Inside View - An Interview with Shivaji Sen (NSFW)

Next up is another photographer who's style I adore. In general I'm not a huge fan of the whole glamour/ erotic genre as I think its a very dangerous/borderline area that is easily abused especially in the hobbyist community, but Shivaji is a master of this category and totally nails it, his images are pure voyeuristic art and his style of shooting with natural light captures such a fantastic ambience that you feel you are right there in the image. His style reminds me a lot of the West Coast American photographers that inspire me but with a gritty UK translation to it. The great friendships he forged with his models and list of people wanting to work with him also made me stand up and look for his work when I started out. I have to admit whilst we have had a few online chats, I don't know him that well so was really looking forward to finding a little more out out about this mysterious character!

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Hi mate, so how did the photography thing all start?

It was a fortunate accident really. I grew up with art and with the pressures of a normal mainstream career I had stopped painting and creating things with my hands. It was at a party where my Sony point and shoot 5mp camera was stolen by the valet. This lead to me buying my first DSLR. And the story begins from there; I could create something with the camera which was under my complete control. Playing with light replaced my hidden affair with the paints.

There seems to be some real talent coming out of Cardiff at the moment do you think it hinders creatives there not being more central?

I think theres some real talent in the Cardiff, Bristol and Gloucester triangle! Being fairly far from London does hinder the exposure but also somehow also allows people to be not influenced by mainstream trends and provides the freedom to explore their own corners.

I love the feel you give to your images how would you describe your style?

I can’t really describe my style, but there are some key words which I try to keep in mind when I shoot. I like the interactions to be real, the moments to be as unadulterated as possible and to look at things with a fresh perspective. I hope these ideas filter down into the work and hope for the best.

Can we see an image from your first shoot?

This is not really my first shoot per say as I had shot many other commercial work like events and such, but yes, this was my first shoot with a model/friend.I

So does your main business come from portfolio shoots or workshops?

Over the past few months the workshops had been my main priority. I have recently moved to India and the focus here is mainly fashion and advertising commercial work. However for a few years, I did survive solely on weddings and retail clothing catalogue shoots. It is good to be finally working on projects I want to undertake personally at a professional level.

How would you describe one of your typical workshops? They come across very different to other standard workshops?

I would say they are fairly different to anything out there currently in the UK. Most workshops tend to focus their interests on the technical side of photography. People are constantly trying to better their equipment or learn how to take a certain shot, or get the lighting perfect. What I share with my attendees is how to see your subject better, how to make your work reflect true emotion. How to get the best out of your subjects and making them an equal part of creating the image instead of using them as objects.  The key to lighting your shot is not the capability of your lights but the dialogue you create with the environment.  The only way to improve your work is to dwell into the history of the subject. A cross medium influence is key in any art. Study the masters, and live in their skin or walk the mile to understand what their work is made of. Read! Often my works are fuelled by philosophers, poets and writers. If you want to create the future, you must understand your history. Watch documentaries on artists you think are instrumental in your own progress. And lastly I tell them to forget their equipment and look at a blank wall with its limitless wonders.  

You seem to have a close relationship with a lot of your models, do you think this helps at the shoots?

It is an essential part of my work. I think my results have a drastic difference between people I get along with as opposed to the rotten apples. It also helps because you are working in sync and having fun. You build a bond and level of trust which helps you push your work further.

I know you leave poems as your references how did that all come about?

Laura Flora is to blame. I sat in her apartment staring at those big hypnotic eyes and all I could think of was writing something to describe that moment instead of taking a picture. She inspired the poem trend. This was ridiculed at first. People found it creepy and inappropriate.  Funny how it is more inappropriate to write beautiful romantic words inspired by someone  sitting in front of you jointly bought together in an effort to create art and it is absolutely fine to take their picture in a state of undress in their bedroom.  

What do you enjoy most about it all?

It has made me a better person. Photography has widened my horizons, changed the way I look at life and surf through it. It has taught me to be more empathetic and loving. It has given me courage and a put me on an unending journey to state of being and not a destination.

What is the worst thing?

I keep getting asked to take pictures in every gathering!

What has been your favourite shoot so far and why?

This is a really difficult one to answer because I have had the most amazing experiences with so many people and on so many different shoots. From complaints from neighbours about naked women on the roof, to giant ice cream cone sex,  to standing naked in front of MacDonald’s at 1am.  

Any bad experiences?

The usual no shows and follow up lies. But I guess that is pretty much a part of this industry.

Do you enjoy any other genres of photography? Could you ever see yourself shooting a different style i.e. Weddings?

I shoot weddings for the money but really don’t enjoy it. I can totally see myself shooting architecture and nature.

If you weren't a photographer what do you think you'd be doing?

I would be a middle-age mutant ninja philosopher.

What are your favourite three images to date and why?

It is impossible for me to do three… so I am going to bully in more than three…. (As Shivajii has cheated with 11 images! I have listed my favourite 3 here and then included the others as a gallery at the bottom of the interview!)

Where would you like it to take you in the long run?

To every corner of the world and to every corner of my mind.

What would your dream shoot be (anything is possible)?

One of my notches in my list of things to achieve is to shoot the Pirelli Calendar. I would like to reach that goal and then move on to bigger and better things from there.

Anybody that inspires you?

Too many to name!!! But here are a few (I lied):

David Lachapelle

Helmut Newton

Guy Bourdin

Tim Walker

Erwin Olaf

Emmet Gowin

Les Krims

Miles Aldridge

Diane Arbus

Cindy Sherman

Francesca Woodman

Duane Michals

Jeanloup Sieff

Jock Sturges

Sally Mann

Nan Goldin

Jan Saudek

Spencer Tunick

Nobuyoshi Araki

Arthur Tress

Ellen von Unwerth

Joel-Peter Witkin

Bruno Aveillan

Jan Švankmajer

Erwin Wurm

Salvador Dali

Michel Foucault

Albert Camus

Jean-Paul Sartre

Franz Kafka

Henry David Thoreau

Walt Whitman

Edgar Allan Poe

Oscar Wilde

Friedrich Nietzsche

Jack Kerouac

Hunter S Thompson

James Thurber

Whats in your camera bag?

A Nikon D5100. A 35mm Prime and that is it.

Quick fire favourites:

Website: Tumblr

Drink: Diet Coke

Food: Pizza

Music act: 80s as a decade for music.

TV Show: GOT - Game of Toomanyshows

Movie: Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight

Joke: An honest politician.

Way to spend a day off: Ride off into the mountains on my motorbike or watch 5 movies with pizza at home.

QuoteI seek not what you show; I seek what one cannot see. – Sen”

Thanks Shivaji for taking the time out to answer my questions, its quite obvious your a massively inspirational guy and hopefully our paths will cross for real one day! I for one would love to attend a workshop with you! Here are the rest of  Shivaji's favourite images.

If you'd like to see more of Shivaji's work check it out here