Photo Journal: Imdad Barbhuyan


Quiet, poetic, earnest.

We first came to know Imdad’s work when we discovered portraits of their mother and aunt, an often photographed muse, and wrote to them with our wishes to commission a project of our own. The photos Imdad created this past fall come fully from their world of color, light, and shape in nature.


On becoming an artist

The journey has been quite organic and cathartic; lots of turning points because I didn’t always know that I would be an artist one day. I didn’t have any artistic influences growing up, and so I ended up going through the conventional (Indian) path of choosing engineering. In just a year, i switched to architecture, which I did finish. I also tried product, set and garment design, a job with a skincare brand to then finally find my sweet balance with image making. I now make art through images and text; I am a self taught visual artist, my work being a mix of creative direction, photography, sculptures, set design, performance and writing. What I like most about being an artist working independently is the freedom it allows me to choose how I wish to spend my time. I just can’t imagine trading that for anything in the world. Freedom is an elusive thing, but I have some semblance of it and so I am quite happy with the life I have created for myself.

You practice an almost meditative approach to your photography, sometimes waiting hours for the moment you envision to capture. Tell us more about this.

I am actually not waiting for a precise moment or a particular image, I just can't seem to stop. I can spend hours making images of a single flower. To me it feels like a very personal portrait session where I am getting to know the subject, as it gains trust and reveals more and more with time. It does feel very meditative as I lose track of all sense of time and space. When I am shooting outdoors, on the other hand, a market for example where I have no control over my subject, I tend to function on a subconscious level. I am moving around, maneuvering the crowd, deciding what to capture, composing, etc but I am no longer tethered to the physicality of that space. It’s almost like having an out of body experience, guided by the colors, shapes and light.

Where do you most often find inspiration?

In unexpected and often fleeting moments of beauty. Just a certain light, a unique way a petal might have dried, two colors sitting together, in decay and in between moments of movement and intimacy. And always in the plentiful and magical wonders of nature. 

How does your culture influence you and your creative process?

I like to think that I am mindful and grounded in my practice; I value the meaningfulness of (and ideas behind) the work and not as much the final work itself. Being here in India has taught me the true value of appreciating whatever I have, being content and managing with limited resources. I believe this has a lot to do with my upbringing and my culture’s inextricable connection with the natural world. My family isn’t very religious or spiritual but I have grown up seeing so many rituals and festivals around me, all based around the seasons and cycles of nature. Our culture is all about acknowledging, sharing and celebrating the true essence of things. This has definitely  shaped me as a person and also the way I see the world around me today.

What is your favorite place in India for moments of restoration and calm?

I am most at peace staring into the gentle laps and ripples of water bodies. Udaipur is a really quiet and peaceful ancient city built around lakes, it is my favorite place in India. I have spent countless days contemplating and made many major life decisions sitting next to the lake Picchola, staring into the indelible sunsets there. Temple bells and bird songs, echoing in the valley created by the hills surrounding the lake city. I also love seeing the world from a moving car, i find it very relaxing and inspiring.

What is home for you?

‘Home’ for me is a feeling that I find in many places, people and dreams; I carry this feeling with me and it’s constantly evolving. I feel at home in Delhi for the culture, the city life, the public places but then I soon get homesick and I know it's time for me to come back to my family home, which is in Assam. To my mother, our garden, the slow life here, the river and the gorgeous vegetables.

What draws you towards jewelry? Do you have pieces you wear every day?

We humans love personalisation; we alter, decorate and leave our impression on any space that we occupy. We like to scribble and draw on walls and tables when we are younger, on tissue papers perhaps, as we grow older :) I like to think of jewellery as us doing the same, decorating our bodies with shapes and motifs that we think reflect a little bit of who we are inside. 
I wear my pearl earring almost everyday and now the Catbird love letter charm, tinsel bracelet and rings have become my staples. Garnering compliments everywhere, so thank you!

Do you have any young memories of someone wearing jewelry?

Yes, my mother. She loves gold jewellery, especially necklaces and bangles. I remember she had a lovely necklace which was made up of just hollow circles attached to each other, with a line and four dots in the middle. It’s been her all time favorite piece, mine too actually. It broke at some point and she couldn’t find any goldsmith who could repair it because the details were way too minute. It's been years now and she has forgotten about it but I plan to get one made in the same design and gift it to her.

Your photographs of your mother and aunt in a feeling of their girlhood is what first drew us to your work. What draws you towards the nostalgia of childhood?

That was a really special project, one that I will always cherish. As children, our motivations are so pure, we see everything with love and kindness. Our emotions and curiosities are genuine, and I crave that for myself and also in the world around me. So I try to revisit themes from childhood and share that spirit of innocence in my work. I think I am still very childlike in nature, I find delight in the simple pleasures of life. I loved playing with mud as a child, so I am planning to join pottery classes soon.

Photographed by Abhineet Dang

Desribe a perfect day in New Delhi.

Aww. So it's summer time, I woke up to the light today which is especially sweet and gold, streaming into my space through the sheer curtains. I am instantly in a good mood, I start my day with some french pop. I would water the plants and then have breakfast facing the sun as I plan the rest of the day. I would try to edit some pictures or write something before lunch so I can head out after. I would write to my friends to see if they can join me for a long walk in one of my favorite gardens. Delhi is lovely that way, it’s an amazing city if you like walking and exploring; there are gardens, markets, museums and ancient ruins. We would then head to one of the busy and crowded markets, pick a few things, walk about and end this perfect day with dinner and some nice conversation about our work, feelings and dreams. 

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