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Vivek Raj Singh




Vivek works with the gaze of the camera to tell stories of solitude and self-reflection – part documentary, part surreal; often situated in & inspired by nature. His personal work comes from the gaze turned inward, the outer landscape becoming a likeness of the inner - as with an ongoing body of work; set in the hills of Landour, that he hopes to turn into a photobook.


What is photography to you?

Photography for me has been a life-raft, an adrenaline rush and a goal to go after, all rolled into one. Up until 2020 I had spent a few slow years chasing only commercial work, which felt like a necessity but in doing so I was losing parts of myself and was rather detached. I was stuck in a self-made circle of melancholia and had all but given up on the craft. The lockdown brought me out of that long struggle with creative deadness because the stifling claustrophobia of it just compelled me enough to pick up the camera for myself after years and give more to the medium. So that period was an inflection point - I began to photograph from instinct rather than detachment.

Photography is a reflection of my own reticence* and a means to finding contentment with that solitary identity. To me, my images also represent continuing experiments with abstract forms, expressionisms which reflect states of being - an embrace of the idea of the self and the external mirrored in one another, albeit tinged with some angst but sometimes joy too. More frequently for me this comes in forms of solitude and nature. That's where my time in the hills helped. It came unexpectedly and immensely helped to continue the process of lifting myself out of that long rut. Back in the city, the absence of nature compels me to look for stolen quietude, what I like to think of as ‘moments in between the folds’.

(*Reticence is not to say I’m in a silo - all my bigger projects are made in collaboration with partner in crime and creation Reine who is the most discerning curator of my work and an incredibly astute creative mind. We’re currently working on two long-term projects - a documentary about migration in Uttarakhand and a photobook set in Landour (@deodarinthemist) 

How did you get started in Photography?

I started down this road in school, with the little point-and-shoot camera my father had lent to me. There were only a handful of such cameras in the entire school (this is just before mobile cameras and DSLRs became ubiquitous) so I somewhat naturally became 'that guy' who would always be taking snapshots - but also exploring the joys of photography with my friends. Then I joined the newly formed photography and documentary societies (clubs) in school and had two inspiring teachers there who egged me on enough for me to walk this path as a vocation and made me feel like I could do something with this. In a parallel universe I am certainly living a completely different and possibly unhappier life where I didn’t meet them (and another wherein dad never lent me a camera...). They were the reason I even looked into a media degree in Bombay rather than a more default BCom course that I was inevitably headed for with my poor grades and performance in classrooms (this is not to say that a BCom is easy but that it was all I was told I could hope for on my academically-maladjusted horizon). 

With barely serviceable scores I somehow got admission into a reputed college on the basis of a documentary I made in school. There I received further encouragement about my images from peers and professors, won a few photography competitions and took the networking opportunities to get started professionally in commercial shoots.

What impact do you think your childhood has on your photography?

The introversion, aloofness and anxieties of my childhood are a large part of my images today. Growing up very protected and largely away from kids my age till about age ten, I spent much time on my own - too much, I believe. I think I have a deep need to protect those zones of comfort from a world I often feel out of rhythm with - and that is intrinsically woven into the images. 


Please tell us about your process and vision.​

Building upon the previous answer, I am generally seeking the time and space to be 'left alone' for want of a better phrase. I have never been able to keep up with the rapid barrage of modern image-making at the rate of hundreds of images a day, shooting every day for weeks. But this isn't good advice for anyone I suppose, especially if you're starting out. I often find myself not shooting personal work at all for weeks or months at a time. But when I do, I immerse. I am a bit of a loafer, and for a lot of those personal series I just wander with but a loose idea of how it comes together. I like Sunhil Sippy’s and Dayanita Singh’s take on this - make work consistently and the forms will present themselves after. Perhaps after years but shouldn’t good work take time? Martin Parr said in an interview "If I get ten good pictures a year, it’s a good year." I always find that to be a very good reminder to myself that I need to slow down and make better work instead of just more work. 
In terms of vision, a lot of what I'm making revolves around the same themes I mentioned above. Solitude, angst, isolation. But only half the journey is in the image made in-camera. The full picture comes together in the edit - the layering of textures and sculpting the 'feel' of the visual that further clarifies what I'm thinking at the time or what the thing should say. I find myself moving away from pure documentation and more toward pictorialism and blurring the line between painting and photography. I am no painter but I am greatly inspired by the idea of going beyond images in their representation of "reality" - creating an interpretation and experience rather than a record. And a lot of times I like what I make only after I've pushed the image or equipment to extreme ends where imperfections appear and reveal much, much more. Look up the famous Brian Eno quote that defines this idea much better than I can.


