Vipin Baloni is a portrait and documentary photographer based in New Delhi, who specializes in black and white photography. His work has been exhibited at the International Centre of Photography in New York; he has also been featured in various online photo magazines such as Viewbug, Pexels and Flickr. He is the founder and admin of an online photography community called “The Portrait Bazaar”, where he works with like-minded people to create an online photo gallery consisting of portraits from around the world.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
VB: Belonging to an average middle-class household, my growing up years was rather ordinary. I’d few creative pursuits and besides for my studies, most of my time was spent reading books or on the playground. But during those childhood days, I also became extremely self-conscious. This introverted behaviour made me aware of and sensitive to the attention of other people, often to the point of feeling anxious or embarrassed. Years of tussle with school and a failed attempt at engineering pushed me further into my shell. But somehow in the end, owing to my avid interest in books, I completed my bachelors in English from the University of Delhi.
Even as I battled with my inner conflicts, I continued to explore things to do. One day, while going through old family photographs my father had shot with his old Premier film camera, it struck me that I too could pursue photography. I instantly developed a liking for the craft which soon became my escape route from a self-created mental prison. With time, I taught myself photography with the help of books and the internet.
As I understood visuals more and more, I became aware of our eyes perceiving visuals through colour. At the same time, I also came to realize that perception through colour could be deceptive and only black and white could really determine true reality. From then on the photographer in me started exploring shades of grey and thus began my quest in black and white photography. I’m still in awe of the magic that black and white can offer in this world full of colours.
Not just as a photographer, but as an individual as well, I’ve always been drawn to the silent moments of life. It is therefore no surprise that I’ve tried to incorporate this theme in my photography work as well. I love shooting things that are slow and still in nature, things that do not necessarily change quickly, things that you can stare at for a long time without blinking. My work primarily revolves around the broad themes of silence, loneliness, abandonment – these emanate from my nature and sensibilities.
The camera for me is not only a capturing apparatus but an extension of my eyes, the third eye as it were, to visualize the world and fill the empty void in the frame. Keeping this in my mind, I started my endeavour behind the camera with a distinct picture of reality, my third-eye vision. Through my work I try to redefine moments and capture the most powerful and precious thing in the world – Time.
I have been a fond lover of the works of Prabuddha Dasgupta and Bharat Sikka. Apart from them, I’ve been inspired by the works of Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Vivian Mair, Sally Mann, Robert Frank, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. These were the very people who I imitated a lot while learning the craft.
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
VB: I am currently exploring my favourite subject, “Silence”. Not just as an artist but from a philosophical point of view as well, silence has intrigued me enormously. It comes from my own personal sensibilities, so the primary motivation to work on the subject is very much internal rather than external.
I look at silence as a neutral ground between destruction and creation. If there is anything that has to happen and thought about, silence has to be at its core. It’s only in those silent moments that something of worth can be created.
Light is something that I am primarily focussing on and it is something that I always look out for. I love the way it falls and the way it behaves in regard to certain physical objects and subjects around. I’m always fascinated with the simplicity with which light acts. It doesn’t force itself on objects; it just uses whatever comes in between and changes itself accordingly following its natural progression. And I really like that swiftness. So, I try to record anything where light is at play and how it falls, creating interesting shapes and abstractions in its wake.
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
VB: I have a somewhat different perspective on this. I believe that the idea that art is becoming diverse and multidisciplinary comes from a somewhat narrow vision and limited awareness. To think of something in a particular way, we need to see it’s opposite. To talk about light, there has to be darkness to begin with. In the same way, when we say art is becoming diverse, we have already assumed that art is narrow and confined. Art as a medium has always been the same – a way to express ourselves. It is not art that has been diversifying, but more it’s our own awareness and vision as humans that are evolving. This enables us to express ourselves in whole new and different ways.
Prior to digital photography, it used to take a lot of time to process and create a final picture. But with the advent of new technology and tools, everything became so much simpler. Photography as an art form is exactly the same; the core principles haven’t changed at all. As we evolved over time, photography took a different turn and shape alongside.
I always welcome any trend that has something to do with human awareness and vision. But I think, with an expansion of vision, every medium of art becomes more and more democratic in nature. It reaches out to the general public, and with that comes a lot of mediocrity and monotonous work. That’s one downside of it, but I think that’s a price we need to pay in order to go further beyond our artistic endeavour. And I’m all for that.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
VB: I believe art is primarily about self-expression. Artists have to have a strong feeling about something to try and give it a form so that they and other people can come to terms with it. And then that piece of art might ignite certain feelings in others as well, because there will always be people in society who feel in exactly the same way but cannot express it by themselves. And when others will identify with a particular artist, they can draw encouragement, inspiration and a sense of purpose about a particular subject. And in that way, art can be used indirectly to bring about any change in the sensibilities of others.
Art enables people to look a little closer at social issues, at other people, the everyday objects and the life forms around them. In a way, Art helps people to see what is already there but not easily perceived. The artist brings out that which cannot be seen or felt easily. An artist can cause people to re-examine their thinking on the subject that’s put in front of them. That said, I do believe that art alone cannot bring about any major change. At best it can ignite certain feelings and emotions in others, and then collectively with the help of other major institutions can we move towards any kind of social change.
But independently it shouldn’t be an artist’s purpose or duty to think about any social change. An artist should primarily focus on addressing subjects, issues and personal sensibilities to further express himself as freely and truthfully as he can. I strongly believe that art is not just about entertainment and fun, there has to be a deeper layer to it. And it’s only in that way can we attain the real purpose of art – to go beyond the known into the realms of the unknown, and create something of value.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?
VB: For me, the whole world is my ally and I haven’t confined myself to my boundaries to create art.
As a photographer, I like to travel, explore places, and I’m always on the look-out for anything that piques my interest. Sometimes, it could be random strangers on streets, or mountains, sometimes it could be people whom I admire myself, and sometimes it could be any random happening that I’m witness to.
Light is a great source of motivation for me. I’m always in search of light. Sometimes I find it right around myself, and sometimes I have to go to lengths to find it. As far as my portrait work is concerned, I like to shoot my subjects in their personal spaces where they can be most at ease.
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
VB: Since I believe art is about self-expression, I think with time, issues around Covid will definitely be visible in every art form, expressed visually or otherwise. Covid has made a great impact on the business of art just as in the case of other industries. Also, the array of emotions that one felt while being confined to one’s home during the lockdown will surely impact future works of art. I won’t be surprised if we’ll see many more artworks created out of frustration, angst, hopelessness, helplessness and total weariness of the difficult situation all of us have had to go through.
I can only hope that the change will be for the better.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice . Does it get reflected
in your art?
VB: Besides photography, poetry is something that I take very seriously. I love spending time alone to ponder and use poetry as a medium to express my abstract imaginations, thoughts and fantasies. Apart from that, I love reading books, which have been my life-long companions. And how can I forget travelling? It has influenced me in so many different ways.
(All images are courtesy of the photographer Vipin Baloni.)
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