Frontal Photograph of Abul Kalam Azad shot by Leo James

I am an independent photographer and visual artist, living and working from South India. My works are expressions of my personal memories, explorations, and experiences. They deal with issues of culture, identity, micro/macro history, and eroticism. I am particularly interested in experimental and art photography.

It was my father, Haneef Rahman, who instilled my interest in photography at a very young age. A majority of my photographs from the 80s and early 90s were from my native land of Kerala, India. Creating visuals of the familiar people and surroundings fascinated me. I started photographing my friends and creative people from the neighborhood, my town, and its architecture. These photographs offer a glimpse into the landscape of Mattanchery before it became a cultural hub and venue of Kochi Muziris Biennale. In the 80s, I

started exploring different parts of India. Like a restless river seeking a distant destination, I was always on the move, photographing the memories of those long journeys. During the early 90s, for over a brief period, I worked as a photo-journalist with news agencies and periodicals in India and abroad. In the mid-90s, with the support of different scholarships, I traveled to Europe for higher studies in photography and print-making. Returning to India in 1996, I started practicing photography as an independent visual artist. In this phase, I accelerated my efforts in experimental and art photography.

Between 2000 and 2010, Indian photography saw a shift from analog to digital. Reluctant to take a complete swing, but at the same time trying to keep up with the technological advancements, I started making hybrid photographic prints, amalgamating digital and analog medium. The focus on history, religion, politics, and other recurring themes only become stronger, connecting with each other and emerging as a total worldview that I consciously put forward. Adding layers to photographic prints became a singular style in my photographic aesthetics and language. Amalgamating traditional and modern photography, I started digitally reworking my earlier analog photographs or found prints. My experimental works from this period include doodling, stitching, scratching, sequencing, and hand painting on photographic prints.

Between 2010 and 2014, I have been creating monochromic images. These are minimalistic and in stark contrast to my earlier multi-media experimental works. Starting in 2014, I am working with different new media, such as smartphone photography and lo-fi digital. At the same time, I continue to use large-format view cameras as well as other traditional cameras. The zig-zagging from one style/approach to another is intentional. It reflects a particular phase in my life and artistic expression. The thematic continuity is also a conscious choice, with history, sexuality, eroticism, anthropology, and culture being present, and provocating each other. My current projects primarily focus on a search inside South-Indian prehistoric cultures and base themselves on ancient literature, folklore, and rituals.

I have always been interested in regional initiatives and was part of several arts and cultural projects in South India. In 2012, I co-founded Ekalokam Trust for Photography, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to protecting and promoting contemporary photography and allied art forms. I am also Editor-in-Chief of PhotoMail, an online photo-art magazine.

Abul Kalam Azad