Achal Mishra views his atmospheric photography as a means of keeping a diary
Regularly returning to his locations, the Mumbai-based photographer uses contrasting light, shadow and colour to create his evocative work.
- Olivia Hingley
- 31 January 2022
Achal Mishra’s photographic practice has a nomadic, restless quality. Usually involving him “driving around, responding to colour and light” the photographer views his work as “equivalent in a way to keeping a diary”. Liking to place “limitations” on himself, whether that be through his choice of lens or deciding to shoot through his car’s windshield, his photos of deserted buildings, half-lit rooms and imposing buildings are always so considered and cleanly composed.
For Achal, his photography practice began in his childhood with a small digital point-and-shoot which he used to pass the time during his summer holidays. It wasn't until his parents bought him a DSLR that he realised he wanted to “travel around like a National Geographic photographer”. His studies at film school in London – and interactions with the work of Todd Hido, Joel Meyerowitz and Reghubir Singh – then solidified his love for the medium and pushed him to explore its boundaries.
Whilst Achal’s photographs offer such an interesting and perceptive focus on place, he tells us that he isn’t actually that inspired by “place”. Instead, it is the very act of photographing that helps him gauge a sense of place and form attachments to it. “Most of my recent work has been done in places I’ve lived in over the last couple of years, places I’d like to call home. So I don't think the place matters so much in that way. If you placed me anywhere, I’d start photographing. I think it helps me make sense of the place, or in other words, to find a home.”
When Achal develops an attraction to a place through his photography, he often finds himself returning to it: “I have found myself returning to spots to photograph them across a span on time. The composition remains the same, but it is the little details and differences in colour and light that excite me.” The most prolific of these ongoing projects is Achal’s series centring on the old Banyan tree near his hometown. Focusing on depicting the tree throughout the years, the photos capture the ephemeral quality of the seasons wonderfully. Serene summer scenes shift to show the gnarled, aged tree suffering from a bushfire, whilst others show it enveloped in an eerie mist. Having now returned to the scene so much, Achal tells us that “visiting the tree whenever I’m in my hometown now feels similar to visiting an old friend to check on how they are doing”.
Achal crafts such a sense of atmosphere in his work through his attention to lighting, skies and shadows. In his series of photos on Mumbai, the deep blue sky – a side effect of the Monsoon season – contrasts spectacularly with the harsh yellow of the artificial street lights, creating such visual drama and friction. Exaggerating the already oversaturated colour in his editing process, Achal sees his photographs palette as the key to their “mood” and “emotional context”. Explaining as to why so many of his pictures are taken in the early evening or nighttime, Achal says that it wasn't a “conscious” choice at first, “but with time I realised I was liking the gentler, soft light of the evenings, and the nuances of the colour it produces.” At this latter time in the day, he also enjoys how time limited the transitions it light can be – “sometimes it's only a matter of a few minutes – the light comes and goes”. Full of subtlety, discerning use of light and colour and recurring landscapes, Achal’s photography so perfectly captures the transitory nature of space and time.
Achal Mishra: Mumbai (Copyright © Achal Mishra, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.