a business together.

Arka: My first camera was my dad’s old ’68 Canon FTQL with a 50mm lens and no light meter. That camera was stolen within a year of my using it, and I took a break from photography after that happened. I fell in love with photography again nearly 20 years ago, during a time when digital cameras were improving at a feverish pace. As an imaging medium, digital always felt more natural to me than the rigid arcana of processing film (though I learned how to do that during my freshman year of college). I’ve always had a passion for landscape photography, but over the years my interests have expanded in a wide range of subjects, with portraiture and editorial work being among my favorite non-landscape subjects.

2. Looking at your pictures is like watching a very professional and colorful portfolio with lots of varieties. Landscapes, portraits, still life, architecture, food etc. There`s a clear indication on Janvis website: „In my work I seek to capture the most exciting and emotive aspect of any subject; and to that end, bring a wide range of expertise developed through shooting a wide variety of photographic styles and projects.“ Even if you combine several approaches it seems as if there`s a recurring theme through all your work. Why do you prefer this wide range of artistical approach? Do you feel delighted by being able to play with several categories or is it rather obstructive sometimes? Which category do you prefer?

Janvi: My photographic work spans several categories, and the diversity is largely attributable to having many creative interests over the years. I grew up loving music, colors, dance, fashion, design, food and crafts. So product, performance, and food photography came naturally to me. Now whenever I see things in daily life that are visually appealing, I can’t resist setting up a quick shot (even if it is on the iPhone) and documenting it; my Instagram page is the perfect example of this.

It was later in life that I began falling in love with the seasons, nature and cityscapes. Having grown up in urban environments, photographing landscapes felt foreign when I first started. But I definitely wanted to learn how to do it well. From those explorations I learned that the image-making process transcends the place and time. Good photography is so much more than pressing a shutter button and downloading a RAW file. Many photos out of camera are not true to what I saw, and thus need adjustments to faithfully convey that vision. Still, landscape leaves you (creatively and physically) vulnerable to a lot of things you really can’t control. That’s why I derive much satisfaction from conceptualizing studio and editorial photo shoots – a format that gives you nearly total control over costuming, lighting and posing.

Being inspired by and focusing efforts on multiple photographic genres was never obstructive for me. I choose to switch from one category to the next depending on the project that I am currently working on and welcome the unique challenge that each genre presents.

3. You live in the Los Angeles area. In your work you can easily find references to your Indian roots. Please describe the influence of your cultural background on your art?

Arka: It’s hard to escape the gravity of Indian culture when your parents immigrated from there, and are committed to ensuring that you are well exposed to it. That’s not to say I didn't try. I was born and came of age in a place where it wasn’t really “cool” to have Indian cultural roots. I wasn’t obviously discriminated against, but I always knew that I was different, right down to my name. In fact, I didn’t appreciate my name at all until my mom explained to me what it meant – Sun god. After that I embraced the name, but still felt torn between the stories, norms, and cuisine of my parents’ Indian community, and the desire to not seem so different from everyone else in the larger American Midwest. It took time for me to consciously appreciate how being a first generation immigrant positively distinguished me from my peers. But fortunately, my artistic expression has never been conflicted in this way. This is why so much of my painting and drawing – in my youth and today - is rooted in the Hindu stories and characters I’ve been reading and hearing about since I was a boy.

Janvi: Cultural background plays a significant a role in my style. I was raised in the United States by Indian immigrants, and eagerly adopted their cultural perspective as my own. I watched Indian movies; listened to Hindi-language songs, learned Indian classical dance, and dressed up in Indian clothes. My grandma lived with us, and told me all the stories she learned as a girl about Hinduism and Indian folklore. As such, Indian-inspired concepts and costuming often find their way into much of the work that I do. The photograph below is just one example of this. In it, I start with a photograph that is strategically lit and then incorporate digitally created elements to generate a composite environment that echoes the visual language of ancient Indian civilizations from numerous time periods.

4. Arka, you`re not only a photographer but also love painting. Please describe your painting approach. Does your photographic work benefit from painting or vice versa?

