Nausher Nash Banaji
I am a Photographer of Skin + Stone, I am a Poet of Black + White. As far back as I can remember, I have expressed myself through prose and poetry. I kept a journal; writing was a release. From there, photography was just a natural progression in which I could substitute words with pictures, using light instead of letters to convey an emotion, an idea, a feeling.
I am inspired by the juxtaposition of the human figure in its natural surroundings and its placement in a specific environment. The surroundings give the figure context. For instance, I might situate a smooth figure within a rough terrain or against menacing wall structures to illustrate our fragile nature and the constraints we deal with day to day. Skin characterizes our vulnerability within our rough, often inflexible, environments. That was my message. I once expressed these thoughts on paper, but I was now moved to express them with photographic metaphors. Nudes were the most fundamental—the barest—of my thoughts, the most uncensored, the most unmanufactured, the most unscripted. They made the most sense to me.
My first photographs were of human figures that were clothed and in color, but I found that I could not perfectly articulate the concept or message when clothes and color were involved. They were distracting for me. The first thing I rejected was the clothes. Clothes have more to do with style and fashion. I questioned the authenticity of emotions when the body was veiled. Removing the veils revealed emotions and displayed our vulnerability. I used shadows to cloak the body instead of fabric. But then the color was a distraction, so I started systematically stripping away the colors from my pictures, and I intensified the use of strategic light placement. This enabled me to arrange shadows where I wanted doubt or mystery to lurk, and light where I wanted the alternatives to reside and reveal. A concentration of light on the one hand and shades of shadows on the other stops the eye from wandering. My own eyes seek stark tonal contrast, revealing a world where whites are illuminated from within and blacks are eternal. Alternatively, it is only in penumbra, where light dies and darkness comes alive—it is then that we glimpse the truth of things. Chiaroscuro to me is the richest area to explore, because it is inextricably tied up with the question of contrasts. The end result, I always hope, will be an image that could be interpreted poetically.
The human body in its finest, or in its weakest, state is magnificent and enduring. The nudes of Greek and Renaissance artists were intended not as depictions of beautiful bodies but of beautiful souls. They connoted heroism, integrity, and virtue. Saggy, decrepit bodies often portrayed withered souls or troubled minds, emotionally damaged and vulnerable. As for me, I feel most liberated creatively when I am able to capture the emotions that reside in a human form. Nothing conveys the expressions of the human heart like the body.
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