Sunday, June 30, 2013


Arvind Garg is a photographer living in New York. This is part II of a two part interview. Do read Part I first - CLICK HERE
all images Arvind Garg and may not be reproduced without permission.
DM: You have chosen to go the self published route with your photography books. Why?
AG: There have always been photographers and other visual artists who had to self-publish their books, for it is almost impossible for anyone without a celebrity name to find a commercial publisher who will risk money on a book by a relatively unknown artist.  But to publish a book yourself you needed lots of money, and then there was the problem of distribution.
I never thought of self-publishing books of my work until the digital revolution came out with the technology that made it possible to do it without spending much money. My friend Dennis who did a few books and was thrilled by the experience encouraged me to do the same. I did my first in 2008, a small format (7x7) book of my black and white images taken in Japan in 2002. Since then I have published fifteen books in different formats and sizes and on subjects ranging from focus on places (Egypt, India, Tunisia, Syria and Jordan, New York, Turkey) to fine art images (The Eucalyptus Way, Gallery Light), to memoir and biography (Marina) and portraits (Facing the Creator). 

DM: Your book on Marina is a lovely tribute to your wife who died of cancer. It is a celebration of her life with you, her craft as a writer with the inclusion of pages of her manuscripts with handwritten notes on them, and an indication of her struggle with her illness. It's a very personal book. Would you say that this is an example of a project that you thought might not be embraced by traditional publishing, but one that as an artist yourself you had to share? Or do you simply prefer the creative freedom of self publishing?
AG: I met Marina in 1986 in New York and we started living together right away. Officially we married in 1994, just four years before she passed away. She was a person of incredible personal beauty and moral integrity and she had a vision of an active and meaningful life as a poet and an arts enthusiast. Despite her uncertain health throughout our life together, she was unstoppable in doing things she wanted to do, for realizing one’s potential to her was a moral obligation.
Her pre-mature death left me not only with folders and boxes full of her writings and journals, but with an experience and indelible memory of having shared part of my life with a woman of extraordinary beauty and depth and passion. For more than a decade I knew no way to mourn her or to memorialize her and her life the way I wanted to. I did not have  funds to create an arts organization in her name or to sponsor a poetry scholarship named after her or to fund a corner of Central Park’s Observatory Garden that was one of her favorite spots in the city, or any of the other ideas that would preserve her name and  be her legacy. 
I always knew I would do a book on her. I had photographed her from the first day we met and until the end. She was my wife and companion but she, with her irrepressible nature and changing moods, was also a mystery to me. She was always searching for something, mostly looking for ways to give expression to her own inner nature and vision, for there was no peace  for her without it.
Finally doing a book on her became my way to mourn her. Once I started working on it, it took me six months to finish, because it was like re-living our whole life together. I read every piece of her writings and kept finding more and more of her photographs in my files and folders and boxes. The layers of memory became deeper and deeper with each new find, helping me to feel her presence in my life once again.

I never even considered that a commercial publisher might do the Marina book. It is a very personal thing, and had to be done by myself in every detail. In a way it made itself,  as it grew and flowered organically watered by Marina’s own words. The photographs are mere foundation for the project. I also think of the book as a fountain, like the Arethusa, which was the name Marina gave to the organization about Italian art, history and life that she founded.

DM: You were in Syria a month before the war broke out. What are your thoughts about what you experienced and the situation today from the perspective of having just done a photographic essay there?
AG: Yes, I traveled in Jordan and Syria just before the fight against Assad's regime took off. It took me by surprise as much as it did the rest of the world, for as a tourist I detected no sign of any looming political or social unrest. In fact I felt that the country and its people were remarkably civil and polite, and there was a sense of vibrancy in the local life in Damascus and particularly in Aleppo's famed picturesque castle as a site of fighting and destruction. I had enjoyed entering it through its humungous doorway and climbing the steps inside to go to the top where, sitting at a cafe smoking a hookah I had a bird's eye view of the whole city, a sight as memorable as any in my travels.

