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Tripping the light fantastic

by Steve Zylbergold November 11, 2014
Tripping the light fantastic

Montreal photo artist illuminates the art world with psychedelic manipulations of light

Since the late 1990s, Montreal photographer Kiran Ambwani has been producing critically-acclaimed, award-winning images of people from various unique, ancient cultures all over the world. Her photos and exhibits have raised awareness about important social issues like women’s fight for equal rights, the everyday hardships of oppressed ethnic minorities, deplorable living conditions in poor developing nations, and the difficulties of preserving cultural traditions in the face of globalization. Her work has been praised for its success in visually expressing the complex emotional realities of these situations in a way that simply cannot be communicated with words.

Ambwani’s newest photo exhibit, Lumière Infinie / Infinite Light—which is on display at the Monument National until Nov. 23—is a radical departure from the style for which she has become known. Moving away from socio-culturally motivated photography, she decided to jump head-first into the realm of abstract art, and explore one of the most fundamental and universal elements of life: light.

Photographer Kiran Ambwani often created the pictures with a bit of improvisation, intuition and chance.

By embracing and experimenting with digital photo technology, she has created an unconventional series of abstract images featuring wild, psychedelic renderings of light. Bursting with energy, her pictures offer intense yet playful visuals that go from explosive patterns to unpredictable twisting and turning beams of colour that look like road maps for UFOs, often within a single photo.

“What really excited me about this project is that it was totally based on improvisation, chance and a little bit of intuition,” Ambwani said. “There was no photoshopping, or post-editing. It’s just me playing with the camera while aiming at oscillating light beams. I’d focus, take the shot, but, as I was shooting, I’d shake the camera, or randomly turn on an effect at the spur of the moment. Basically just doing whatever felt right and seeing what happened.”

Just like any kind of improvisatory art, a lot of what came about were moments of spontaneous magic. Some of the real time manipulated images that Ambwani captured look like overlapping luminous tadpoles heading in divergent directions, while others look like explosive shooting stars. Much like some of the beautiful music improvised onstage by artists like John Coltrane or Jimi Hendrix, spiritual beings who thought, worked, and expressed on higher planes of consciousness, what was produced invites and allows spectators to lose themselves in the moment. Looking at Ambwani’s photographic renderings of light often lures viewers into a meditative, hypnotic, trance-like state of mind.

The combination of psychedelic music and Ambwani’s photos could very likely take the human mind places it’s never been. “I’d love to do a live real time exhibit where projections of my images accompany the music of EDM DJs,” Ambwani said. In fact, Erik Amyot, organizer of the EDM Eclipse Festival, used her photo “Phosphorescence” for both the cover and title of Ilai Salvato’s new EP, on Amyot’s Tech Safari label.

It doesn’t look like Ambwani will be abandoning her trademark socio-culturally relevant photo work in favour of creating images for acid-heads to drool over anytime soon, though. She is even doing a project called Objets chéris, in which cancer patients pose with specific objects that have personal meaning and have helped them in their struggle. “Portraiture is really rewarding, I learn a lot, and I do feel it is important to raise awareness. The emotion that you can capture in a photograph of a person’s face can often tell a whole story which can really have a profound effect on viewers and hopefully inspire greater compassion and thoughtfulness.” Ambwani said. “I will definitely do more of those projects in the future. But, right now I am really enjoying what I’m doing, so for now I’ll go with the flow and see what happens.”

Kiran Ambwani’s Lumière Infinie / Infinite Light exhibit is on display at Monument National (1182 St-Laurent Blvd.) until Nov. 23. For more information on Ambwani’s work, visit kiranambwani.com.

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