Have you ever felt so drawn by the cover of a book that it intrigues you beyond description, and you cannot help but wonder what mysteries lie within its pages?

I felt the same when I came across Kaushal Parikh’s photobook, ‘Fragments of a Spinning Rock’. The dark cover showed a hundred tiny eyes looking at me as if they had something to tell me. Picking up the book and flipping through the pages opened up an interesting world of monochromatic photographs that begged for attention and interpretation. The fact that it was self-published, made the story behind the book even more intriguing for me, a publisher.

It is therefore an honour to introduce the man behind the book. Describing himself as an ex-banker turned photographer, Kaushal Parikh is a street, travel and documentary photographer based in Mumbai. His unique style of photography juxtaposes street and nature and raw emotions that his audience never fails to connect with.

So, without further ado, presenting the ex-banker, photographer, painter, family man and self-published author:

You describe yourself as an ex-banker turned photographer. Please take us through the journey of this transition and the experience of these different phases of your life. Did you bring anything from your banking skills and experiences into photography?

Kaushal Parikh family

Kaushal’s Family

I worked with a bank for about eight years and was miserable from day one. Just plodded on because it was a ‘respectable’ job paying decent money. It wasn’t until I got married that my wife, on seeing how miserable I was, encouraged me to walk away. By then I had discovered photography and it fed me creatively and helped balance the banking job.  So when I finally did walk away I started working with a dotcom travel startup that also provided avenues to spend more time shooting. When the dotcom bubble burst I was left jobless and decided to pursue photography full time.

Moving from travel and NGO photography I finally discovered street photography and the works of Bresson and Raghu Rai. I was immediately hooked. The idea of walking around with a camera and capturing everyday moments in interesting ways was very appealing. That is probably the time I truly fell in love with photography. There weren’t that many people doing it in India then. It has been amazing to see how this genre has spread in India and worldwide today. There is a global explosion of street photography now, which in my view is the best documentation of our times.

Your first book ‘Fragments of a Spinning Rock’ has been made for your son, to introduce him to your work. What was his response to the book when you first made it and has that response changed or evolved over time?
I always dreamt of showcasing my work in a book. And a few years after my son was born two things happened. Firstly I wanted to leave behind something tangible for my son to show what his father did; something he would hopefully be proud of years later. He is eight right now and still a little young to truly appreciate the book but I intend to go through it with him in a couple of years. And secondly, I was tired of street photography. I think I reached a point where I wanted to go beyond just capturing random moments without having something to say. So I thought it was a good time to put my images together in a book, and then move on to different things from there.

You describe the book as being in the making for 10 years before you finally published it. Please take us through the genesis of the book, and what creating the book meant for you.
Photo book with black and white cover by Kaushal ParikhLike I said the book was a culmination of a decade of work at the end of which I needed a change. I wanted to move to a different style of photography. Something more personal and with more purpose. But before doing that I was keen to showcase the work I had made up to that point and the book seemed like the best idea. And I knew if I didn’t do it then it would never happen. A book would be the perfect end, opening the door to a new beginning.

Putting together the book was a mammoth task. I had to choose a handful of images from hundreds. Editing, sequencing and designing a book were all alien concepts and for some reason, I chose to do it myself.

“I somehow find it weird to let a stranger edit and sequence my work because then it becomes their perception.”

Maybe it makes sense if commercial success is important but that was not the case for me. Of course, doing it myself meant that there were many mistakes and looking at the book today there are definitely some things I would do differently. But it is entirely my voice and I own the mistakes but I also feel very happy when someone appreciates the book. Fortunately, it was well-received!

The book brings together your life as a family man, a photographer, and your perception of life around you. Please share some thoughts on this.
This came about organically. As I was editing and sequencing my work I started to feel really grateful that my wife was so supportive and so I felt like I had to include her as she was such an important fragment of my life. And then of course my son became the most important fragment for both my wife and myself. Before my son was born we had our dogs who were and still are like our kids. My book would never feel complete if I couldn’t include these critical individuals that make me who I am today.

Why did you choose to self-publish the book? Please shed some light on the process – from the curation of the images to designing, to the use of poetry in the book and opting to create a black and white book.

