Max Vadukul in conversation with Eugenie Dalland, Issue 9
I remember the first time I came upon Max Vadukul’s photography: It was my birthday, and I was happily carousing in my apartment with a few dozen people. A friend had gifted me an enormous book with the name MAX sprawled across its cover. Curious, I flipped it open to the middle and was immediately transported by what I saw. The photograph I had in front of me was of a young woman in profile, lunging forward on a city street and sheathed in a black dress, with a grin on her face and her gloved hand shooting out in front of her. She seemed almost ready to charge off the page and into my living room. I followed her direction and raced through the rest of the book, delighted with my discovery of a photographer who captured what I valued most in pictures: passion, spontaneity, energy, life, imagination, humor, and joy, with a certain purist sensibility of pursuing beauty in all its forms and guises. The images were raw and direct, and the emotion of their subjects as well as that of their creator was quite palpable. Whoever this Max was, I felt we were chasing the same thing.
Several years later, I decided it was time to try and contact Vadukul’s studio to see if we might be granted the privilege of republishing some of the images that had so inspired and fascinated me. Lo and behold my wish was granted. The following text is a transcript of the interview I conducted with Vadukul over the course of two visits to his studio in the spring of 2017. It is said that one should never meet one’s idols, as they typically do not live up to one’s image of them. My experience was quite the opposite.
Max Vadukul: First, I have to ask: Why did you pick me? It’s actually a good question, so I understand what you’re going for.
Eugenie Dalland: I love your work.
MV: It’s important to know, you know? I sometimes wonder, with any relationship, even an intern, why somebody’s there. There has to be a reason why someone is working with you, and their only reason is one thing: want, which is what human beings do, isn’t it?
ED: It’s true.
MV: They want things.
MV: Where do you want to start?
ED: At the beginning. Where are you from?
MV: My life began in Kenya, and it is a very, very beautiful memory. Of course, at 9 years old you remember things very well. It’s not like a lost memory. It was a very simple life, a great life. But don’t think that it was like Peter Beard or Out of Africa, that kind of romanticized version of Kenya. My parents were Indian—my mother was born in Rajkot, where Gandhi was born, actually—and was promised to an arranged marriage at 8 years old to my father who was born in Kenya. They lived there and started a family around the time that Kenya had gotten its independence from the British in 1963.
Life was very sweet. I grew up in an extended family: cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents—everybody together. It was fantastic! A very solid, secure family life. I grew up speaking Swahili and Gujarati. English was only randomly sprinkled in. School was sitting under a tree with your legs crossed and with a little blackboard, and hopefully it didn’t rain. My dad started as a grocer and then eventually learned to type, got a job as a secretary at a camera care shop, and ended up working with the Carl Zeiss lens company in that area of Kenya. He ended up becoming a very passionate amateur [photographer], and he always had cameras in the house and especially in the car. Part of his job was to travel along the East Coast of Africa—the British colonial part, which would be Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, you know, Zanzibar—and to sell equipment to cinematographers, people like that. In any case, I did a lot of safari with my father, which basically meant being yanked from school and instead sitting in a car with him to keep him company.
ED: How old were you at that time?
MV: Around 9 or 10 years old. Following Kenya’s independence, there was a lot of unrest because the Indian population, which constituted the middle class, was running most of the businesses. There was rioting. I remember being in the shower one day—we were living in Nairobi West, I think—and my dad came in and just yanked me out of the shower, toweled me up quickly, and said, “We’re leaving now! You can’t take anything with you; everybody gets in the car!” I have no idea where I was heading. At that time I think the British were allowing a very small number of British subjects to go to England. So we somehow ended up in England, and it happened very quickly. I remember when we got to the immigration office in England, the officer looked at my mother’s bag and said, “Is this all you’ve got?” I remember my father telling us, “OK, you can’t ask for any toys, you can’t ask for anything. Life’s gonna be different.” And that was it. It was a hell of a shock.
ED: I can’t imagine what that must have been like.
