Photography copyright © Anil Rao. All rights reserved.
1. We haven’t seen any avatars of Anil Rao. Not even on your website do you have your profile picture. Is this intentional? Tell us about Anil Rao, what you do and briefly about your beginning of photography journey.
This is not by intention. It’s just that I am usually so engrossed with what lies in front of my camera that I seldom think about the person standing behind it. 😀 Here are a few words about myself and how I got started in photography.
I was born in Shillong and grew up in the neighboring city of Guwahati in northeastern India. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Karnataka Regional Engineering College, I came to the United States to attend graduate school at the University of Connecticut. I currently make my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I have found a rewarding career as an R&D engineer as well as ample opportunity to pursue my passion for photography.
I have enjoyed making pictures from a very young age. In the beginning it was pencil drawings but I soon became immersed in painting, working in both watercolors and oils. During my teenage years I would often smuggle the family camera (a Yashica Twin-lens Reflex) out of the house and pretend to be a photographer. It did not matter that there was no film inside; composing images on the ground-glass and tripping the shutter at opportune moments was a thrilling experience for me. When my dad learned about this, I received a severe scolding but was granted permission to use the camera. I was also given a few rolls of black-and-white film and I immediately set out to make my first real photographs. Eventually, photography eclipsed my interest in painting. Due to its portable, fast and precise image capture mechanism it turned out to be more compatible with my other favorite pastimes, which include hiking, camping and wilderness backpacking.
2. Your work is very slow and deep. As outsiders, we understand that every image that you have created is with patience and persistence. Walk us through your thoughts and choice of such a journey and path that you have chosen.
Inner Sanctum | Series: Desert Dreams
Although I occasionally do make single images (a small selection can be seen in the “Ends and Odds” portfolio on my web-site), most of my work is centered on projects. Each such endeavor is an attempt to produce a series of related photographs that together explore a certain concept. Completing a single body of work can take anywhere from a few weeks or months to several years.
As you can imagine, these long-term ventures require a lot of dedication and patience. This is especially true when I am photographing in locations that are far from where I live, making it difficult to visit those places on a frequent basis. Some days turn out to be more productive than others. There are also times when nothing seems to go right and I have to return home empty handed. Over the years I have learned to accept this and not force the matter.
I like to design the individual images so that they can also serve as stand-alone pieces of art. However, since it is vital that the overall collection is cohesive without being redundant, I have to be acutely aware of the role of every photograph that is being considered for inclusion in a series. I find this slow and deliberate approach, which has become an integral part of my photography, to be very satisfying because it allows me to develop a deeper appreciation for my favorite subjects. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
3. Can you walk us through the thought process behind creating your intimate scenes? How do you start visualizing the images when on field?
I have to admit that although I have been practicing outdoor photography for more than a decade, I don’t have a recipe for finding new images. While I may never fully understand how a certain idea takes shape, I can attest that much of it has to do with knowing my subjects intimately.
Folds of time | Series: Rocks and Stones
Whenever I am outside exploring the natural world, I like to become one with my surroundings. I take joy in studying the myriad of details that I am presented with and photography is often the last thing on my mind. A midst all that visual stimuli I will occasionally discover something that really captures my attention. Such moments are special, because irrespective of whether they can be translated into photographs or not, they always further my understanding of nature.
4. What are the key parameters to consider when making intimate landscapes like the ones that you have made?
In my opinion, simply extracting an interesting element from a larger environment, whether it is an arresting detail or some abstract quality, is not sufficient to produce a successful intimate landscape photograph. The more important ingredient is artistic interpretation, which allows the creative photographer to present the scene in a highly personalized manner.
Burnt Forest #8 | Series: Burnt Forest
It is paramount to maintain a strong connection with the landscape. This can provide useful insights not typically available to someone who is less knowledgeable about the location and its unique characteristics. Photographic composition also plays a very important role. Edward Weston had once said, “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.” His words couldn’t be truer, especially when applied to intimate landscapes. The judicious use of light and a good command of post-processing tools and techniques can help to further refine one’s vision.