What challenges do you face as an artist?

My biggest challenge has been marketing my work, harnessing social media and of course, sustaining this career which continues to be a hard way to make a living. I also want to overcome the personal mental block of not making enough images and stories about people as central subjects - a problem I've had for a while.


How do you overcome periods of low motivation or creative ruts?


In the science documentary Particle Fever (I'm not sure if it was from this docu or another source), I remember learning that while the breakthroughs are incredibly rare - it is the 'showing up everyday' mindset that eventually makes those big breakthroughs possible. In my case this doesn't mean that I shoot everyday but that I surround myself as much as I can with the creative process in one way or another and put the work in. Be it working on a documentary with Reine, reading a photobook or editing a photo series on the screen. Its never easy but when the block comes, I return to the work after a small break from it and often have some perspective. Even a visit to an exhibit or attending a talk help me greatly to shake off the rut. We are far from being scientists but the processes are paralleled in having to embrace the difficulties to find that one nugget.

What inspires you the most?

Nature. Singularly! I do long to be able to live in the mountains but that seems to be a pipe dream right now. I think it would magically solve every problem in my life. There is also a lot to take in from art spaces like photobooks and galleries - I'm always charged by these things. Cinema too has been an exceptional influence; gaining from films more of an education in visual language than I could in any institution. But perhaps even more than visual art I find myself greatly stirred by cinematic music from varying scores. My playlists are a smorgasbord of musical influences but Phillip Glass (Koyaanisqatsi), Mowg (Burning) & Johann Johannsen (Sicario) come to mind amongst so many more.

What gears do you generally use? What is your ideal piece of gear and why?

I have been using the same camera and lens combo for the better part of a decade now - a Sony A7s with a Canon 24-105 lens. The versatility of the lens and the low-light capabilities of the sensor suit what I'm doing perfectly and by sticking with this kit for so long I know it like an extension of myself - this has been most freeing in the pursuit of shooting anything. I will eventually move to the newer A7sIII or A7rIV (for the higher resolution) but I am really glad to have pushed the current gear well without giving into the marketing and FOMO for the shiniest new thing. I also use an iPhone often, especially the 77mm long lens and have made good small to medium sized prints from its images. The availability of good equipment is so widespread now that most cameras and lenses can shoot most things - especially for a personal project. Besides the camera and lens, ND filters and flashes are also key pieces of gear for me. 

Tell us about a photo you’re proud of.


During my stint in Landour I wanted to make an image that bridged the gap between that point in my life and the time before it. There was this frosted window in my house which overlooked the vast valley below, but one that could also look at itself and any forms within by reflecting. I mean that word both literally and symbolically here, so I used a transparent sheet of glass to look into that great vastness while also looking at the reflected window in the same frame like a rear-view mirror. The hand reflects out, or does it reach in toward me? It’s the past and present, lost potential and the possibility of being more, a tree waking from Spring awaiting new leaves - all in one frame between the blue folds of day and night.

How would you define photographic success?

The few times when I am able to make work that truly feels layered and thoughtful to me, like the image above. Also when people tell me how they’ve felt something deeply having seen an image, or when someone resonates enough to choose my work to decorate their space, I think that too is success. If one can do all this AND earn enough to be content - that is probably as good as it gets.

What do you think the future of photography is?

The obvious answer is the impact of AI images; I think human agency behind creating original work that says something will endure. AI will have its place and affect a lot of photo niches, but I don’t know that it should be the central tool to create artistic images. That said, I believe artists will have to figure out creative ways to utilise AI in their processes. The larger questions might be about how all art, society, culture and politics will change with AI and what photography will evolve into to say about it - and itself? 

Image copyrights © Vivek Raj Singh  

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