MV: It doesn’t settle in until you’re actually installed in the community. There were some things that I recognized, like the Beatles, the [Rolling] Stones, The Shadows, Cliff Richard—all kinds of musicians that would come through the radio at the time in Kenya. The cars you’d see on the street there, I saw those in Kenya too. I remember the first school I went to in London: Woodside Park Primary School. All my teachers were women, which made me terribly happy. I thought, “Oh, I like this! This is so cool! Why do they always wear these red lipsticks?” And all of a sudden, I started being called Max, instead of my given name. Basically I inherited a dog’s name, you know, three letters. The name you’d give to an Alsatian or maybe a German Shepherd, so at least there’s some ferocity to it. But I became a “Max” very quickly. I had to adapt. I wanted to be accepted by the other kids.
ED: Did you choose this name?
MV: No, they chose. It’s just the way kids are; they decide your name is too long so they come up with something else. They could have called you a “wog,” which by today’s standards would be considered “a colored man.” It’s a racist term if you want to get into it, but words never hurt me. So Max became Max. It was still very tough to be part of anyone’s club, but luckily having a camera was wonderful for me.
ED: So, were you taking pictures at this point?
MV: The camera was always in the house. I used to fiddle around with my dad’s camera until one day he found out that the pictures he got [developed] were not ones that he took. They’d all be of a daffodil or a plant in the garden, in or out of focus, and he figured that it was me. So he said, “Here, why don’t you just keep it?” The passion started with that. It was all I was interested in at that point. I couldn’t care less about the rest of it. By the time I was 15 or 16, all I did was go to the library. It was a very beautiful place. I found books on Erté, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Bill Brandt, the history of photography—books that taught you how to process film, what sort of chemicals to use, how it all worked. It was just fantastic. All my friends wanted to do was get laid, but I was fascinated by what I found. And I was lucky because my dad would give me at least a roll of film once a week to work with. I was fairly self-taught at that point. There are certain kinds of refugee programs today, I think, where people are given cameras, and you know, it’s a kind of way for them to bypass the language problems and the difficulties of assimilation. Go through a lens, you know. Photograph things. It’s a good healing process. It’s a great way to experience life without getting too involved, but you’re still learning a lot.
ED: Can you talk a bit more about this new life for you and your family?
MV: We moved very often, every six months, and we had to change schools all the time. We just had to constantly readjust. Sometimes my brother and I would play truant, but what we were really doing was taking our mother to factories in Enfield, where we lived at the time, to find work for her. Like the Crayola Crayons factory, Royal Small Arms Factory, or M.K. Electronics (which makes plugs for the wall).
Eventually she found employment at a laundry, which was good. We managed to get going. We were taught very early to cook, and we became very good chefs, but you’re left alone to cope with life, and I would say in retrospect that it was really hard. It was a tough environment to wake up to. We also had to deal with the skinheads. It was around 1975 at that point, and you had the National Front. I just remember being cornered at school by maybe six skinheads. They’d just beat the crap out of you. From that day on, you understand what extreme right-wing racism is, though you don’t understand it politically. I understand that now, but at the time, to me, it was just like, well there are people that don’t like you. Just try to not be around them, or if you see them, your fear factor has to kick in and you have to be somewhere else. They’d put firecrackers in our letter box too.
ED: That’s horrible!
MV: That kind of thing happened for at least four years. Luckily though, I would say most of them eventually realized it was a bad thing to do. We actually became friends with some of them.
MV: Yes, they felt really bad about the way they’d treated us, which of course came from their parents.
ED: That’s typically where prejudice starts.
MV: But thank goodness for those individuals who were able to challenge it. I’d experienced racism in a very physical way. But by that point, I’d moved on, and the camera and photography, and the library, were a way to get ahead.
ED: So these things were a kind of escape?
MV: Yes, the library was very central to me. But at a certain point my family tried to arrange a marriage for me, which was just not going to happen. I do not berate them one tiny bit for it. They were doing everything right, and these kinds of things were just arranged then. But the marriage thing was a bit claustrophobic for me. All of my aunts and uncles, who had come over from Kenya by this point, would hound the hell out of me, and I would simply say, “No, I’m sorry.”
ED: How old were you?
