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JJ Valaya comes out as a photographer
Fashion designer JJ Valaya's first book is a paen to Delhi, in which he dresses and photographs contemporary characters in royal costume
Master couturier JJ Valaya has taken a triumphant dive into photography, claiming he needed to get his creative juices flowing.
The Mumbai launch of "Decoded Paradox", his coffeetable book homage to the fine-arts and New Delhi, was well received.
“We’ve pretty much made our reputation in fashion,” Valaya says, surrounded by some of the country’s best wedding clothes. “But I’ve been taking pictures way longer than I’ve been designing clothes.”
Valaya started snapping his classmates in 1987 at the National Institute of Fashion Technology where he had enrolled after giving up his alternate career path as a chartered accountant.
“I realized, about ten years into design, that I was spending too much time trying to explain to photographers what I wanted. Invariably I used to end up directing my own shoots,” says Valaya.
Not many know that Valaya has been shooting his own campaigns and some editorial, since 2000.
Valaya plays a triple role as stylist, designer and photographer again for "Decoded Paradox."
The elaborately staged and highly stylized black and white images merge two worlds -- Mughal and Rajput royalty from 500 years ago, and the New Delhi of today.
Photographs of contemporary New Delhi residents elaborately dressed in costumes and accessories sourced from the House of Valaya archives, as well as from select private collections, are juxtaposed against 21st century India settings and backdrops.
Valaya points out that the book and the photographs were not conceived as just another platform for his clothes.
“Obviously my parallel lives of designer and photographer intersect at multiple points, they spill over and create sub-sects of each other,” he says.
Valaya brings to the images his expertise in the textile industry, with detailed research of the clothing of that era.
But the real fun, he says, was in the shoots.
Not wanting to shoot New Delhi in the typical way featuring historic tombs and minarets, Valaya’s challenge was to bring a subject from 500 years ago into the middle of the chaotic Indian capital -- "an evolving avatar of a future city," as he describes it.
“The subject has to be blissfully unaware of what’s going on around him or her. That’s what makes the image,” exclaims Valaya.
Using no fashion models, his subjects were people from all walks of life.
"The casting process, as in the selection of nobility, was perhaps one of the most critical aspects of this show," Valaya says. "Irrespective of which strata of society they belonged to, my selection was based purely on one criterion: a distinguished presence."
Among the chosen models were fashion stylist Pernia Querishi and event organizer Nishant Peralta, hotelier Aman Nath, artist Subodh Gupta and artist Satish Gupta’s son -- all people whose faces reflect a certain persona that lends itself to the aura Valaya wanted to project.
And these were all people who had never sat before a camera. At least, not like this.
In one frame a girl dressed as a maharani sits on a chair next to a street girl on the pavement. In another a hungover, sleep-deprived Peralta radiates nawab-like nonchalance in the middle of a crowd.
“There was no conscious intent. I wanted people to have their own interpretation of two Indias, of beautiful clothes and bubble lives, to show what royalty has to come to today, or maybe even a tongue-in- cheek poke at them. It’s whatever you want to understand regal as -- that’s the beauty of art,” says Valaya, who somehow manages to walk the fine line between staged and authentic.
However he will not take all the credit for the project.
“It was like divinity was at work for the entire shoot. The strangest people appeared around us and I managed to get my subjects during intense emotions or moments, which perfected the staging,” he remembers. "People and props magically appeared to contribute that missing detail and the weather would change suddenly to give us that perfect hue."
Currently busy completing his Couture Week collection, Valaya lets on that fashion does have a lot to do with photography.
“For now the two sub-sets of fashion and photography are merging, who knows what will happen in the future?”
"Decoded Paradox" is available for Rs 3,300 on request at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +91 8800 554 489; www.artofvalaya.com