Citing Richard Avedon and Irving Penn as early influences, Chawla’s background in fashion photography is evident in his elegantly posed portraits. No project is the same as the one before; he works on the ability of doing something different and not ‘being the victim’ of his own style. Wanderlust works on the marriage of fashion and art, creating a series of extraordinarily unique photographs.
I started taking images at school as a means of making a living; I joined advertising after finishing school and began working for JWT; photography became my reason to be in advertising. I used to shoot some of the biggest campaigns in the country, but the banality of advertising gets you to a point and for me the timing was right to start seriously developing my own fine-art photography.
“The lights were so bright that the Rabaris couldn’t keep their eyes open…we shot the photographs within nanoseconds”
Was Wanderlust the first non-commercial work?
I shot the Rabari tribe like I would shoot my fashion models; it was a contemporary sensibility of shooting, all about projection. The difficult part was getting them to project in a way that the pictures had a timeless feel and yet were contemporary in their look and feel. Advertising teaches you a certain technical finesse and discipline. We used a strong set of lights to create a makeshift studio in the desert.
What was it like living amongst the Rabari tribe?
The tribe wouldn’t come to us, we had to travel and find them. We had huge lights that were so strong that the Rabaris found it difficult to keep their eyes open. The nanosecond that their eyes opened…we worked with it to capture the intensity of their concentration We used the same technique for all of them. The opening picture with the woman with the hand, she is actually trying to cover her eyes, in most of the images the guys can’t even look at the camera.
“The inherent style [of the Rabari tribe] has inspired countless designers, from Issey Miyake to John Galliano, to everybody“
The way these people are dressed is the same way as when they walk 50 kilometres a day, they are no style icons. Their clothes haven’t been washed in 3-4 days. They have a natural sense of style which is inspired by generations. Their inherent style has actually inspired countless designers, from Issey Miyake to John Galliano, to everybody. For me to see their natural sense of style was incredible, you can’t really communicate with them, they are so peaceful and content. They move on before you have any time to create a long term bond, it’s just not possible.
Chawla has already begun work on Wanderlust 2; a photographic series of different tribes that gather in Goa once a year. For a sneak preview of Wanderlust 2, pop into The Strand Gallery where this portfolio-in-progress features as an aside to the main exhibit.
Wanderlust is now showing at The Strand Gallery until the 15th July 2012