In his own words: “My family have been photographers or associated with photography for a long time, and my first decent camera was given to me by my father, via my uncle, to whom my father lent his entire outfit, on the basis that the cameras would be mine when I was old enough. In the meantime, I was given a basic box brownie – camera of champions – to make do with. The shutter button’s spring was so difficult to press, the camera couldn’t be kept still. Two long years later, at the blameless age of seven, my uncle appeared, with an SLR, three lenses, a stack of accessories and filters, and a tripod that nearly took my eye out, as they say.
Behind the works of my favourite classical artists – Constable, Turner, Hogarth, Picasso, Burne-Jones, Rembrandt and of course, DaVinci – lie ways of thinking, research, understanding, that these chaps (always chaps, I’m afraid) possessed and cultivated.
Photographers’ images are of course influential, but as with the Old Masters, the real insights are gleaned from understanding their motives, their research and the efforts made to cultivate the talents they had. There’s plenty of talent around, but it’s nothing without hard work.
I learnt a lot, although not aesthetically, from the late Ansel Adams. The late Barry Thornton’s writings are still hugely influential, and I leaf through the World Press Photo annuals, usually in admiration, ocassionally in mystification — we don’t always agree — but always reminding myself that it’s the people I’m interested in. Here’s to Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson and Capa; David La Chappelle and Annie Leibovitz; Mitch Epstein, Paul Graham, Tom Stoddart and Steve McCurry; Tim Hetherington, Martin Parr and Simon Norfolk; so many photographers, so little space. Here’s to pushing the boundaries a little bit further on.”
Why are you a photographer?
It’s the best way I can find to satisfy my curiosity about the world and it provides me with a reason/excuse to ask questions and find out information.
Do you remember any decisive moment when you felt ‘I want to be a photographer’?
Probably when I was 18. I was heading off in the summer for a three-week expedition to Tanzania and my parents bought me a proper camera. I’d had plenty of cameras in the past that were a bit tatty or not very good, but this was slick. I vowed to get interested and do the best I could. And I found out that I wasn’t too bad at it.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Sure. Steve McCurry is an obvious hero, but I particularly loved the work of the English newspaper photographers and the printers, of course. Photographers like Mike Maloney, Tom Stoddart, John Downing, all those guys and Larry Bartlett the printer. Man, he was good.
Who was the most influential personality on your career in photography?
Steve McCurry to be sure. I met him in India over the summer, he was shooting the same subject as I was and we met when he came back to Ahmedabad. A massive coincidence that I flew in and he was there too, so we talked a great deal about my project – he was full of advice and suggestions and of course I took all his advice.
How has photography changed over the course of the last couple of decades? Is execution/art direction more important than it used to be?
Well, it’s easier to become better, faster. Digital has changed everything, cameras are everywhere and we’re surrounded by imagery. I don’t think there’s more good photographers around now, the difficulty of selling your work, writing up the story and making it stand out it still there, and the rewards are there for those who work hard to get them. Certainly photography has become cheaper, and clients often expect to pay much less for it, but coming back to your question, those elements are probably less important with the advent of photoshop. Gone are the days of sending Max Forsythe and a large truck around the world to photograph it for cigarette advertising. You can superimpose the pyramids in twenty minutes now.
Are you familiar with the current photography work happening in India? If yes, what do you think of the work being done here?
A little, not a lot. Indian media is still quite dispersed and it’s hard to find things on the net. The work is quite good and often a very different vision from the work I normally see.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everything, literally, everything I see around me. I’m constantly looking at things when I’m out, listening to the radio for bits that spark my thoughts and curiosity, and I spend a lot of time on the net looking and researching and learning.
What is the current project you are working on?
I am researching a project on the world water crisis and the water cycle. We are running very short of freshwater.
Do you do a lot of advertising photography?
Was there any time when you wanted to quit photography?
Usually at the end of every project. I need some time to recharge
Whats your dream project?
I have many. Perhaps documenting the work and dreams of people, getting to know more people is always a winner with me. But maybe something smaller. They say that 90% of all photojournalism is about 10% of the world, and so I have a wish to focus on more ordinary things, the everyday. It’s always more of a challenge to look at familiar things with fresh eyes.
Who would you want to spend a dinner with?
Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush, but photographically, I’d sit down with Tom Stoddart or Joel Meyerowitz anytime.
Whats on your iPod?
Right now I’ve just copied over The Who, Nitin Sawhney and Amy Winehouse. Driving to San Francisco tomorrow so I’m decided what I’d like for the drive.
Mac or PC?
Mac and I always have been. I can use a PC just fine, but it’s a grim experience.
Vish can be contacted through his website here