A Versatile Artist
Neha Mutreja chats with Dr Deepak John Matthew, a young photographer who plays many roles at one time.
This story was originally published in March 2012.
Deepak has been involved with photography since the past 15 years; without any formal training. While still in college, he took up small assignments to earn a living. Today, to say that he has come a long way would be an understatement. He believes that his journey to prove himself has been quite a learning experience. If you take a look at his images, they are pieces of fine art—almost like a painter who has sprawled his imagination on negatives. They will compel you to think of what goes in his mind and they emanate his love for photography.
Boon in Disguise
Deepak comes from a small town in Kerala and he was always a studious child. This is perhaps why his parents wanted him to be a scientist. But he had other dreams he wanted to follow, and he even made a tough decision of leaving his Masters degree in Physics half-way. “It was never my calling and I knew that at that time, my parents were not happy with my decision.
Ironically, the people who criticised me then, look up to me now,” he elaborates. So he set off to travel around different parts of India, to pursue his dreams. He did every possible odd job he could, in order to support himself. He would sleep at a bus stand, walk several miles, and even sleep on an empty stomach on occasion. This was a journey that taught him the realities of life. It also gave him opportunity to meet and interact with people whom he would have never met otherwise. He made some savings with which he finally purchased “a tenth-hand camera”—his first one.
The next challenge was to buy film rolls for his own photography. “Whenever I took up a commercial assignment, I would save the last few frames for my personal use,” Deepak reminisces. He also learnt the art of developing pictures in a studio, so that he would not have to spend money on getting them done elsewhere. “I learnt photography out of necessity,” he comments.
“ It is always a great experience to interact with young, brewing talent. They keep you alive and pose new challenges.”
A Learning Experience
The necessity, however, soon became a passion. It was a struggle initially, but he slowly began to take up more and more assignments. Somewhere down the line, the artist in him kept reminding him of what he was and what he had set out to do. It pushed him to hone his skills, which later led him to pursue a PhD in Design Education from the Centre for Advanced Studies in Education, of the M S University in Baroda.
Sure enough, these efforts were not going to waste. It took him to the doors of one of the premiere institutes of designing in India.
In the year 2000, he joined the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, as a faculty member. It is here that his journey as a teacher and a “catalyst” for his students started. This is one job that he enjoys the most. In not more than two years, he became the Head of the Department and has been responsible for the growth of the department since then.
As part of his job, he gets a chance to work with fresh, budding photographers and artists. “It is always a great experience to interact with young, brewing talent. They keep you alive and pose new challenges. This is a world where we all learn together”, he says with a smile in his voice.
For Deepak, there is another world beyond NID. He takes up commercial assignments in other genres of photography too—from fashion shoots to industrial photography. He believes that whatever the assignment, “It is the knowledge of art and one’s equipment that helps create the picture. The mind is the most important factor, then comes the eye, and last but, not the least, the camera.”
Deepak’s extensive body of work on light painting is another world all together. This is something that he has pursued purely out of interest. He elaborates, “I created those images using torches, gelatine paper and by manually calculating exposures. You have to constantly experiment to create photographs like these.” His versatility does not end here.
Apart from teaching, commercial assignments and working on different projects, he also indulges in writing having authored three books that are set to release soon! Future Ahead The road ahead, Deepak says, will be another challenge. “Yes, photography in India has evolved slowly. Today, though, it is taking the centre-stage.”
His dream is to create an atmosphere where students can learn the art of photography and inculcate the values of conceptualisation. Kids should be able learn to present proposals, strategise, visualise and then work on their projects.” He sums it up beautifully, “I want to teach those people who want to learn the art, and encourage them to follow the mantra of Let’s try it out!”
Tips by Deepak
- Practise the basics. Then, try to go out of the box.
- Keep experimenting. You will be amazed by the results and it will be a good learning experience too.
- Be sincere. Never compromise when it comes to giving your best shot.
- Be critical about your work. It will help you judge your work and also grow as a photographer and an individual.
About Deepak John Mathew
This 36-year-old research scholar has received a grant from UK India Education and Research Initiative, to develop NID’s photography program into dual MA degree. He also has a keen interest in art, colour and form, illustration, printmaking and painting apart from photography.
Discover more of Deepak’s work on his blog www.djmphotography.blogspot.com