For nearly two decades, Montreal photo artist Kiran Ambwani’s images and exhibitions have captured the spirit of various indigenous cultures around the world, bringing into focus important issues such as women’s struggles and third world poverty. A portrait and documentary photographer, her pictures convey emotions and a basic humanity that cannot easily be expressed with words.
Her latest project, Lumière infinie/Infinite Light, at the Monument National, marks a new direction, a series of digitally produced abstract photos of wild, energetic, intertwining multi-coloured beams. Technology has allowed her to produce images that would have been unthinkable when Jackson Pollock was using paint to put a beautiful mess onto canvas.
I spoke with Kiran Ambwani at her home in the Plateau Mont-Royal.
SZ: What inspired this radical departure from your past work?
KA: It was time for something new. The real difference is that this is purely art for art’s sake. It’s also less emotionally taxing than my previous work, which is healthy. What I really like about this project is that it was completely based on chance and intuition. No photoshopping, just me manipulating the camera while aiming at an oscillating light beam. I’d aim, take the shot, and take a chance by playing with the camera while shooting…shaking it, enabling effects at the spur of the moment, doing whatever felt right and seeing whatever emerged. Sometimes I got really great-looking images; overlapping luminous fish-like shapes, explosive shooting stars, repetitive zen-like patterns… And the technique wasn’t limited to shaking the camera and pressing random effects; mirrors and fibre optics also played a role.
SZ: What you’re describing sounds like jazz musicians improvising, feeling the energy of the moment and stumbling upon unexpected magic.
KA: Exactly! If I feel like zooming, I zoom, if I feel like giving the camera a sudden jolt, I’ll do it. After experimenting with certain techniques, I’m beginning to develop a sense of how to create certain shapes by manipulating the camera in response to a particular movement of a light beam.
SZ: Would you say there’s a psychedelic component to this project? And take that to mean whatever you want it to mean.
KA: It be a psychedelic experience on many levels. There are so many different things to trip out on, as they say. You could stare at these images and let them take your mind wherever it goes. Among the different photographs there are quite a few repetitive, meditative patterns, and others that take unprecedented routes from point A to….infinity.
SZ: Which photographers, or artists in general have influenced you?
KA: Anything I see that I actually like, really. Light shows at EDM (electronic dance music) festivals, avant-garde paintings, stuff by Moment Factory – they did the light visuals for Madonna’s performance at the Super Bowl. I also really like Richard Avedon, Sebastião Salgado, Peter Keetman, Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry.
SZ: Have you ever thought of collaborating with other visual artists or musicians to create an audio-visual artistic experience?
KA: I’d like to collaborate with Montreal Lumière. I’d love to do a live real time exhibit where projections of my images accompany the music of EDM DJs. Actually, Erik Amyot, who organizes the Eclipse Festival asked me to contribute the cover for Ilai Salvato’s new EP Phosphorescence, on his Tech Safari label, which was really flattering. They even named the record after the original photo title, which was really nice.
SZ: Are you planning to go further in the abstract artistic direction, or will you be returning to documenting social issues and multicultural phenomena?
KA: I love portraiture and taking pictures of diverse cultures and interesting social groups. It’s rewarding, I learn a lot, and I do feel it is important to raise awareness. The emotion that you can capture in a photograph of a person’s face can often tell a whole story which can really have a profound effect on viewers and hopefully inspire greater compassion and thoughtfulness. I will definitely do more of those projects in the future. But, right now I really enjoying what I’m doing, so for now I’ll go with the flow and see what happens.
Lumiere infinie/Infinite Light continues at the Monument National (1182 St. Laurent Blvd.) until Nov. 23.
Steven Zylbergold is a freelance writer and teacher living in Montreal. He is constantly writing film scripts and music in the hopes than his brilliance will one day be recognized and he will never have to work again. He will then proudly live off of the royalties of his artistic legacy, travel the world, and feed poor people.