The processes of painting and photography are two ways to get to a visually compelling image. The first offers tremendous artistic freedom, but requires you to build everything from scratch – perspective, value, proportion, materials, light, and so on. Painters spend their entire lives trying to convincingly construct these illusions in a two-dimensional medium – either using paint or a computer.

Photography is the opposite in many ways – through the camera you capture a RAW file that instantly imprints a scene in all its complexity. Unusual perspectives are easy to explore and convey because you can experiment by just moving around, changing a lens, or twisting a zoom ring. However, as much as I love the (comparatively) spontaneous character of the photographic medium, I struggle to avoid being bound by the apparent “reality” captured in a RAW file.

Differences aside, if I had to name a common principle applicable to both mediums, it’s this – you need to have a very good idea of what you want. Plan and pre-visualize – whether it’s for just a few minutes or a few months. It’s not helpful to become a slave to such plans, but having a clear vision of what you want to achieve with the final image is crucial. The “plan” serves many purposes - as a benchmark for how your skills are developing, a goalpost to work toward, or a springboard from which other happy creative “accidents” may arise.

In painting, pre-visualization takes the form of sketching lots of thumbnails, finding the right references to study, shooting useful reference photos, developing a strong value-based composition, and choosing a compelling color palette. In photography, pre-visualization informs your kit selection, placement, timing, and helps you understand what RAW material you need to capture. Do you need to bracket for exposure? Depth-of-field? Focal length? Do you need to add some light to the scene? Consult your “plan” and you’re more likely to carry - and capture – exactly what is required to bring your vision forth.

5. Let`s talk about landscape photography. We once met on a trip through the Eastern Sierra. Your connection to nature was easily noticeable. What does it mean to leave the urban region at times and come into the wilderness.

Arka: It means everything to me, though like many things I only realized it later in life. The wilderness is so essential to being human, yet it is so easy for most of us to treat it as optional. Most of us grow up and live within cities and towns, but the wild is where our ancestors come from, and I think we are subconsciously drawn to it in many ways – our collective love of trees, flowers, mountains, waves, sunrises and sunsets, for example. I have lived in some of the most urbanized places in America, yet find necessary peace and clarity when I am away from it. Fortunately, the incredible wilderness of the American West openly beckons us to explore the incredible diversity of uniquely beautiful places that lie just beyond the shining lights and urban sprawl. Where I live now is a very different place from where I grew up, in Northeastern Ohio. Ohio is beautiful in its own way, but living there I could not imagine what it would be like to live here in California. When I was a kid, the austere deserts, towering mountains, and rocky beaches of California were just abstractions - fantastic places depicted in the films and cartoons of my childhood. Now that I’ve experienced them, I fully understand why so many filmmakers chose to do their work in these deserts, mountains, and shorelines.

California has been a catalyst for me to explore wild places all over the world. As I’ve done so, I realized that one of the things I enjoy most about being in the wild is how simple things become. When hyper-civilization falls away, so do its addictions and distractions. I don’t even need to backpack into the mountains to experience that – a short drive to one of California’s beautiful rocky coasts is enough. In that raging yet calming solitude, free from notifications and distractions, one can get lost in the process of experience and expression, if only for a little while. As much as I love urban living, one of the things I think humans have forgotten in the last decade is that we aren’t very good at multi-tasking, particularly when creativity is required. It’s much easier to be creative in the absence of distractions, and through the act of focusing upon pursuing the creative work product exclusively. One of the great joys of being in nature is that you don’t even need to try to isolate yourself – the wilderness will do it for you.

6. When we`ve been in Death Valley I clearly remember how you talked about consumption and experiences. Analogously you said that it`s not important to spend money for the best new laptop or anything but for experiences that make life more valuable. Please describe your thoughts about that.

Arka: My perspective on this has evolved a little since we spoke. While I am certainly guilty of chasing new toys to further my art, I’ve learned that few of those acquisitions gave me more pleasure than actually making something with them. I still put consumption on the lowest tier of happiness-generating activities. Far above that are experiences, especially ones where you challenge your assumptions, fears, or perceived limits. But even above that for me is the ability to create something tangible from those experiences – to combine your tools, trips, and time into something that will convey that experience to others, including future versions of yourself.

