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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sanjay Kothari: Shanghai Transformations

Sanjay Kothari traded the frustration of NYC’s photography market for China’s cosmopolitan, vibrant commercial center. The move has given him a level of creative freedom that wasn’t possible in the U.S.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Sanjay Kothari's imagery cuts across several disciplines, from photography to advanced 3D CGI work. After 15 years working as a successful professional in New York, he relocated half a world away to Shanghai, China. While working in China certainly presents challenges, the move helped to launch a new era for Kothari's work. His images are limited only by his infinite imagination.

The scene is set against the spectacular backdrop of Guilin's karst mountains along the Li River in China. A traditional bamboo raft floats above water in the foreground with a rowing fisherman on one edge and a cormorant bird on another. Perched on the raft as if in their most natural setting are a Kohler vanity and bathtub in which a model is shown relaxing. Chinese lanterns illuminate her with a warm glow in sharp contrast with the cool blue tones of the sky and the water. There's something so believable about the image that we find ourselves marveling at the photography team's logistical coup of transporting a tub and the vanity to this remote site, then resting the model and the tub perfectly on the raft, while the bird, the fisherman and the river stand motionless for this serene moment captured in perfect light. It's only when we find out that the tub, the vanity and the model were photographed in New York City, the raft on a still pond, the fishermen on the Li River, and the sky and the mountains in sequences of dawn and dusk light that we're awestruck. For Sanjay Kothari, the photographer and CG artist who created this image for Kohler's As I See It campaign, the image reflects how he operates in the photography world—by pushing pure photography beyond its limitations through photo collage and manipulation to create what his mind sees. Selected as one of six photographers, including David LaChapelle and Hugh Kretschmer, to create "inspired imagery" for Kohler, Kothari traveled to China, Mexico and Tennessee to create his series of four images.

"A photograph is just the starting point for fearless exploration," says Kothari. "My process is explore, save, explore, save, get some sleep, start again."

This fearless exploration and "transformation" are two fundamental values that led Kothari from Mumbai to New York and now to Shanghai while nourishing his transition from conventional photography to photo collage to CGI and 3D. One look at his versatile portfolio featuring conceptual editorials, fashion campaigns, sports illustration, still life, 3D- generated figures and fine art makes one think of him as an image wizard. Kothari is an illusionist, an artist who takes liberties with our preconditioned ideas of reality and magically transports us into a world that seems instantly familiar, yet otherworldly. Seductive robots, still life enwrapping its human subjects, models leaping through shattered glass, sculptural women as Greek goddesses are the kind of images that reveal Kothari's rich labyrinthine imagination.

In 1985, while in photography school in New England, which he entered after completing his engineering degree in India, Kothari experienced his breakthrough artistic moment—he discovered photo collage. Not wanting to throw away some off-color prints he was experimenting with, Kothari cut a hole in a faded print and held it atop a brighter one, discovering to his surprise a triangle floating in the image. This interplay of dimensions opened up his imagination, revealing to him the limitations of straight photography and the recognition that it's not the imagination, but the medium that can be inherently limiting for an artist.
A photograph is just the starting point for fearless exploration, says Kothari. My process is explore, save, explore, save, get some sleep, start again.
Says Kothari, "I like photographing chairs. But to photograph a chair, you need a chair. I could have photographed the chair I'm sitting on, but then the picture might look like a Staples catalog photo. Instead, I photograph my wood floor, cut and paste the pictures and create my own one-of-a-kind chair. Then I began doing that in Photoshop and using 3D. Now I can photograph a chair without needing a chair. So am I still a photographer? Yes, but the kind that makes my own chairs, using cut and paste or Photoshop or CGI as and when needed."


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