Ashok is from Mumbai, India. There are very, very few photographers in India who shoot nudes.
How and when did your passion for photography begin ?
I started young when in school and in the early 70’s… My first camera was a Zeiss Ikon super Ikonta IV which is a 120 roll film camera taking 12 square images per roll. This was given to me by my uncle who no longer used it. Back then it was a fairly advanced camera with a meter and if I remember right a Tessar f 3.5 lens fixed to bellows. I loved it.
I soon moved to a Minolta SRT 101 with a normal lens and started exploring 35mm mainly b/w. Medium format and large format was the accepted standard back then. About the same time I teamed up with a friend who was also passionate about photography to set up a wet darkroom to develop and make our own prints.
It wasn’t long before I kept seeing the Nikon F and Nikkormat advertisements in photography magazines and saved up just enough to get my hands on a Nikkormat FTn with a 50mm f1.4 lens. Since then I have been committed to Nikon and currently use a Nikon D100 with a 14mm, 80-200 f2.8 nikon zoom and a 24-85 f 2.8 nikon lens. This gives me all the focal lengths I need and covers the vast majority of my needs. I have not felt the need to get additional lenses. My tripod is a Manfrotto which is somewhat heavy with a pan and tilt head.
Do you make anything else aside from nudes ?
Aside from nudes I shoot portraits, landscapes. seascapes, and travel images. India is colourful. There are so many festivals, places and people.. it’s a big country. My favourite part of India is Rajasthan for the festivals, the desert and the colour as also Kerala for the canals and greenery. There is so much of India I have yet to see.
Film or digital ? Maybe both ?
I think digital is wonderful. The initial investment is high for someone who does not have an income from photography but the convenience and ability to instantly view your images is a big plus. It’s a great learning tool as you can correct your mistakes while you still have the chance. Digital today is better than film. The quality, color and saturation is better than film and the modern sensors have the ability to almost see in the dark. A 6 MP camera is the minimum one needs to produce high quality work that can be printed to reasonably large sizes such as 20x30 inches. I no longer shoot film. Processing facilities are limited and costs increasing.
Every photographer has his signature, his personal touch (and yours is very clear) that makes all the difference. I know how difficult it is to do so, but how would you describe your photographic style ?
I am not sure that I have one specific style. My work has been restricted by the environment as I explained separately here. Hence my style if you can call it that, is images with light and shadow that show the lines and shapes. They tend to be low key.
I like converting my images to black white to get a range of tones. It makes the image more effective. I like simple straight forward images against a plain background so you can focus your attention on the main subject
More recently I have tried modifying images by merging several images as well as using textures and blending modes. Patterns are also interesting especially on a nude against a dark background. You got to try different combinations to create something new.
You wrote to me "The conditions here are different and art nude is still a new field being explored by photographers". From my trips to India I remember that the celebration of sensuality is part of Indian culture. For example one sees sensual images on the walls of some temples...
India is a country with a long history going back well over a 1000 years. Yet we remain largely a conservative society. Most photographers I have met have not shot nudes either because they don’t know what its all about or more likely because they are unable to find anyone to model. Even artists find it very difficult to find a model. A select few have been successful in this area. There is a very fine line dividing art and pornography.
The Kamasutra was written in India. The temples of Khajurahao built in 950 -1050 AD with their erotic carvings are today a UNESCO heritage sight. It's in the mind and how you perceive such carvings and photographs.
In what themes do you find inspiration ?
As far as themes go I enjoy shooting nudes. Also travel.
What locations do you prefer to use? You seem to have a large preference for the studio
My main location so far for shooting nudes has been indoors. Many reasons for this. I live in Mumbai (earlier known as Bombay) in India and it’s a very crowded city with a population of over 20 million.
There are very few places within reasonable driving distance where one can get privacy to do a nude photo shoot. I would love to try nudes or lingerie shoots on a beach or the nude in the landscape. Landscapes and seascapes are among my favourite images and combining that with nudes would be very interesting. Maybe later this year or the next I may attend a workshop abroad to shoot such images.
