Abstract art is always hit or miss, and although taste in any creative form is entirely subjective, the merits and quality of abstract works are arguably harder to qualify. Ideally, the culture of art appreciation would be devoid of the pretentiousness that is so pervasive and people would simply like what they like, without worrying if their preferences are in line with the cognoscenti. For nearly two decades, Ambwani’s work as a photographer has produced highly acclaimed, award-winning images and exhibitions that have captured the spirit of various indigenous cultures around the world, often bringing to focus important issues like women’s struggles and third world poverty that convey emotions and a basic humanity. With this latest project, Ambwani has gone in a completely different direction. By exploiting the technological advances of the digital age, she has developed a series of digitally produced abstract photos of wild, energetic, intertwining multicoloured beams, derived from a simple light source which she then manipulates in ways that would have been unthinkable when Jackson Pollock was imagining ways to put a beautiful mess onto canvas.
Kiran was nice enough to sit down with me and answer some of my questions about this latest photo exhibit, which is currently on display at Monument National in Montreal until November 23.
SZ: Almost all of your work in the past has been around cultural explorations, with lots of beautiful, but often really intense, shots of people in their natural element that really conveyed emotions and elicited strong emotional reactions from viewers. What inspired you to do something as radically different as this?
KA: “I guess the same way any artist doesn’t want to do the same thing all the time and risk becoming pigeon-holed, or worse, bored. I just decided it was time to try something new. I guess the real difference is that this is just art for art’s sake. I must admit, it’s less emotionally taxing, which is probably healthy sometimes. What I really liked about doing this project is that in terms of getting the shots, it was completely based on chance and intuition. No photoshopping, it’s just me manipulating the camera while aiming at what was just one single constantly changing and shifting configuration of oscillating lights. I’d look at the light, take the shot, but I’d be taking a chance by playing with the camera as I was shooting…shaking it, enabling effects at the spur of the moment, doing whatever felt right and seeing whatever emerged. Sometimes it’s kind of nothing, but sometimes you get these really great looking overlapping shapes, luminous fish-like shapes, neon explosions, shooting stars, repetitive patterns, Zen notions of infinity, sperm shapes…all kinds of great images. And it wasn’t just shaking the camera and pressing random effects. Mirrors and fiber optics played a role, too.”
SZ: A lot of what you’re telling me makes me think of musical innovators, kind of like how dub reggae producers would smack their recording units to get booming reverb, or jazz players improvising and feeling the energy of the moment.
KA: “Sometimes I may have a preconceived idea of what I’d like to see, or an idea of what I might be able to do to actually get it, but mostly I am just doing what I feel in the moment. If I feel like zooming, I zoom, if I feel like giving the camera a jolt with a flick of my wrist, I’ll do it. But after experimenting with certain effects or motion techniques I’ve actually sort of developed a sense of how to create certain shapes by moving and weaving the camera in response to some on movements from a light source.”
SZ: Which photographers,or artists in general have influenced you?
KA: “Oh, probably just about everything I see that I actually like. Anything from light shows at EDM (electronic dance music) festivals, avant garde installations, stuff by Moment Factory-they did the light visuals for Madonna’s performance at the Super Bowl. I also really like Richard Avedon and Sebastien Selgado…..
“Honestly, I love portraiture and taking pictures of diverse, foreign cultures and interesting social groups. It’s rewarding, I learn a lot, and I do feel it is important to raise awareness; and the emotion that you can capture in a photograph can really have a profound effect on viewers and inspire greater compassion and thoughtfulness. I will definitely do more of these projects in the future. But, right now I’m really enjoying what I’ve been doing, and so I’m just going to go with the flow for now and see what happens.”
Kiran Ambwani’s “Lumiere infinie/Infinite Light” exhibit is on display at Monument National (1182 St. Laurent Blvd.) until Nov. 23