Interview, Rhea Gupte -
The Visual Poet
Rhea! How much do you value the human expression?
I feel I value human expression above anything else. I value love above anything else and feel it is the finest specimen of human expression. Love, I feel, transcends into the work that I do, the love for creating each day, in my writing, photography and digital art.
With the advent of digital art, there is a greater hope for the storytelling impulse to be always there. The dynamic that you work with suggests that as well. Where did it begin for you, the impulse of telling a story?
I feel it began as a kid. Around the age of 8 or 9 I wrote my first poem and have been writing ever since. I used to make up characters and stories and write chapters of novels which I hoped to one day turn into an animated series. I have been hugely influenced by cartoons and Japanese anime growing up. I actually wanted to pursue animation when I was in school and that’s when I learnt how to use all the softwares, everything from photoshop to 3DsMAX, very early on. However, that still remains a dream I may pursue someday. I started modelling part time on the side after school and started working as a stylist and creative director on projects as well. I did that for a long time and only picked up the camera, myself, about two years ago. So I still feel like a baby when it comes to photography. There is so much I want to learn and so much I want to narrate. In all my work, the aspect of storytelling has always been important to me. As a model I’d be a character and think beyond just wearing the clothes, as a stylist I wanted to develop moods and emotions and as a photographer, I feel I can communicate my world and thoughts through images.
..and how much of that helped you to become an individual?
I feel you grow so much as a person and your thoughts are constantly evolving depending on what kind of material you read, view and the conversations you have. These thoughts often become ideas which translate into a creative project. I feel that evolution of thoughts in my work has shaped me into the person I am today. I feel it is a representation of the growth of my mind and thus myself. Growing and trying to be better, what I live my life by.
I know that it becomes a little difficult to maintain one’s individuality, because from the surface where one’s seen from - it gets interpreted as a personality. What’s your approach towards remaining uncrowded?
I feel individuality stems from knowing yourself while personality comes from how much of yourself you wish to show to others. I feel in both cases it is a personal journey and ideally shouldn’t be defined by opinions. I find solace in being by myself and I feel very comfortable being alone. In fact, I enjoy it and that helps my creative thinking. That said, it is equally important for me to surround myself with love. I feel the balance between these two helps me maintain the most amount of stability and productivity.
When I first came across your work, you were showcasing different collaborations, with people you perhaps trusted on an aesthetic level. But your work has become more liberating, there are no dependencies or barriers that come in way of your creation. What brought you to that point? The necessity of passion towards every project?
Yes, I was playing a lot of different roles within the space of creating images but I never thought to be the person behind the lens for a long time. When I realized it was something I wanted to do in order to communicate my aesthetic and explorations, it was the beginning of a new journey. With collaborations, I always worked with people I respected for their talent and most of them have grown to become great friends. However, being the person shooting the frames, coloring the images as well as having a specific vision gives me the creative freedom that directing or working in a different capacity simply didn’t in many ways. I was ready to put in the time to explore a new chapter and to develop a new ability. I wanted to portray things how I saw them in my mind and I felt being the person to create them myself would be the best start. I feel I also grew slightly possessive and protective about my concepts and wanted to have the chance to execute them myself, both as a challenge of whether I could do it and to get the satisfaction from making images.
In the process of developing a project, where does your consciousness step into shaping it a particular way - is it about something relatable or something that bends reality, at least question reality?
I like to be very meticulous with the planning I do for a project. I am not one of those photographer’s who reaches a location and figures it out, I have great respect for them, but I am not one of them. I like to think of each frame, each strand of hair, every object in the picture, even the colors, beforehand. After all the planning though, on the day of the shoot, I also let go and allow elements to bend my conceptualization as a lot of things aren’t always in my control. Even if I am creating something surreal, I have a rather militant method of going about it. The part where I am not typically conscious or analytical is while penning down ideas and I pen them down each day no matter how silly they could be. So the ideation process is dreamy and the execution is planned.
Can you walk us through your process in detail?
I start off with pen and paper. If it’s a commercial project I am working on, I try to understand the essence of where the client comes from, what they wish to portray and how I can make it my own. I draw out rough sketches of frames, write down ideas and locations and figure of the color schemes the images could have. After brainstorming I figure out the viability of having and editing things depending on the budget, brief and other factors. I then go into the shoot with a calm and positive spirit. It’s always in my head to make the best of what’s in front of me. After the shoot, I look at the pictures a day or so later. Instead of selecting the images I like, I start off by rejecting the ones I don’t, making the pool of images smaller and smaller. Ultimately I am left with a set I am fond of. I then start with tweaking colors on Lightroom and just playing around. I polish the images on Photoshop. If it’s a digital art project, I’ll spend a day or more working on a single image on Photoshop. After editing all the images I’ll put them next to each other in a folder and see if I need to tweak anything, especially in terms of color, so they are all cohesive.
Since we talked about human expression in the beginning, can you tell us about how you work around the moments that are emotionally challenging to you? Do you create from an imbalance, and if you do, do you publish it?
I feel more drawn to writing in my difficult moments and I find spending hours just me and my laptop on a single piece of work really therapeutic. The clone stamp tool has got me through many rough times. :)
I do publish both my writing and my work created in such times. I find it more honest than anything else as it stems from this place of complete isolation towards one emotion, typically sadness or helplessness even. There is a fragility to the words and colors chosen. However, I feel the need to pick myself up and don’t find imbalance a way to create with longevity. Having a healthy frame of mind is really important for me to be able to create for an entire day and to also have the headspace to do things, like chores, for example. To me, an imbalance for too long paralyzes the logical mind. It might make me a better artist or photographer but probably not the best daughter, friend or room-mate.
You just said that having a healthy frame of mind is really important to you. Could you share with us about how you approach emotional wellness?
I feel I practice mindfulness in most of my actions and try and see the positive side of any situation, in life and in my work. I am an optimist and very enthusiastic most days in a year. However, as artists we can be so self-critical, I for sure am. I always see scope to grow and improve. This attitude can be extremely motivating and help you reach for more but if it’s not in the right doses, it can pull you down. I struggled with self-doubt more when I didn’t have a clear idea of where I wanted my work to take me. Since I started creating images myself I feel focused and I feel like I am on the right trajectory. I also have the tendency to overwork myself and although it’s enjoyable no matter the hours, it can get physically exhausting and emotionally draining with constant deadlines. I feel I practice more self-care and take the time out to spend with loved ones and by myself. I wish to approach every situation with a calm frame of mind, I have improved a lot over time. Earlier, hinderances during a project, particularly the ones which weren’t in my control, would make me really anxious. I feel I tackle them better now. I feel my mind gets better with each day by practicing mindfulness.
Before I ask you the last question- since your work is more poetry than poetic, is there any particular poem or a short story that complements your being?
Thank you, those are very kind words and I feel I have to do so much better to live up to these. Yes, many! I enjoy the lyrical writings of Ben Okri. Also the first chapter from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.
With that, what would you suggest an aspiring artist?
To create as often as you can and to explore facets of your work as much as you can. Never stop learning, never feel like you know enough. Find something you love to do, create with all the love that you have for what you do and create for yourself first.
Interview with Rhea Gupte