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He said let us not use names by photographer Karan Kumar Sachdev

Mumbai-based photographer Karan Kumar Sachdev explores states of harmony in his latest series He said let us not use names.

By Rohini Kejriwal on 27 September

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He said let us not use names features portraits depicting scenes from the life of an anonymous man whose face is covered in foil

"I am drawn to the mountains,
To the riverside, to watch it flow,
To the meandering forest paths,
I am drawn to the open grasslands, and the shade of its solitary tree.

I am drawn to crowded city beaches, to watch the sun set,
To its unknown lanes, lit warm by street light,
To the changing landscapes beyond a train window,
I am drawn to your story."
Karan Kumar Sachdev

Karan Kumar Sachdev’s photography always seems to be aligned with a sense of solitude. Whether it’s a photo series or his work in fashion, that uncanny stillness he brings into his work adds another layer of poetry to his compositions, that are gently thought-provoking.

In his latest series He said let us not use names, Karan blurs the gap between the seer and seen and between humans and inanimate objects, to convey the feeling of oneness that is predominant in his body of work. Created in collaboration with stylist Pallavi Singh and designer Nimish Shah, he uses the medium of self-portrait to show scenes from the life of an anonymous man whose face is covered in foil.

Karan takes us through this conceptual series, which borders between the spiritual and abstract.

Design Fabric (DF): Tell us about the title He said let us not use names. Who is He?

Karan Sachdev (KS): Personally, I like the image to convey whatever it intends to say instead of the artist providing the viewer with leads in terms of captions or titles. When two people see an artwork, they may see something completely different - each one of us is a culmination of our life experiences, and that informs us and makes us ‘see’ in a certain way. When I ‘asked’ the protagonist what we should name this story, He said, ‘Let us not use names’.

What I am trying to convey through this story isn’t about one feeling or thought; it’s something much larger. It’s a feeling of connectedness, of oneness.

Who is he? He is both of us, you and I.

DF: Did you approach the photographs as self-portraits?

KS: The man in the photographs is me, but it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t think anyone else would fancy being in a mask! Does that qualify them as self-portraits? Perhaps…or perhaps not.

My intention was to create a set of images that introduces the character and his story. I am looking to dig deeper and create a larger project around him. All the images are related to man and his environment. So in these images, I have recreated a beach, the protagonist getting ready, symbols of nature and also other subtler motifs.

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    The series tries to evoke a feeling of connectedness and oneness through the photographs

    DF: Take us through the element of fashion in the shoot and elaborate on your collaboration with stylist Pallavi Singh and designer Nimish Shah. How did the whole series come together?

    KS: The entire shoot took a long time, from the germination of the idea to its final creation. Once I have an idea, I end up playing with it in my mind for a while before beginning the process of putting it down on paper. Visualisation was the most crucial part of this project. I finished visualising each situation and then sketched them out. This enabled me to see the entire series on paper before I started, which added another layer of thinking to the entire process.

    I had shared the idea of this series with Pallavi, while it was still in its nascent stages. After doing a few test images of the protagonist, I asked her if she would like to collaborate on the project. We had several meetings to discuss the styling and both knew we wanted something that was subtle, natural, and sophisticated. At that time I was defining the character as being ‘egoless’, which was an interesting paradox for styling.

    Choosing the clothes was a tough job. We did a couple of test shoots with different styling options with my own clothes and some sourced ones, to see how they would each fit in. It was only after many levels of discussion regarding the theme and its translation into styling did we have a clear idea of what we wanted the protagonist to wear. This was about the same time that Nimish released his menswear collection, and we ended up testing some pieces from it. I knew then there couldn’t have been a better fit for this series. I think there was a very good match in terms of the sensibilities of the story and his collection. Thankfully, Nimish was happy to be a part of the project, and we were able to select the looks for each situation.

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    Karan uses the medium of foil in the series because of its reflective and malleable nature

    DF: What made you use foil as a layer of the protagonist for this project?

    KS: I think foil is one of the most beautiful materials because it’s reflective and malleable. I was experimenting with how one can take a sheet of foil and give it different shapes just by playing with it or crushing it. It’s like any other art medium - it has its own way of behaving. And with each crush, it transforms into something else with its own play of light and shadow. It also never returns to its original shape, which intrigued me.

    DF: What really came through in the series was how inanimate objects have a personality of their own. How did you pick specific objects like the shells, tree or pinwheels that you incorporated into the series?

    KS: All the objects were symbolic of nature, while the story is about the man in the pictures feeling at one with them. The coral and the shells were from my girlfriend’s collection – she has a habit of picking up lots of random stuff, which ends up lying around the house, and then tends to become a part of my environment. For the tree, I was actually looking for a tree branch that could double up as a staff, the kind shepherds use. I found it while out on the streets after a storm!

    Almost all the objects were shot with the protagonist, though a few were shot in isolation. I used the blue fabric with individual shells to make it look like the sea and waves, signifying time and the sea’s different moods.

    DF: In the two images below, did you find the stick figure first and copy the pose or vice versa?

    KS: For me, this stick figure image and the other one from the series are related as a set; the similarity you have noticed between these two is completely unintentional. This takes me back to your question regarding the title and how we see things differently...joining different dots.

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    A set comprising of Karan's self portrait as the protagonist alongside a stick figure

    DF: How does this series fit into your body of work so far? Is this an experimental new direction, an extension of your past work?

    KS: Stylistically, it’s very different from everything I’ve done. But thematically and emotionally, I believe this is in the same space as my essays and my more recent fashion work, some of which is not released yet.

    DF: It feels like this series stems from a space of self discovery. Are you a spiritual person?

    KS: The series does stem from a space of self discovery, where one questions themselves, what one wants to say and how to say it. I don’t know if I would call myself a spiritual person, but I think this has something to do with not liking titles. If seeing these images and reading the story makes you think that I am spiritual, then maybe I am.

    DF: What is the plan ahead with this project?

    KS: All my personal work start off as mini-series or personal projects. I am driven by the desire to revisit a moment, place or emotion that once moved me.

    If this series stands the test of time, I will continue working on it to make it a larger body of work, one that will be less symbolic and more realistic. It’s a long-term project that will take some time to develop. However, working with this character has led me to another personal project: one that involves statues. At a personal level, working with this character has in some ways changed the way I look at a statue. So I’m going to expand on that thought.

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