“I just love to create visual images, regardless of the medium. Or in other words: I love the “process” of creating.”
Vinoth Varatharajan (born in 1983) is a self-taught photographer from Sri Lanka, currently based in Montreal, Canada.
“Humanity is a fascinating organism. For some weird reason, I’m attracted to document as it develops, evolves, crumbles, gets back up, develops, evolves, crumbles, and gets back up. I’m attracted to documenting that cycle and everything in it.”
Interview with Vinoth Varatharajan
Vinoth, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
In 2010, when I decided to go into a brothel to take photos of a street sex-worker. She was crying while I was roaming around, so I asked her for the purpose behind her tears which led to a very short photo-essay interview in exchange for $20 for her to buy a rock of crack. Not only was that a photographic experience, but a life experience as well.
As for the tool, I guess a black box with the mechanism inside that creates a still photo when a button is pressed; that creating process is the main attraction as far as I can go back in memory lane. That “process” is beyond orgasm.
Why did you become a photographer?
Till this day, I have no answer for the “decisive moment” of WHY. Or that moment where I told myself: “From this day on, I shall call myself Mr. Photographer!” I just love to create visual images, regardless of the medium. Or in other words: I love the “process” of creating.
What does photography mean to you?
To document and to visually archive humanity. It’s as simple as that. Then we jump into sub-divisions.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
To be brutally honest, I’m inspired by film directors and rappers. I used to think a film was made by the director until I got old enough to understand that it’s the D.O.P who “makes” the visuals to tell a story. But later on, I learned about the “process” (again that word) of communication between all departments of filmmaking which is the key to make a movie. That “process” is my inspiration.
That being said, I’m inspired first and foremost by Mani Ratnam. He is an Indian filmmaker and a visionary master. The man is my foundation before scribbling on and executing a project. Then come Alejandro Inarritu, Steven Soderbergh, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and my new favorite, Ben Affleck.
As for rappers, more than their verses and lifestyle, their conglomerate is a turn on for me. Marshall Mathers and Shawn Carter etched till I pass. Both have a heavy similarity to my emotional side of existence. As I was typing the answer, photographer James Nachtwey came to my mind. The man is a genius.
Your favorite photography quote?
The infamous quote by Robert Capa:
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
How would you describe your photographic language?
After the clichéd and thrown away phrase: “It must tell a story”, I do my best to catch the complexity of human emotions. And the great thing about capturing emotions is, that there is no right or wrong. It could be done with a DSLR, Red, Phantom, Rangefinder, point and shoot, mobile phone or whatever other format. It’s all about being there while an emotion is present.
You can glorify it in Adobe Photoshop or just stick with the raw file without any enhancements. As long as people can feel the emotion, it’s all good. If they can feel the extra “emotional process” part, then it’s groovy! That’s the style I’m trying to finesse. But these darn humans and their emotions keep on changing!
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Shoot every single day! Period. It will just come then. Or at least it will give you an idea of which habits to keep, and which ones you’d better eliminate and most importantly, which ones to refine.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work?
Locations and subjects. I never cared about gear. Quick example: “The Starbucks Frames” are shot with a kit lens. The art director and I discussed on where to place the frames. Not a single word on what gear I used to pull it off. Just shoot beyond the barrier of your fear. Bend the rules and if you have no choice, break’em. Lighting wise, I have nothing to offer as I shoot with available light. Never touched studio gear or strobes – yet.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
Honesty. Discipline to the craft. An organized cluster free workflow. Discipline to the craft. Oh, and did I mention discipline to the craft? Of course, brutal commitment and sleep sacrifice should be the foundation. This applies to whomever is trying to achieve anything in life.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
I have to feel something beyond the “story”. I should be able to feel the “process” of the conveyed emotion. In other words, without any text I should able to construct somewhat a prevalent story to go with the visual.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
So far, my emotions and my life events. Most of my projects that make up my portfolio have a direct correlation with a heavy dose of emotions I dealt with, ranging from sorrow to redemption. Sep/19/2010 for example, is a series about the fire to which my mother lost her belongings. I was snapping photos while gathering what was left. It was an exorbitantly emotional period. I posted them last year.
It took me a year to re-visit those memories. But it also inspired me to push myself further to capture the “other” side of the barrier in life. It made me fearless. Almost like as if we had survived the great fire, anything is possible-type. You can say, I became more and more human. After that incident, I saw events and actions from another perspective: analyze, investigate and scrutinize. These qualities and aspects made my brain think big. To inspire on a larger scale. There is nothing as large, vast, complicated and complex as human emotions. Therefore I decided to invest towards that.
The constant absence of my father in my life was what led to the “Tanya” project. My friend who worked in a coffee shop, suddenly began to strip from one day to the other. She and I have the same story when it comes to guidance of a male. So when we talked, I didn’t tell her I’m taking pictures now so pose for me. The process is never like that. All projects are very synthetic. Nothing is posed.
But to come back to the topic, my personal life is my inspiration until I find some answers to some crucial questions that need to be resolved. Then, I’ll look into the world. I’m almost there.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Nikon D5000, kit lens, 50mm 1.4 manual lens, Canonet QL17 Glll Rangefinder, Polaroid 600, Fuji Instax, and Android for Instagram.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
What photography book would you recommend?
I actually never read one on the subject, but I heard that “Vision Mongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography” by David DuChemin is a great one for vision and the business aspect of photography.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
To me the word “professional” is means how disciplined you are. From planning a project, to its execution and its delivery. Gear has nothing to do with it. That being said: Shoot every single day, be consistent, don’t back down because guy X got a contract with Y company, be honest, share information and be kind, and keep taking pictures for the love and success will follow. Just be you.