For this piece, we were required to explore new york and the ways we may associate ourselves with the city.
I chose to do another self-portrait as I felt that imagery of this city has become such a generic template for any student project that my work would turn out reductive. I do not have a strong connection with a specific place in the city, so geographically based art was out of the question for me.
The way the city has affected me most is how much I have changed as a person since coming here. I am a person who relinquishes the freedom the city gives me, especially with its thriving queer culture and nightlife. However, I still have many conflicts with my growth, be it that I don’t think I have come far enough, having to make friends that I want to BE friends with all over again or even the way people who talk to me now say I have almost ‘overdosed’ on New York.
Hence, I decided to do three portraits, each picture defining a different set of struggles.
The first portrait has me in my religions traditional vest, bound with a corset and my hands tied with my ‘kusti’, a holy thread that is supposed to be tied around one’s waist. My religion has always been a difficult thing for me to connect with as I don’t believe in God, however, my grandmother, who plays a large role in my life, does. I feel very constricted by it, at least when I am at home as although I want to love the traditions and the community, as a gay person, I feel disconnected or unwanted. The idea of sexuality in my culture is also one that is relatively repressed, especially when it comes to LGBT people, as it is hardly even acknowledged. The corset represents freedom and constriction in a way that appeals to me. The Kusti, tied using Japanese bondage techniques, symbolizes repressed emotions, feelings, and identity, as being a sexual person outside of the confines of marriage is often frowned upon and only acknowledged in a heterosexual context.
The second portrait is referring to my difficulty to make genuine connections in New York. Coming here, and having to radically change the way I presented myself was a very fast process for me as compared to what I am now, I was very reserved. I used a foosball table as I find it to be an item that symbolizes America, due to the football, and how I constantly feel alone when everyone else, the players, feel together. The kusti is again used as a symbol of constriction, holding me back as I almost desperately reach for the players to symbolize how badly I want to make genuine connections in the city, but how I feel the need to fight against my culture and upbringing in order to do that. That is not something I resent, rather something I have always wanted to do, however, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. It also represents how much more freedom I have to express my sexuality in terms of relationships or sex with men, in a far more open environment, but in that context, the kusti is there as a reminder that while it may be fine to be that way here, back home, I cannot do that at all.
The third picture is related to how I have almost overdosed on the things I have done and the experiences I have had over here. I am in my underwear as I have always had body insecurity issues, especially in India, where sex and a healthy body image are not openly discussed. Hence, doing a self-portrait of this nature, even in the first two, with my arms exposed, is very cathartic, and is again indicative of how I have gained a certain amount of confidence since I have come here. I chose a blue liquid as it is my favorite shade of blue, but it also complements the deeper, unsaturated browns and yellows that the images have mostly had. The items are my Indian ID next to my New School ID, a Calvin Klein business card from the time I met Raf Simons in the store (possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me), lipstick to show the makeup I have started feeling free enough to use here, ADHD pills, coffee cups and a glue stick. All of these items are related to my experiences in New York in a personal way.
I chose to shoot this in my dorm as it is the place I spend the most time at, doing work, which is the main reason I came to New York. In addition to that, I was very influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe and his self-portrait with a bullwhip in his anus. The sheer honesty, yet black treatment of himself, with highly stylistic lighting was what I wanted to achieve.
I tried the images in black and white, but they did not work as they felt derived and ingenuine. While playing around with the tools in Photoshop, I found the unsaturated, sharp finish I knew would convey my point most effectively.
This project, even as I am writing this summary, has been very cathartic as I genuinely feel I had to deeply introspect what I am as a person in New York. What makes my story and my life different from others. The execution was also pivotal for me as I was worried that it might come across as trying to be too ‘edgy’. This was also the first time I approached photography in a traditional method with a large lighting set up angled to cast shadows to perfection and give me the desired image using a DSLR. I think that I will definitely persure photography further after this project.