Interview with Priya Kambli (2010 Daylight/ CDS Photo Awards)

Interview with Priya Kambli
Juror’s Pick (Vince Aletti), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize

As you described in your artist statement, you absolutely despised being photographed by your father when you were younger. What made you decide or realize that your passion was to become a photographer?

Having grown in a household where photography was prevalent (my father was an avid amature photographer), one might assume that I would have some understanding about the medium—but I didn’t.  In fact my notion of photography was a bit skewed, due to my sister’s and my role as subjects to our father’s meticulous image making process.

In the essay “A Photographer’s Daughter,” photographer Dayanita Singh talks about similar trials—of being raised in a family where her mother photographed her “just to validate her own experience.”  This excerpt from her essay resonates with my own childhood memories:

“Being photographed was just another family ritual for me, and I had no interest in becoming a photographer. Photography meant that I had to sit still while my mother counted the footsteps towards me in order to focus her very old Zeiss Ikon camera. Every event had to be recorded in this painful manner, every departure delayed by her picture making.”

Photography therefore didn’t hold any appeal to me until I was behind the camera and in charge. I came to America as an international student eager to pursue a degree in Graphic Design. I enrolled in a photography class to fulfill a 2D requirement for my chosen major and fell in love with the medium.

Some of the vintage photos that you have in each photograph collage are much older looking. Are those vintage photographs actual family photos or are they meant to symbolize your family history and culture?

All the old photographs used are of my family.

Each photo looks like two photos combined. The colors vary on many and there are added effects such as fabrics and boxes. Why add more to the photos? How do you decide what pictures to group together? Can you please describe the process you go through to create your photos.

Color plays a very significant role in my work. It is the underlying thread that ties the varied themes of culture, memory and generation together.  It waxes and wanes through the series—oscillating from saturated to monochromatic.

My creative process for producing artwork is highly complex, akin to fitting together the many pieces of a puzzle. A single digitally created photograph is made up of several discrete sections that are arranged in a carefully balanced composition. Each section affects the others and expresses a different aspect of the narration. Some of the sections are my own creation, elaborately conceived still lives that I construct, light and photograph. Other sections contain family photos and artifacts, scanned into the computer and sometimes manipulated further. The individual sections are further refined using Photoshop software. With this software I then assemble and polish the many sections into a finished artwork.

Where are your photos taken? Many look like they may be in India. Are your pictures taken in a photo shoot where your photos are staged, or do you observe and then shoot? Are the people in your photos significant in anyway?

My photographs are taken in my house in Kirksville, MO. I have been asked if I shot in India, I don’t.

In your artist statement, you say “Photography has been a way of bridging the gap betw
een the two cultures while coming to terms with my dual nature.” How do these pictures form that bridge for you? Or in other words, what does this collection of these pictures offer to you and your hybrid identity? Why these pictures?

The photographs bridge the gap by connecting the past with my present. When we (my husband, son, and I) were last in India, my son Kavi, then three, asked me if I belonged to two different worlds because I spoke two different languages. As I get older the transition from one culture to another gets harder for me, the boundaries instead of blurring are distinct.  (When I asked Kavi the same question he said he belonged to just one world). I long for that certainty. Photography has the ability to provide me with that certainty even though for a brief moment.

Read more about Priya Kambli’s work

CDS undergraduate students Meghan Thomas (Castle Rock, Colorado) and Brenna Rescigno (Monmouth Beach, New Jersey) conducted this interview as a part of the class “Multimedia Documentary” in the fall of 2010.
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