My images look like studio shots but infact they are mostly shot in available light. Only very few images here are studio shot in the sense that lights/strobe were used. When I bought an apartment many years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the window light. The apartment is high up on the top floor and the neighbouring building is painted white which reflects the beautifull light from the sky into my living room. I can control the extent of the light by moving the sliding windows to the left or right. I also have a small window on the other side and in the evening the setting sun comes through the little window to create lovely side light or back light on the model. All this together makes the impression the image is studio lit.
I have very limited experience in studio lighting and would like to learn more. This needs practice and I plan to use the photography club studio for this. It takes a lot of practice as well as trial and error.
Tell us about your art models
My models are not pro models ie they do not model for a fee. After a lot of searching and persuasion I have been privileged to have friends who have an interest in art and appreciate some of my work, wether nudes, landscapes or portraits and agree to model. Indian women are conservative and modeling is an option only a few pursue .
Fine art nude is little understood and fewer models practice in this part of the world. There are no web sites where one can approach a model. Its all by word of mouth. Most models do not want their images published as they want to remain anonymous.
I am not looking for any specific body type or age and can work with all shapes be it slim or heavier built. As my interest is more in shapes and curves, light and shadow I am not restricted to using a slim body type only.
There is a freshness and innocence about using amateur models. I don’t direct them too much but work with some basic poses, ideas and let it flow from there. I also start by shooting them dressed and slowly get down to topless images with their thong or knickers still on. There is no pressure to start by shooting nudes. The first sessions usually are stiff and awkward but as they get comfortable I start getting better images. Needless to say there is a high rejection ratio as we work towards that special moment when everything comes together.. I have also found that with more than one session the model begins to understand what you are looking for. From time to time I let the model see the RAW captures on the camera display. It motivates them and they can also see how they look. Often they come with ideas and props that become successful images.
Another difficult question : what is your own favourite photograph ?
Indeed a difficult question but before I answer that let me start by saying that my favourite lighting is window light and a fill with a reflector. This produces lovely images especially in black & white. It's difficult to pick one particular favourite as there are many I like.
What do you consider your greatest photographic accomplishment to this point, and what is your biggest aspiration ?
I am completely self thought. I read a lot and internet is great source of articles and information on photography. I would like to do a book on nudes with an Indian theme. I don’t know if this will happen but I hope so.
Have you some challenges (publications, exhibitions) you're dreaming about in a near future ?
I have had some work published before in magazines but those have been articles and images on Indian culture, travel etc. In the early years of my photography I participated in many national and international exhibitions with some awards and publications in catalogues etc.. this was in the pre digital era. I had to discontinue this due to rising costs.
At this time I am discussing a one man show of my work in Bangkok, mainly Indian portraits, travel, landscapes and seascapes. I am hopefull this will materialize.
This is the very first interview on a global web site specializing in art nudes and it’s a great honour to have my work selected to be viewed by a wider audience. There are many photographers on this web site whose work I greatly admire.
What is your best way to promote your work ?
I am not sure if in India galleries are ready for a one man show of nudes. Its perhaps too early for that. But attitudes are changing with exposure to global trends. I would like to participate in group shows overseas. Both America and Europe have opportunities for such exhibitions where established artists come forward to exhibit. Specialist art nude magazines could be another option as well.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your genre, in your country ?
Its taken me a very long time to find women who are willing to model. Its not easy. So patience is the very first requirement. Like they say…. The first time is always difficult. Once you have some work to show, people understand what you do and what sort of images you shoot. Recommendation helps greatly. I think Indian women are lovely and the beautifull eyes, dark hair and skin tones make wonderfull subjects. You just got to find them !!
Most important is to ensure that you are discreet and that the pictures do not end up in the wrong places.
Is there a question nobody has ever asked you and you would like to answer ?
I have been keenly watching the digital technology develop. The new medium format digital is slowly becoming more affordable and I may consider to add a 645 digital camera and a couple of lenses to my kit. I quite like the Pentax 645 AFD. Its still not available in India. A kit like that is a big decision.
Any message you’d like to leave for our readers ?
I am always looking for models and if any readers are travelling to this part of the world then I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you Ashok. We wish you all the very best in your pursuit of art