SOUTH by Aashim Tyagi

Born in Delhi and brought up abroad, Aashim Tyagi returned to Mumbai in 2006 to work as a Graphic Designer. Four years later, he quit his job, booked himself a train ticket and spent two months in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The result is a series of revealing images that give us an off-kilter account of life in the everyday districts of the south.

A reportage of modern life in India, Aashim’s images deal with the everyday and the mundane, providing a powerful counterpoint to the lush, romanticized exotica we encounter all too often.

On the eve of his first solo exhibition, the succinctly titled SOUTH, AVPA caught up with Aashim to talk photography, catharsis and Mr India’s watch.

Q: When you decided to travel, you could have gone anywhere in India. Why go South?

A:  To be honest it was a random choice I had made when I was in college, I knew that l want to travel around the world but having lived out of India and not seen much of it, I wanted to start that process at home, and took a look at the map and decided to start from the South and work my way up. That was part of the reason I moved to Bombay, I wanted to work and travel around the country for a few years. But as work took over more and more of my time, the travel plans got reduced to a weekend in Goa or visiting family. Eventually the big burn out happened, I got reminded why I was working in the first place, so I quit and booked myself a train ticket.

Q: Your images cover a range of broad themes – colours, people, space. What is it about them that interest you?

A:  Optimism. I seriously started taking photographs towards the end of my studies at college at that time I was lost and heartbroken. Going out with a camera was a cathartic experience for me, I was really trying to teach myself to seek beauty and humor in my everyday life again. Once that veil of chaos is removed you do find something which is at it’s core optimistic. That’s the learning I took when I was traveling down South India and taking these pictures and whenever I feel cynical or confused about something, I go out with my camera and take photographs. That’s the essence of photography for me and in that context colours, people and space all play an interchangeable part in that pursuit. 

Q: How objective do you like to be when you’re taking a picture?

A: Very, very objective. Of course with spaces and static objects it is quite easy, I do not touch or rearrange them in any manner. I try a couple of different of angles that best capture the essence of the subject and carry on. With people it is far more difficult, If I could wear Mr. India’s Watch, which allows you to be invisible and then take my pictures, I would if it was not so incredibly creepy and wrong. I generally take a few shots before they are aware of being photographed and few after they’ve relaxed or lost interest in posing for me. I think people are lot more beautiful when they are not aware of the camera.

A lot of my work is inspired by what Henri Cartier Bresson defined as the decisive moment. It really is about isolating a frame out of our day-to-day, never ending cycle of life. It is about stepping back and seeing and if you are lucky maybe capture it.

Q: You’ve spent a lot of time abroad growing up before you came back to India a few years back to work as a Graphic Designer. How much has your idea of India as a ‘NRI’ influenced your work?

A: One of the things I learnt traveling and subsequently now taking pictures is that how quickly our ideas about a certain place and people constantly change. I did not move back to India to “find myself” or come back “home”. I moved because as an Indian, I wanted to travel around my country first before seeing other parts of the world. My personal idea of India keeps changing as I see different places and learn from people I meet. I think more than an idea, it is the curiosity of discovering more about India and its people that influences my work.

Q: Who are the people who have influenced your work within photography and outside it?

A: The photographers whose work I really admire are Henri-Cartier Bresson, Stephen Shore, Elliot Erwitt, Dayanita Singh, Pablo Bartholomew, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Do Do Jin Ming. Their mastery of the medium is breathtaking and inspirational. I am also very much influenced by the visual mastery of Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar Wai/ Chris Doyle, Guru Dutt and the words of Albert Camus, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace and Tibor Kalman.

SOUTH by Aashim Tyagi is showing at The Bagel Shop, Mumbai till 7 June. If you’re in Mumbai (and I know many of you are), do not miss it. T: 022 2605 0178

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