Exploring notions of masculinity and south Asian identity, Vivek Vadoliya’s portfolio is exceptionally intimate
Drawn in by the honesty of the documentary medium, the British Indian photographer and director turns his lens onto communities and subcultures.
- Ayla Angelos
- 28 January 2020
University isn’t for everyone. For Vivek Vadoliya, a British Indian documentary and portrait photographer and director, his formal education in fact “sucked a lot of the soul of out making pictures for me,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I’ve fallen in and out of love with photography a few times." Vivek’s spark for photography ignited when he travelled to India with a 35mm camera, during which he captured his surroundings and what he found visually interesting on the streets – “those photographs ended up getting me into university where I studied it.” However, Vivek steered down the path of advertising and worked for five years in the industry with some “inspiring people” and commissions. “I realised how much I missed [photography], quit my job and never looked back.”
With a wealth of projects and commissions now under his belt, the London and Berlin-based photographer beholds an enviable client list that ranges from adidas, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Champion, WeTransfer, and his work has filled the pages of Amuse, Crack magazine, Clash, Sleek magazine, Moon and i-D. Describing his style, Vivek says: “My work is a combination of honest portraiture exploring identity, blended with social realness.” Drawn in by documentary photography in particular, he turns his lens onto communities and subcultures that he finds most interesting. An example of this is within a recent series, titled Brotherhood, that examines modern notions of British Asian masculinity. Each image portrays an honest and telling scene of the subject – achieved with a simple cloth backdrop, a soft yellow filter and subtle poses.
Exploring notions of masculinity and the representation of South Asian identity is paramount throughout Vivek’s work. “I tend to focus on these topics because I use photography and filmmaking to explore myself and other subjects I’m curious about. It’s been a great tool to help me understand myself and delve a little deeper,” he says. “Coming from a patriarchal Asian background, I’ve always questioned what the role of a man is in society.” Thus, he strives to evoke these questions through his camera, demonstrating a curiosity about the constantly evolving way that men present themselves – something that Vivek is constantly drawn to.
GalleryVivek Vadoliya: Brotherhood
One of his favoured recent projects is Bradford in Bloom, which was shot in collaboration with his friend Neesha Champaneria. The two explored her hometown of Bradford – a northern English county of West Yorkshire – in order to collate a series of portraits that “celebrate some of the incredible characters who live there,” Vivek explains. As the seventh largest city in the United Kingdom, Bradford was at the top of the Industrial Revolution and is amongst one of the earliest industrialised settlements, meaning it’s a land riddled with history. “We met some inspiring people such as a youth worker AI, Auntie Polly with her two great dogs Kaya and Austin, to Saf a young hijab boxer who also works at parliament and Ramesh, a 75-year old classical Indian dancer,” continues Vivek. “Often these people are overlooked; it’s easy to miss them but I feel like some of the most inspiring characters can often be sitting right next to us. We just need to slow down and take the time to talk to each other.”
By taking his time to fully understand his subjects, that’s where Vivek is able to capture his narrative. For his process as a whole, if he’s not shooting then he can be found prepping ideas, meeting interesting people to work with or planning his next adventure. “Photography can be quite lonely work,” he adds, “so I try to keep it balanced and social where I can.” Most of his ideas tend to sprout from “the most random of places”, and usually stew for a while on his iPhone notes. “I’m a believer that you have to let an idea grow organically and not rush it too much, but I also think it should be kept simple and not over-complicated.”
Vivek’s portfolio is extensively personal. It draws from much of his own experiences, equally as it does from those he’s photographing. Whether it’s a memory of his past – a nostalgic family trip to the beach, a “moment of insecurity” or from something someone might have said to him – these moments are transcended into the present, creating an exceptionally intimate body of work that helps you understand his subjects all that bit better.
GalleryVivek Vadoliya: Ace & Tate, Through the Eyes
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.