The story of photographer Adrian Fisk’s journey from the UK to India is trite: He traipsed about as a hippie backpacker right out of college. This was in 1991, his extended South Asia travels coincided with both, the calamitous Bangladesh floods and the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. He came back in 2003 as a professional photographer, and he hasn’t gone back.
Fisk’s work has been featured in magazines such as The Economist, Paris Match and National Geographic. An ongoing exhibition at Moon River, a design house in New Delhi, puts together his best work through the decade—from his coverage of the 2004 tsunami in the coastal town of Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu to portraits of Maoists from pockets deep in Chhattisgarh. Underlying the images is an aesthetic that isn’t overly exotic but at the same time several notches above the manner in which India is reproduced for the world in print. It was perhaps for this reason that he was recently included in a book, The World’s Top Photographers, published by RotoVision. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Vivid: Fisk’s image of the tsunami in Nagapattinam; and (left) 20-year-old Rabia Shebu from Kashmir, in the iSpeak India series.
How have your subjects and your approach evolved with time?
In all honesty I was still drawn to snake charmers and cows in my first few years. It’s a rite of passage for a foreigner documenting India and anyone who says otherwise would be lying. I did, however, try to take a contrarian stand: My feature on snake charmers, for instance, was on their increasing redundancy.
It’s the concerns that have changed with time. I have a better grasp of my subject matter through conversations and exchanges with friends, almost all of whom are Indian. I’m interested in a political and anthropological visual analysis of a country that is poised for such great changes.
What are your thoughts on the charge that international photographers continue to propagate a convenient visual image of India?
One can try to avoid clichés but the truth is that there is colour and beauty where you look—even in houses ravaged by the tsunami. I try to go beyond the colours and frames and try and point to something deeper.
You work both as a photojournalist as well as on independent art projects. Which do you identify more with?
I look at all of my work as reportage…it’s different from photojournalism in the sense that it’s more immersive and layered.
The works in your ongoing show are really large format. Is there a thematic reasoning for this?
They’re about 4ft wide. India confronts you. It’s in your face. And I wanted the images to have that sort of impact both in terms of their content as well as in their physical sense.
Tell us about your recently concluded ‘iSpeak India’ series.
My understanding is that since the under-30 populations of China and India are basically the future population of the world in terms of sheer numbers, it’s important to know what the Chinese and Indian youth are thinking. I started off with iSpeak China, where I shot around 54 images in different parts of the country. I’ve recently finished iSpeak India and it comprised travelling to 18 Indian states, interviewing youth between the ages of 16-30 and photographing them with a sheet of paper in which I ask them to write their most immediate concerns.
The issues that have come up through the project have mostly been development- or corruption-related as well as on the role of family and society. It’s been a phenomenal experience…and it’s been poignant, especially when the sheets were blank.
Adrian Fisk’s works are on view at Moon River, D-16, Defence Colony, New Delhi, till 20 February.