Kaushal Parikh book

Inside Fragments of a Spinning Rock

Self-publishing was something I decided from the start. I wanted to control the entire process without any outside influences. Going to a publisher would bring in the commercial angle which is something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

For printing the book I decided on digital printing which allowed me to print a small run of 300 books at a very reasonable unit cost. I decided on 300 books as the total cost was an amount I was willing to write off entirely so even if I didn’t sell a single book I could live with it. I designed it myself and chose to spread each image across two pages so they would be larger. In hindsight, I would have played around with the design more had I done it today. But, as you know we all have 20/20 hindsight!

Black and white was again a deliberate choice. Since I am colour blind, I used to find colour intimidating and preferred shooting in monochrome. After this book was published though, colour is something I forced myself to embrace. And now that I have started painting as well, colour has become my friend and being colour blind often works in my favour.

As for the poetries, I asked this amazing writer and friend, Tara Sahgal, to pen a poem for the images in the book.  I decided not to write prose because things end up being too clearly explained and leave little to the viewers’ imagination. So, I gave Tara a minimal brief of my feelings towards the book and she took it from there. And I really love how she managed to express my intentions through her poems.

The interview would be incomplete without a question dedicated to the cover of the book. It is an impactful cover where the visual and the title do a beautiful tango. Please take us through the creative process that led you to this cover.
The cover picture was shot in Hyderabad during a workshop I was conducting. The white dots are all bat’s eyes looking down from the ceiling. There is no deep reason why I chose this for the cover apart from the fact that it made for a nice design and spread across to the back cover in a seamless manner. The title is self-explanatory but I wanted it to read in a slightly poetic way and I remember the earth being referred to as a rock in a TV show title and so I started from there. 

“I wanted to include the fact that the images were all moments in time. And since the eyes could be interpreted as tiny moments or fragments I gradually worked my way to Fragments of a Spinning Rock.”

Your work was featured in a book collective of 20 photographers in 2014 and images have also been published across various prominent magazines over the years, both nationally and internationally. What do you attribute your success to? How was the self-publishing experience different from being published by others?

Kaushal in Pondicherry

Inside Fragments of a Spinning Rock

Apart from shooting a lot, I am not really good at marketing myself. But I always tend to do things my way and I take risks and I guess these things sometimes stand out in the end. With self-publishing, I had total control. I had no one to answer to but myself. Sometimes it was tough but like I said I like taking risks and I maintained faith in myself and kept at it.

I knew how much I wanted to spend and more importantly, I knew how much I was willing to invest with the possibility of no return. Then I went about doing things keeping this figure in mind. It was a bonus that in the end, the book was financially more successful than I expected it would be and most of the 300 copies sold and the remaining few continue to sell albeit less frequently.

With the increased consumption of images, photographs and video content via social media, do you believe that creating books still make sense? If yes, is the approach different from, maybe 5 or 10 years ago?
I think books make even more sense today.  The explosion of images online have diluted the quality of photography and I long for good books that put together a tight collection of images that sing together.

Sometimes I feel that books today put too much emphasis on design or try too hard to be esoteric, sometimes taking the focus away from the images themselves. I suppose that comes from the fact that today it is much easier to make a good image and the challenge lies in saying something meaningful with your work in as unique a way as possible.  A good balance of design and content would obviously be ideal.

In 2011 you also founded a street photography collective called ‘That’s Life’. Please tell us more about what prompted this, the journey and its impact on the photography community.

Street Photography by Kaushal Parikh

Street Photography by Kaushal Parikh

When I started with street photography there were not many people practising it in India. I felt like I was creating interesting work and I wanted to spread an understanding of the genre partially for selfish reasons of having my work appreciated, but mainly to gain peers in the field. I invited an internationally recognised street photography instructor at the time, Eric Kim, to come to Mumbai and teach street photography. The workshops were a huge success and over 70 people participated in over three workshops. Eric gave me the idea of getting a few good street photographers together to form a collective and showcase our work.

So I decided to take his advice and since there were already a few collectives around I decided to differentiate and start a collective of street photography from India. That’s Life was very well received internationally and helped inspire young photographers while also getting our own work noticed.

Any plans to create another book? Would you do anything differently this time?
Maybe, but this time it would be more personal and would have a very clear subject and message. Something meaningful that I want to say with photography. But it would still be self-published.

Our Interview Takeaways

Kaushal Parikh Tips

Intrigued by the wonders of self-publishing and street photography? Let Kaushal know your thoughts @kaushalpar or visit his website, www.kaushalp.com, to learn about his current projects.

Published On: April 23rd, 2021 / Categories: Interviews, Self Publishing Diaries /