By examining our world from the viewpoint of a Portobello Mushroom, Sumeet Banerji's Shroomscapes strives to challenge how we see and interpret beauty.
Each photograph begins with Sumeet zooming in on his fungal subjects, giving the viewer a new awareness of its structure and design.
Using only a cylindrical pinhole camera with 120mm film, Sumeet produces his images using a 2 hour exposure time. The result – beautiful, detailed photographs that leave you wanting more.
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After spending the summer working on Shroomscapes during his residency at Dickerman Prints, Sumeet sat down with us to chat about photography, pinhole cameras, life, and mushrooms.
To experience Sumeet's work, please join us on Thursday, September 28, 2017, at Dickerman Prints Gallery for an opening night reception for The Residents. (RSVP HERE)
DICKERMAN PRINTS GALLERY: How did you get started in photography?
SUMEET BANERJI: "As a child, I practiced drawing in an obsessive way. I was a little nuts. I felt it was foundational to establishing a visual language, like if I could learn how to draw, I would be able to speak through pictures. Drawing trains you how to communicate where things are in space. It makes you understand how to make something look large or small. When you study drawing, you are really learning how the human brain processes the visual field.
Drawing was my start in photography. I think that my photographic work now is often a deliberate manipulation of the perceived scale and viewpoints of things. These trends in my photographs are in large part due to my drawing practice."
DPG: What does photography mean to you?
SB: "For me, it’s a kind of puzzle, a way to challenge the mind. You have to be able to look at a three dimensional visual field and have an intuition about how it is going to flatten visually.
Using a pinhole camera with film, the way I shot the Shroomscapes, there was no viewfinder so I couldn’t see what I was doing at all. I calculated and visualized what I could–after that it was a complete mystery until I developed the film."
DPG: What has your biggest challenge been as a photographer?
SB: "I want people to come back to my pictures many times and always find new things. That’s the basic aim: to make a picture that doesn’t lose its impact over time. I’ve found the best way to do this is through my editing process.
Often, I won't look at the pictures I've taken for a long time, creating the possibility of an emotional disconnection. It has to feel like someone else’s work before I can be objective. In the case of The Shroomscapes, I didn’t look at them for five years. If I look at work I’ve made after a long time and still feel an emotional connection to it, I put it out."
DPG: With your shroomscape series- what was your process with the pinhole camera? What were some of the challenges of this project for you?
SB: "The Shroomscapes are made with extremely low tech items. There is no post processing/manipulation. The prints show exactly what was captured on film. The images were made with a cylindrical box (pinhole camera), a portobello mushroom and 120mm film. The warping (in this case straightening) effect is from how the film was wound. The pinhole camera was put right inside the portobello mushroom, within an inch of the stalk so there was very little light. The film had to be exposed for two to three hours.
It is a photographic take on the very old tradition of still life painting. The long exposures made it like oil painting where the image could be manipulated slowly and deliberately.
There is an essay called 'In Praise of Shadows' by the novelist Junichiro Tanizaki that talks about the beauty of shadows and dark spaces. I wanted to capture an image that was in almost total darkness, showing us something from the real world that we can only see through the photographic process–darkness and shadows.
The images that resulted were tonally delicate. Small shifts and inconsistencies in the printing dramatically change the impact of the images. Gabriel, Seth and Garnell at the studio were able to bring the pictures to life in the real world in a very special way."
DPG: What is the future of this body of work?
SB: "I want to expand the series, take more Shroomscapes. Possibly a survey of different species of mushrooms taken with pinhole cameras. I also want to create a series of Cabbagescapes, Avocadoscapes, and maybe even Flowerscapes."
DPG: Do you have any new projects you’d like to tell us about?
SB: "I am starting to release my pictures in a series of volumes. It's going to be a collection of my photographic work in books with small pigment prints inserted into the books. It's a good way to see and own all the work in physical form.
Volume 1 contains four series (including the Shroomscapes) with essays and is coming out this month."