Art À La Carte: Spotlight on Ankur

Jack-of-all-trades is somewhat of an understatement when it comes to describing Ankur and his work. By juggling the life of a molecular and cell biology student at UC Berkeley as well as his work in photography and fashion, Ankur and his work both surpass stereotypes. Ankur’s brand of fashion photography is undoubtedly striking and his portraiture is immensely powerful. He simultaneously captures the allure of the environments that act as his backdrops, while maintaining the focus on the unique identities of the subject of each of his series. There is a sense of absolute equilibrium in his images where every detail complements the next to create a powerful, yet precarious elegance between all the elements of his works.

Check out our interview with the artist here:

Bare Interview with Ankur:

Path to Photography:

What piqued your interest in fashion photography? Did you come to Berkeley intending to major in art/photography, or were there certain experiences here that shaped your decision to undertake this professional path?

I grew up painting and drawing portraiture, so when I started playing around with my camera in 11th grade I was naturally inclined to shoot people. I remember finding my first collection of fashion images in a famous modeling agency’s archives, Giovanni, that’s since buckled. These tear sheets had everything from Revlon ads to Vogue spreads, which I initially used as references to paint from. When I started taking photos, I studied the way the archive’s photographers transformed the same supermodels into so many different characters. This narrative quality aligned with my interests, since I’d rather make up new stories than document life.

I’m a molecular and cell biology major, and only decided to double in art practice in junior year. Berkeley has done nothing but strengthen my interest in fashion, mostly because a few of my art professors don’t see fashion as an art. I’m here to prove them wrong!

Working in Berkeley:

I’ve noticed that many of your photo shoots feature Berkeley students stepping in as your models. Was this a conscious decision on your part to portray students from this campus in the non-stereotypical sense?

There’s so much talent all over this campus that I’ve never felt the need to reach out to signed models. I tend to work with friends because they understand my process or share my aesthetics, making the entire process more creative and productive. You always run a risk when shooting strangers who might be on an entirely different wavelength. And I have the rest of my life to shoot signed models, but only four years to make memories and art with close friends.

I can proudly say that all the students I photograph very much fit the Berkeley stereotype: ambitious, intelligent academics! They’re confident, outspoken people who know who they are and easily tell it to the camera.

How do you feel working with students has influenced your creative process? Is it a collective effort on your part to manage not only the creative aspects of the photography from conception to completion, but to also guide models who might have never been captured in front of the camera in this way?

Working with students means I can get to know them before shooting and tailor my ideas to their personalities. I take into mind their interests, quirks, and skills when planning a shoot so that their natural personality works in tandem with the theme. Some girls are garage grunge and others are pastel princess so I want my concepts to highlight their individual traits.

I always guide my models, new or experienced ones. My best models take risks and aren’t afraid to get weird, which means we only get as creative as they’re willing to go.

What are some of your go-to locations in Berkeley to act as the backdrop for your photo-shoots?

Berkeley’s pretty meh after shooting it for 3 years, but definitely its botanical gardens, movie theaters, and Lake Anza. Shooting on campus always makes me feel like I’m taking grad photos, so I avoid it. I’d much rather explore other areas. I recently shot at an abandoned shipyard, which was kinda way cooler than Berkeley.

Creative Process:

Are there any factors that you feel limit your creative visions at this point in your career. If so, how have you overcome these obstacles to produce a final product that you are happy with?

If I could, I would have access to foreign locations, couture, and set design. But I also think these limitations have pushed me to be a better artist, by making me resourceful and especially good at scouting talent to work with. Sometimes I do have to adjust the theme, like if I don’t have great clothes for a shoot, I’d shoot nudes or make it more minimalist.

Can you describe your creative process from start to finish that goes into producing one of your major photo-shoots?

I’m always browsing art websites to saturate myself with work and find the inspiration that could lead to a shoot idea. After that, I schedule a closet run, where I invite myself over to dig through every piece of clothing my model has. Consider all your options—even a pair of socks can do a lot for an outfit. We spend an hour going through inspiration images together and talk about personalities, poses, and backstories. I speak with designers and tackle the hardest part, finding new locations. I’m definitely a compulsive planner, so I always bring random stuff along on shoots so that I’ll have plenty of opportunities for inspiration. Then comes two rounds of retouching and finally, sprinkling the work over the Internet.

What are some of your other involvements on campus (other organizations/clubs)?

I do graphic design and photography for Innovative Design and I’m the editorial director for Caliber Mag. I do layout design for some campus publications too. I spent my first two years here with FAST, Berkeley’s runway show club.

What camera do you prefer shooting with/ what are some essential pieces of equipment that you would not be without when working?

I always bring baby oil and binder clips, makeup wipes—lipstick has a tendency to get everywhere, toilet paper, sometimes a bed sheet to change under.

I’m not a very gear-heavy person…my Canon Rebel T3i, 2 small lenses (one macro and one wide-angle), an extra battery. I’ll bring a reflector on shoots whenever I have an assistant. That’s it!

Future in Photography:

What are some of your future plans with photography? Where do you see this medium of art taking you?

I’d love to shoot for Vogue India/Italia, Numero, W, Love. I think I’m most excited about the creativity that comes with magazine editorial work, but would also love to shoot ad campaigns (hey, Zara!), designer look books, plenty more swim (hopefully somewhere tropical), and personal work too.

To see more of the artist’s work, click here.

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