5. Tell us more about your “Fractures” and “Rocks and Stones” folios?
For the longest time I had been searching for a more effective way to make my work available to the public. The large prints of individual images that I offer for sale are well suited for a wall display but do not quite capture the essence of a series (unless one has a lot of space available, which is highly unlikely). One possible option was producing photography books. However, due to the relatively small number of images involved this was not practical. A few years ago I heard about the concept of folios introduced by Brooks Jensen, editor of LensWork Publishing. It seemed like the perfect vehicle for presenting a small collection of loose prints from a project.
Fractures #11| Series: Fractures
I have released two folios so far – “Rocks and Stones” (2009) and “Fractures” (2011). Each folio includes a cover sheet, an introductory essay, original prints from the respective series and a colophon. All of this comes in a handsome hand-made enclosure for safe storage. The 11”x14” size was chosen to facilitate a comfortable viewing experience and still retain the inherent detail in my images. I believe that holding a stack of prints in your hands and studying them closely at your own pace is still the best way to consume photography. I look forward to offering additional folios in the future.
6. Your images signify intimacy and closeness of being with nature. What made you choose this particular theme when shooting landscape photography?
Naked Desires | Series: Rocks and Stones
Spending time outdoors observing nature, attempting to understand her mysterious ways and being overwhelmed by the beauty discovered in unexpected places, brings me immense joy and happiness. It was therefore inevitable that my photography would be focused on depicting this bond with the natural world.
7. Most of your images are non-wide angle shots. Are you not a lover of wide angle or ultra wide angle vistas? Or do you think they are much clichéd perspectives?
Meltdown | Series: Coastal Stones
I have seen some great examples of landscape photographs, where the compositions shine due to the brilliant use of extreme wide angle views. In general, however, I tend to prefer images with a more natural look. It might come as a surprise but I make regular use of a wide angle lens in my work. The 45mm lens on my Pentax 67ii medium-format camera (which offers a perspective equivalent to that of a 22mm lens on a 35mm camera) has served me well for making both grand-scenic as well as intimate landscape images.
8. Apart from “Revisiting California’s coastline” and “End of Odds” series, many of your images doesn’t emphasize on vivid colors and yet make perfect landscape images! Is this a deliberate attempt or it just happened over time?
Lost | Series: Revisiting California’s Coastline
Somewhere around the beginning of 2004 I got involved in photographing rocks and stones from close quarters. The film I was using at the time (Fuji Velvia 50) was quite limited in its ability to capture fine shadow detail and since this was important for what I was trying to achieve, I began to look at alternatives. My search led me to Fuji Astia 100F, a low contrast film renowned for its faithful reproduction of even the softest tones. I soon became enamored by its subdued color palette and started using this film for some of my other projects as well. Today, I use Astia exclusively for all of my work.
9. Who are your favorite photographers – yesteryears as well as contemporary ones and why?
Among the masters, I most admire the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Elliot Porter and Paul Caponigro. Their extraordinary vision and dedication to craft is a constant source of inspiration. I have also discovered many talented photographers of my generation through on-line photography forums and publications such as LensWork. Among them, I feel privileged to know John Benigno, Mary Dennis, Michael Gordon, Mark Hobson, Tony Kuyper, Guy Tal and Joel Truckenbrod. I hold their work in the highest regard. Our interactions have had a profound effect on my own growth as an artist and for this I owe them a big debt of gratitude.
Tafoni and Tidal Pool| Series: Rocks and Stones
In his own words:
” As someone who loves nature I find myself spending a lot of time in the wilderness. I often carry my camera on these trips so that I can practice my art in wonderful natural surroundings. The original captures are later refined using a computer in my home studio. This activity plays a big role in the overall process that I employ for making prints and I consider it to be every bit as important as field work. Although I occasionally do make single images, I prefer working on projects. These longer ventures can run from a few weeks or months to several years. With each project I hope to produce a collection of photographs that explore certain concepts. “
You can see most of Anil Rao’s creations on his website – http://www.anilraophotography.com/
You can order it online here > http://www.anilraophotography.com/prints/folios/folios.html