Montreal Photo Artist Kiran Ambwani

Montreal Photo Artist Captures The Life Force Of Light Source: Transforming Luminous Sweat Into Art That Glistens

A well-respected, academic art critic can articulate the value of a 15th century painting of a naked, overweight, European woman with an unruly bush, in terms of everything from historical contextual notions of beauty to the texture of the brushstrokes, and convince people of the painting’s greatness. Ideally, people would simply feel comfortable to like what they liked, without having to worry if their preferences meet with the approval of the snobbish cognoscenti. Ultimately, the true merit of any given piece of art is a matter of individual taste.

In the case of an abstract visual creation, a viewer is arguably much more emotionally affected on an immediate gut level. Sometimes the abstract image looks and feels like an authentic, uninhibited cry from the artist’s soul sucked through a whirlwind from deep within the creative subconscious mind. Other times it looks like a mental patient or child found a good place to smear their doody. Critical praise and derision seem to be arbitrarily heaped upon works from both the former and latter categories. That’s why with ALL art – but specifically the abstract kind – you have to simply ask yourself “Does it move me, pull me in, and compellingly convey the artist’s intent? More importantly perhaps, is it cool to look at? Well, Montreal photo-artist Kiran Ambwani’s new exhibit “Lumiere infinie/Infinite Light” features hypnotic, wildly energetic pictures of light patterns that are both engaging and really damn cool to look at.

For nearly two decades Ambwani’s work as a photographer has produced highly acclaimed, award-winning images that have captured the spirit of various indigenous cultures around the world, often bringing to focus important issues like women’s struggles and third world poverty. With her latest project, Ambwani has gone in a completely different direction, developing a series of digitally-shot photos of intertwining multicoloured beams derived from a simple light source.

Kiran was nice enough to sit down with me and answer some of my questions about this latest photo exhibit, which will be on display at the Monument National in Montreal until November 23rd 2014.

•SZ: Almost all of your projects in the past have been cultural explorations, with lots of beautiful, really intense shots of people in their natural element. What inspired you to do something as radically different as this?

kiran-ambwani bio photoKA: I guess the same way any artist doesn’t want to do the same thing all the time and risk becoming pigeon-holed, or worse, bored, I just decided it was time to try something new. I guess the real difference is that this is just art for art’s sake. I must admit, it’s less emotionally taxing, which is probably healthy sometimes. What I really liked about doing this project is that in terms of getting the shots, it was completely based on chance and intuition. No photoshopping, it’s just me manipulating the camera while aiming at what was just one single constantly changing and shifting configuration of oscillating lights. I’d look at the light, take the shot, but I’d be taking a chance by playing with the camera as I was shooting…shaking it, enabling effects at the spur of the moment, doing whatever felt right and seeing whatever emerged. Sometimes it’s kinda, nothing, but sometimes you get these really great looking overlapping shapes, luminous fish-like shapes, neon explosions, shooting stars, repetitive patterns, zen notions of infinity, sperm shapes…all kinds of great images. And it wasn’t just shaking the camera and pressing random effects; mirrors and fiber optics played a role, too.

•SZ: A lot of what you’re telling me makes me think of musical innovators, kind of like how dub reggae producers would smack their recording units to get booming reverb, or jazz players improvising and feeling the energy of the moment.

KA: Sometimes I may have a preconceived idea of what I’d like to see, or an idea of what I might be able to do to actually get it, but mostly I am just doing what I feel in the moment. If I feel like zooming, I zoom, if I feel like giving the camera a jolt with a flick of my wrist, I’ll do it. But after experimenting with certain effects or motion techniques I’ve actually sort of developed a sense of how to create certain shapes by moving and weaving the camera in response to some on movements from a light source.

•SZ: Would you say that there is a psychedelic component to this project? And take that to mean whatever you want it to mean. But just so you know, what I mean is ‘were these taken while you were tripping on LSD with the intention of giving other people on LSD something to look at?’

KA: Well, sure, looking at the photos can certainly be a psychedelic experience on many levels. There are so many different things to trip out on…You could stare at these images and let them take your mind wherever it goes, with or without the accompaniment of hallucinogenic drugs. Among the different photographs there are quite a few repetitive, meditative patterns, and others that take unprecedented routes from point A to… infinity.

•SZ: So what you’re telling me is that you and your friends don’t take handfuls of LSD and stare at your pictures for days on end while Tangerine Dream records play in the background on an infinite loop?

KA: No, but a friend of mine who used to take her fair share of psychedelics and has now moved on to non-chemically induced meditative states of consciousness became really locked into one of the pictures. She was kind of in a pretty deep trance… it was hard to snap her out of it and get her to move.

•SZ: Maybe she was on the verge of finding God or the meaning of life hidden within the image and you pulled her away when she was just seconds from enlightenment… Perhaps she could have learned and revealed to everyone ‘why we are here’, and YOU interrupted her!

KA: I hope not.

•SZ: Which photographers or artists in general have influenced you?

KA: Oh, probably just about everything I see that I actually like. Anything from light shows at EDM (electronic dance music) festivals, avant garde installations, and stuff by Moment Factory – they did the light visuals for Madonna’s performance at the Super Bowl. I also really like Richard Avedon and Sebastien Selgado

•SZ: We were talking about how your visual creations and many different psychedelic visual arts can successfully complement certain psychedelic music. Have you ever thought of collaborating with musicians, or even other visual artists?

KA: I’d like to collaborate with Montreal Lumière, and I’d also love to do a live real time exhibit accompanying EDM DJs… like an audio-visual jam session. Actually Erik Amyot, who organizes the electronic music Eclipse Festival, asked me to contribute the cover for Ilai Salvato’s new EP, “Phosphorescence” on his Tech Safari label, which was really flattering. They even named the record after the original photo title.

•SZ: Do you want to go further in this direction, be it with lights, abstract stuff, and things that are a bit, um, lighter than documenting the suffering of poverty-stricken, marginalized, oppressed people?

KA: Honestly, I love portraiture and taking pictures of diverse, foreign cultures and interesting social groups. It’s rewarding, I learn a lot, and I do feel it is important to raise awareness, and the emotion that you can capture in a photograph can really have a profound effect on viewers and inspire at least greater compassion and thoughtfulness. I will definitely do more of those projects in the future. But, right now I’m really enjoying what I’ve been doing and so I’m just going to go with the flow for now and see what happens.

Kiran Ambwani’s “Lumiere infinie/Infinite Light” exhibit is on display at Monument National (1182 St. Laurent Blvd.) until Nov. 23rd 2014.

Visit Tech Safari’s website for more information on upcoming goa / psytrance events and album releases.

Kiran’s website: