Vikram Kushwah shares the intimate and revealing backstory behind his award-winning series

The fashion and documentary photographer tells us about his beautiful series The Education I Never Had, in which he visits the Indian school his father has taught at for the past 35 years, and reflects on how their lives have become so different.

10 December 2019


First to the stage for November’s Nicer Tuesdays was Vikram Kushwah, the Oxfordshire-based and New Delhi-born photographer. Shining a light on his process and main influences, he began by explaining his role as an art photographer, creating self-initiated projects, as well as working a fashion photographer for various magazines. What garnered the most attention, however, was his most recent photo series, The Education I Never Had.

Providing necessary context to the series, Vikram led us through the “complexities” found within his photographs – a challenge, usually, but he explained how most of his pictures are “understood when they’re experienced, rather than when they’re explained.” Most likely due to the fact that the pulls much of his inspiration from surrealism, counting lucid dreaming and Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny as keen instigators throughout his work. “It’s the uneasy and unsettling feeling that you get without knowing what’s really wrong with what you’re looking at,” he continued to explain about his influences. “I draw a lot from my childhood storybooks.” Dark yet magical, he then told the audience how he prefers them to reach their own conclusions while looking at his work.

“Now, for the main course,” he said, “I’m going to talk about my latest photo series.” The Education I Never Had is a thoughtful and intimate investigation into his past and one that needed a little bit of a backstory – Vikram discussed his poor upbringing just outside of New Delhi, and the moment his father sent him to one of the most elite boarding schools in India after the discovery that he was using bad swearwords. This involved his father selling his inheritance and receiving many bank loans. Fast-forward 35 years, Vikram told us how he’d been showing his father his photographs. “He doesn’t get it,” he continued. As his father questioned the dark and grim premise behind his work, this ignited a huge realisation of the divide between the life of his father and his own.

This realisation forms the crux of the project, which Vikram goes on in detail to explain as a “return”. “I wanted to understand his sacrifices and go back to take a glimpse into his world he’d been living in, and the school he’d been teaching in for 35 years.” He concluded: “It’s a reminder of what my life could have easily been."

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