Splintering boundaries: Ram Shergill’s kaleidoscopic photography – in pictures

British fashion photographer Ram Shergill returns to his Indian roots to weave stunning visual narratives.

In the exhibition “Ram Shergill – Kaleidoscope”, the acclaimed British fashion photographer blurs the lines between commercial photography and contemporary art.

Ram Shergill, 'Mirror Me, Gardens of Kent'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Mirror Me, Gardens of Kent’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Vacheron Constantin and Mumbai’s Tasveer gallery present “Ram Shergill – Kaleidoscope” from 12 to 25 August 2014 at StoryLTD / Saffronart Prabhadevi. The exhibition will go on to tour Tasveer galleries in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Ahmedabad in 2014 and 2015.

Fashionable beginnings

While studying visual communications at Wolverhampton University, Ram Shergill reached out to milliner Philip Treacy for a photography project on hats. The meeting turned out to be an entry ticket into the fashion world: Treacy and the late Isabella Blow quickly recognised Shergill’s talents and propelled him in all the right directions.

Ram Shergill, 'Fluid Fantasy, Nevada USA'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Fluid Fantasy, Nevada USA’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Soon after, Shergill was working with notable fashion designers who loved his work, including Alexander McQueen. He has since worked on high profile editorial and advertising commissions for VogueHarper’s BazaarTatleri-DPOPDazed & Confused and W magazine, among others. The internationally acclaimed photographer has photographed eminent subjects, including Amy Winehouse, Diane Kruger, Naomi Campbell, Dame Judi Dench and Amitabh Bachchan.

Ram Shergill, 'Gateway to Heaven, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy Ram Shergill and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Gateway to Heaven, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

A painterly touch

As the exhibition’s press release states (PDF download), Shergill

[amalgamates] technical skill with imaginative compositions and a painterly eye.

His photographs are extravagant tableaux, never excessive, always gracefully and meticulously composed. Using an aesthetics of vivid colour and hyperbolic geometrics, Shergill combines seemingly unrelated elements into fanciful juxtapositions.

Ram Shergill, 'Crystallized Eklingji, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Crystallized Eklingji, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Citing the work of Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn as his core inspirations, Shergill says his work is strongly influenced by art history.

Photography as performance

Shergill once said in an interview:

[…] my photography is a kind of performance […] in our performance we always want to show our best side, and I strive to attain this in my portraits of people, or in my fashion work […] to show [my subjects’] best side.

Ram Shergill, 'SuperNOVA, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘SuperNOVA, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

According to the exhibition press release, Shergill often gives his subjects a part to play, because this “allows them to access and expose overlooked, unexplored aspects of their character, and psyche.” In 2008, Shergill founded Drama Magazine, a publication dedicated to fashion and performance.

Ram Shergill, 'Everlasting Sister, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Everlasting Sister, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

An Indian homecoming

In “Kaleidoscope”, the focus shifts away from mainstream fashion towards the documentation of Bollywood and Indian fashion. According to the Tasveer, Shergill worked with designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla and

revitalised and animated their opulent, heavily embroidered collections, focusing on the extravagant texture of the garments and capturing them in unusual, discordant environments.

Ram Shergill, 'Queen of the Jungle'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Queen of the Jungle’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Whether monochrome or in colour, Shergill’s photographs capture the richness of Indian culture in full texture. According to The Economic Times, Shergill named the exhibition “Kaleidoscope” as “a tribute to the drama and colourfulness associated with all things Indian.

Ram Shergill, 'Kaleidoscopic Kiss'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Kaleidoscopic Kiss’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Instead of photographing merely items of fashion, Shergill successfully documents, brings to life and reinvents Bollywood and Indian culture. His pictures evoke a strong and unique visual language that prompts a restatement of fashion photography. As Monocle.com puts it, Shergill is

blurring the lines between commercial photography and fine art.

The photographer’s first international exhibition is also a fitting homecoming. He says to The Economic Times:

I honestly feel like I’m reconnecting with my roots with this showing and it’s a great feeling to have.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Indian artists, photography, art and fashion, gallery shows, touring exhibitions, picture feasts, events in Mumbai

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