DM: There are two photos in particular from that group that I like. One is the photo of the men on a motorcycle against the ancient ruins. It seem symbolic of an ancient culture thriving against the surge of the modern world. The other one is the photograph of Assad attached to a post in an alleyway. It feels as if it is a reminder that Assad must be revered and present even as one walks through an otherwise nondescript, out of the way route. What do these photos say to you and what other photograph stands out for you from that group?
AG: The photo of two Bedouin men on a motorbike in the dusty and dusky landscape of Palmyra ruins evokes for me the surreal reality of the past and the present seen and felt at the same moment. The other photo with Assad's image on a pole in a dark alley in the Old Town in Damascus is also surreal in its own way. In most countries under the rule of a dictator or an autocrat, you will always see the propaganda portraits of the leader in every imaginable place, whether in markets or billboards along the roads or train and bus stations, even temples and mosques, but this felt like an odd choice for a venue for the leader's image, right in the middle of a narrow alley in an isolated corner of the old town. I guess I like images with a little surreal element to them. But I also like, while traveling in a foreign country, to find a moment of everyday ordinary life that says something about the culture. From that angle I like the double spread in the book on Jordan and Syria of men smoking sheesha (Hookah) in a tea house in Damascus, which, despite its ordinariness, is fascinating to me as a glimpse into a foreign culture.

DM: What is your favorite subject matter to photograph and why?
AG: I really don't have a favorite subject. Almost everything with an interesting light on it is made visually attractive and a subject for a photograph for me. For this reason I find myself taking photographs wherever I happen to be, including my own apartment where the late afternoon light coming in from the Western window never fails to surprise me with its intensity and beauty. My latest book for this reason is about patches of light in art galleries that I found visually more interesting to photograph than the art works themselves.

Arvind Garg, Venice 1978
DM: What are some of your favorite images from your work and why?
AG: A black and white photo I took in Venice in 1978, soon after I started to photograph, has remained a personal favorite of mine. It is an overview of silhouettes of people and pigeons and their long shadows in St. Marks' Square that I shot from the balcony of the cathedral. It is also perhaps the first abstract image I made (without knowing, safe to say, what I was doing) from a real life scene. 
Arvind Garg, Rajasthan Woman
Among my work in color, a constant favorite is the image of a traditionally dressed and veiled woman walking down a dusty trail in Rajasthan with a tree at the bottom left corner. It is just the color and composition that makes the image but for me it evokes the landscape and the rhythm of life in this part of India.
Arvind Garg, Zen Garden

DM: Black Thorns is a photo with a graphic design sensibility in black and white, and the photos you did on eucalyptus trees with the abstract patterns in color highlight your interest in pattern and design. Is this the type of work that in particular made you want to explore painting?
AG: I have thought of trying my hand at painting several times in my life, but somehow never got to do it. Unless now, partly encouraged by my artist friend Beverly Brown whose watercolors of fashion figures I truly admire. But my photographic series on eucalyptus tree bark also is a catalyst in my finally picking up a painting brush, for images in that series are mostly about color and abstract and organic design. They appear to be asking to be painted, so how could I not start painting?
Arvind Garg, Christo Gate

DM: You are using your photographs as reference for your paintings. What difference does the choice of medium, photography or watercolor make to the image, or does it make a difference?
AG: Well, photography is a very precise medium where sharpness traditionally is valued, whereas painting, especially watercolor,  is a medium that allows more freedom of execution.  But trained as I am as a photographer, I am finding it a challenge to be loose in painting and let the brush and paint guide the imagery.  I still find myself trying to make my painting look like a photograph, which defeats the whole purpose. I recently went to see Sargent’s watercolors in a big show at the Brooklyn Museum. His work took my breath away. I could see that he is precise in some places and totally free at other spots in the same painting. The way he paints light and shadows and water reflections, even architecture,  combining both realistic and abstract elements, is fascinating. I felt very inspired and moved.

DM: What else would you like people to know about your work?
AG: I have been mostly lucky in that whenever I have made the effort to show my work to editors and curators I have found them attentive and appreciative. WIthout much effort I have had my photographs acquired at major institutions like the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Museum as well as academic institutions like the Herbert Johnson Museum at Cornell University in Ithica, NY. I hope that my books will find an audience one day that will lead to more of my artwork seen. But I am just enjoying the process of making books as well as paintings and drawings. And the joy of doing it seems to be enough reward for now.
Arvind Garg, Village Door

DM: What is your next project?
AG: I have a long way to go with my drawing and painting, so the next few years I hope to devote to this utterly fascinating medium.

DM: Thank you for joining me. 
To view more of the photographs we discussed and to purchase Arvind's books click HERE
To purchase art prints click HERE
To view/license images click HERE

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