Black is the new green

Pho­tog­ra­pher Max Vadukul steps out of his fash­ion and ed­i­to­rial reper­toire for a new se­ries on cli­mate change and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age

Mint Asia ST - - Leisure - BBY E N I TA F ERNANDO

From Sal­man Rushdie to Amy Wine­house, sev­eral iconic faces have been cap­tured by Max Vadukul’s lens, and trans­formed into mem­o­rable mono­chrome portraits. It comes as a sur­prise then that Vadukul has now turned his cam­era on cli­mate change for a new se­ries ti­tled Wit­ness.

Noted in the world of celebrity pho­tography, with cov­ers and ed­i­to­ri­als for lead­ing fash­ion mag­a­zines, New York-based Vadukul is a name to reckon with. Born to an In­dian fam­ily in Nairobi, Vadukul moved to Lon­don as a teenager. At age 22, he was dis­cov­ered by Ja­panese de­signer Yo­hji Yamamoto, who com­mis­sioned him for his cam­paigns, kick­start­ing a rewarding ca­reer in pho­tography.

Wit­ness is his first ed­i­to­rial shoot for an In­dian pub­li­ca­tion. The photo-es­say was spe­cially com­mis­sioned for GQ In­dia’s 10th an­niver­sary Oc­to­ber is­sue, for which the pho­tog­ra­pher came to Mum­bai. Lounge spoke to Vadukul when he was in Mum­bai re­cently for the launch of the com­mem­o­ra­tive edi­tion. Edited ex­cerpts: How did the idea to do a se­ries on cli­mate change come about? I had never done any­thing like this be­fore—a per­son­al­ized in­ter­pre­ta­tion on cli­mate change. Che (Kur­rien, edi­tor-in-chief ) asked me if I would be in­ter­ested in tak­ing on the as­sign­ment, with a spe­cial re­quest for my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the idea of green. There were two words in this email that in­trigued me— carte blanche. Look­ing at the orb that in­hab­its your pho­to­graphs, there is some­thing Kubrick-ian about them, a hint of the mono­lith that fea­tures in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. How did you de­cide on this ap­proach? Wit­ness is a tec­tonic shift from ev­ery other type of pho­tography I have done—por­trai- ture, re­portage, fash­ion or ad­ver­tis­ing work. This is my direct path to fine art. When you say Kubrick-ian, to me that means a pic­ture that’s never been done be­fore.

The ap­proach and the think­ing for the Wit­ness se­ries did not come overnight. One night, I woke up from a dream and sat up by my bed­side.... I wanted to see a sphere: a silent mono­lithic ob­ject, a “Cos­mic Orb”, vis­it­ing the chaos and de­struc­tion that hu­man­ity has cre­ated, al­most like a judge, but who can be kind at the same time. I wanted a shiny, fu­tur­is­tic orb, and it was no easy chal­lenge to have some­thing like this made. The orb hov­er­ing about is what­ever the viewer wants it to be: it can be some­thing you can de­cide to like or dis­like, or even take an ac­tion. What has the shoot­ing process for ‘Wit­ness’ been like? Is the au­di­ence cu­ri­ous about whether the orb is Pho­to­shopped?

We were able to, in a week or less, do what would’ve taken two months to pro­duce. It’s the only thing I con­cen­trated on. I had the mag­a­zine do a lot of re­search on po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions and the sub­jects that re­ally in­ter­ested me: air, wa­ter, plas­tic, hu­man pol­lu­tion—these were the usual sus­pects. And, by the way, all of this was real, a real mo­ment. There is no cut-and-paste here. Though it’s a glar­ing ex­pec­ta­tion that this is Pho­to­shopped, it is not. You have pre­ferred to shoot in black and white. What is it about mono­chrome that you find al­lur­ing? Black and white is my sword. I think the im­ages I create in black and white re­main timeless. It doesn’t work for every­thing, but it does in this case. Colour is beau­ti­ful, but it has to be ap­plied very care­fully and some­time it’s too much in­for­ma­tion for my taste. To me, the pol­lu­tion has to re­main ab­stract, toxic but very beau­ti­ful. And black and white re­ally makes every­thing mys­te­ri­ous; the ug­li­ness is taken out and some­how it’s restor­ing my faith in hu­man­ity. It ap­pears you have shot mainly in Mum­bai. Is that the case? In­deed. At first, I started to look at Ker­ala, Delhi, Kolkata, Mum­bai, and Pune, but in the end, I re­ally went for Mum­bai, mostly for rea­sons of pro­duc­tion and tim­ing. I would ac­tu­ally like to make this a project about In­dia and shoot all over In­dia, and maybe ex­pand this glob­ally. How have you at­tempted to give a new per­spec­tive to cli­mate change? If I can get the viewer to re­think, that would be an achieve­ment. That line in the movie The Grad­u­ate when the fa­ther says, “Just one word...plas­tics…. There’s a great fu­ture in plas­tics.” That was 1967. Cut to to­day—it’s an in­cred­i­ble in­ven­tion, but wow what a mess. I am a wit­ness to this de­struc­tion and I will aim my lens in this di­rec­tion.

Mono­chrome shots: Dadar Flower Mar­ket (top) shot by Max Vadukul (above) for ‘GQ In­dia’s’ Oc­to­ber 2018 10th an­niver­sary spe­cial is­sue.

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