DPP Home Profiles Sanjay Kothari: Shanghai Transformations

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
Kothari never quite accepted a prejudice against the manipulated image. Pictorialists like Edward Steichen opened up the possibility of beautifully manipulated photography, inventing many processes that explored photography's textural capabilities like photogravure and gum-bichromate. But Alfred Stieglitz, sold on the idea that modernist photography should be completely independent of painting and therefore free of any manipulation, pushed photography in a different direction. Photo-montage and manipulation were used by constructivists and Bauhaus artists who didn't necessarily take their own pictures, so thinking outside Stieglitz's strict view of photography became taboo. Kothari has fiercely challenged this strict, no-manipulation notion of photography throughout his career.

"Photography is a transformation of three-dimensional reality into two dimensions," says Kothari. "That transformation is objective, it's not arbitrary, and there's a relationship between the picture and its corresponding reality. When you interrupt the correspondence, that's where you manipulate the picture. You change the picture independently of nature. When you start manipulating the image, you're able to create an image that didn't exist. The relationship with reality is still there."

In 1993, when Photoshop was first introduced, Kothari joined Color Center, which was run by Scitex, and learned every detail about the software from printers who were technical perfectionists and not interested in art, but in how to execute a picture perfectly. He was given a Scitex scanner and allowed to experiment on his own. After a few months, Kothari created some images and entered his work in a competition, winning three awards in three separate categories. His love for collage and photography finally came together, and he was immediately selected for representation by R/GA, which at that time was a special-effects studio representing artists working in digital media. Kothari became a trusted advisor to Adobe, his suggestions leading to several new tools like the healing brush, the multi-point gradient tool and an all-in-one transformation tool.

In 2009, after working from his New York studio for over 15 years, with clients including Samsung, Kohler, Ford, Tourneau, Dell and Gillette, Kothari decided on another transformation—a radical move to another side of the globe. While still in New York, Kothari was contacted by an agent in Beijing who was eager to bring him new clients in Asia. The effects of the recession were beginning to affect Kothari's studio revenues, so he packed up his bags, landed in Beijing and started working with Ogilvy on a campaign for Motorola. The only brief the creative director gave Kothari was that he wanted images inspired by the British painter Turner. This is the kind of creative freedom Kothari had yearned for while working with agencies in New York.

Kothari conceptualized an image of a man leaping across a shattered glass wall, creating a spatial three dimension in the image. Photographing the model separately, Kothari and his 3D team photographed pieces of shattered glass. Then they used RayFire to break and fragment pieces randomly, then brought them into a "thinking particle system" to push these particles to have an exploding motion. The image was rendered in V-Ray and then brought into Photoshop again for compositing the model into the image. The result is so perfect that it's impossible to tell that the model wasn't actually leaping through a set wall. This effortless blending of reality with manufactured textures and patterns and a passion for using the most contemporary tools to push the limits of imagination are what make Kothari a master image-maker.

A spectacular series of CG images Kothari created while in China is his "glass women" series—hyperreal models with glass skin as if descended from another planet. To create the series, Kothari first generated 3D models of figures and then camera matched them to a photographic image, rendering them and lighting them, then compositing that render into an original photograph. His magical infusion of humanness into his 3D subjects and ability to render an inter-planetary otherworldliness into his human subjects come from his extreme dexterity with the mechanics of photography and 3D production. From what angle should a subject be lit, in what perspective should a wire frame be constructed, at what resolution should the final render be, how should the lighting in the physical and virtual dimensions be matched—all are challenges requiring skills that only an experienced photographer can bring into the virtual. Working in 3D requires an instinctive understanding of spatial relationships and lighting. It demands of the creator architectural, sculptural, artistic, design and photography skills.


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