7. For some years a pretty little daughter completed your family. From an early age she was a part of your common trips. Please let us know what you think about the importance of nature experiences for children. Can they benefit from encountering wilderness?

It is remarkable how much we teach kids about the wilderness, even as we deny them the opportunity to meaningfully experience it for themselves. We teach them to read by showing them animals, but how many kids will ever see those creatures in the wild? Indeed, many of those animals may be extinguished from the wild before our own daughter is old enough to see them. The same is true of the world’s shrinking glaciers, retreating ice-packs, and dissolving coral reefs. Our children are denied the opportunity to experience these things, and it is happening right before our eyes.

Given how fast the world as we know it is changing – largely on account of human civilization – it’s more important than ever to cultivate an appreciation for the natural world. As we have seen on so many occasions, kids are fierce and compelling advocates for the things they care about. But they have to be given access to those things, along with the opportunity to love them. We hope that our daughter will learn to love the natural environment through experience. We recognize that, for kids growing up in huge cities or sequestered suburbs, the natural world can be easy to miss. So as our daughter gets older, we’ve made it a point to expose her more and more to just being outside and away from home.

What we didn’t realize, though, is how much our daughter would give back to us. Her energy is boundless, her perspective fresh, and her love of traveling infectious. It also helps that she is a remarkably adept hiker – far better than we were at her age.

8. Both of you are a part of the social network world. It`s impossible to imagine a life without social networking today. The influence on our children is unforseeable. As a loving mother and father, what do you think about this topic?

Our experience with social networking has been largely positive. It has resulted in artistic collaborations that would never have happened otherwise, and allows us to keep up with friends and like-minded individuals continuously. It’s a treat to follow and be inspired by the ongoing photographic exploits of great artists like yourself, Marc Adamus, and countless others (including the people on this blog!) while also sharing our own work. But there’s a very delicate balance between using social media to promote or cultivate one’s creativity, and allowing the platform to sabotage it.

In this vein, some of the deliberately addictive qualities of these platforms are troubling. Though we remember a world without personal computers (let alone social media), it’s still a struggle to tame the “new” medium’s tendency to monopolize our conscious minds. One wonders how it will be for people like our daughter - born into a world infused with the power and peril of ubiquitous connectedness and the universal cult of online social networking. Setting aside the myriad concerns about screen-time addiction, bullying, and impact on self-esteem, these platforms can really sap one’s ability to do creative work. Complex creativity requires time and an absence of distraction. But social media with its deluge of notifications and red-dots is designed to distract, and makes it impossible to achieve that flow.

All that said, we’ve found that the worst excesses of social media can be controlled through conscious choices, and it’s really important to teach our kids that they need to stay in control. Here again, it may just come down to knowing what you want to get from the experience, and eliminating aspects of the platform that get in the way of your creative journey.

9. Janvi, you also have a photo blog and a food blog. Being successful in this business means investing plenty of time. How do you find a good balance between vital work and creativity? How are you able to inspire yourself again and again?

There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, and running a business always requires investing a lot of time. With that being said I have found it both challenging and fundamental to make the most of available time. This hasn’t always been easy while balancing a day job and family life with photography. But while I love photographing, processing, and posting a new image that I have “created,” I realize that whenever my schedule can’t accommodate this, I am left feeling dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction motivates me to carve out time from a busy schedule to process one more picture at a time.

When there aren’t enough hours in the day, we need to make more hours available and make our mark.

10. Final Question: This project is called "Vision and life". What do the terms "vision" and "life" mean for you, Janvi and Arka?

Vision and life are one and the same. To live is to see, imagine, and experience. Life is an opportunity to see the universe in a way that no other creature ever will, and that makes it incredibly precious. To share that perspective across space and time – to leave an image of our perspective for others (including ourselves at some future time) – is so uniquely a human urge. Perhaps that’s why most artists pursue the image-making process – first and foremost - out of personal passion and compulsion. Indeed, if we weren’t all so busy trying to figure out how to pay the bills, get ahead in life, or buy the next major thing we don’t really need, maybe we’d all be artists in some way or another.

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