MV: I would have been about 16. I just thought, “Goddamnit! I’ve got this camera here, and I can’t just shoot the suburbs. I need to get out of here!” But how the hell am I going to get out when there’s no money? But my passion was there, so I started looking for work. I think I called around 500 photographers that I found in the yellow pages, and finally one guy replied. His name was Jay Myrtle, and he was an American soldier who had fought in Vietnam and was living in England. He said to me, “I don’t need to know how much you know, I like your enthusiasm and I’d like to exploit that.” He was a funny guy. To this day he’d probably be very reluctant to admit it, but he did do some porn shoots at one point. I went to his studio in Paddington, which was at that time very seedy. Jay came out in a blue denim suit with desert boots and a unicycle. He said, “Here’s a unicycle. If you can ride this in three days, you got the job.” I said, “What about photography?” He said, “If you can do this, then everything else is going to be easy.”
In three days, I came back and I could go in a straight line and that was good enough for him. First he told me how to do coffee, then after two weeks I became the receptionist, and then came bookkeeping and invoicing. I hated that stuff, but I learned how to run a business. From there, I moved into the darkroom, and he taught me how to process film, how to do prints, how to work with enlargers, how to dry things. It was fantastic. Once I became good at that, he moved me into the studio. He also taught me carpentry and electrical work, so that I knew how to build sets. Finally we moved on to lightning and exposures, camera loading, etc. He was really crazy about details, and that was something very valuable.
ED: That’s quite an education!
MV: After six months I decided to quit. I thought, “I know how to do this, and I know what I want.” Photography for me is not about the camera. It’s psychological: how you think and how you see and what it is that you want to communicate—an emotion or feeling or just information. It can be banal. So I set my sights on that. Reportage photography was very present in my mind because I was so much in love with the work of Lartigue, Brandt, and so on. All those images were in my head, you know, at a very early stage. So I decided to go to New York. It was the early 1980s, and I wanted to go see what was going on because all the big guys were there—[Irving] Penn, Richard Avedon, and so on. I arrived in the United States with a camera I borrowed from my brother-in-law, a little Pentax MX camera and one lens, and I had about 20 rolls of film. It was summertime, and all I did was sleep on park benches and take pictures on the street. I was really living like a bum. I took pictures of things that I thought were interesting. I returned to England when my visa expired, processed the material, and got really excited. I suddenly realized that I had something here that was talking back to me, that I had something I could own. I thought, “This is mine, and nobody can take this from me. I know how to do this, this is my thing!”
I was driven by a great personal desire to have my own signature. I mean, I didn’t even know the word “signature” at that time. It was just simply that I wanted the pictures to be recognizable as mine. That was the only barometer. I did a portfolio of 20 prints and took them around to magazines, which was the only way to find out if you had a shot. You have to understand that, back then, magazines had real clout. They truly had real power to influence and shape public opinion. That’s where you learned what was going on. You know, if Vogue said this or that, then it was so.
ED: It’s not the same today, clearly.
MV: What they said was indisputable. And here’s another thing about that time: You could literally call the editors directly at these magazines, and they would see you! Just like that. They’d sit down with you and talk to you about your work.
ED: That is certainly not the case today! Wow!
MV: One of the editors I saw was the renowned [fashion editor] Grace Coddington, then [at British Vogue]. I sat there with Grace, and she said, “Your work is really strong and very original, but we’d have a tough time using you here because you haven’t shot any fashion models in these pictures.” And I said, “Grace”—and I cannot believe I was so direct!—“you have to get me the girl! Get me the girl and I’ll show you what I can do!”
ED: What was her response?
MV: She started laughing and said, “Not so easy to get into Vogue, buddy!” Something like that. “You’ve got to make a few rounds, but you’ve got something strong here, Max.” I did my rounds, but I realized it was kind of hopeless in England.
ED: Were you getting the same feedback from everyone?
MV: Yes. England at the time was all about very soft focus, you know, photographs of Princess Diana. Everything had pastel colors. It was very quaint. The style of photography at the time was just very soft. My work had a very hard, tough, violent black-and-white mood to it. It was aggressive. You could feel that this guy had something in his mind that he’s screaming about. So I guess that was a bit threatening for them. I thought, “Well, Great Britain has some of the best soccer [football] players, and all of them are total hooligans, very aggressive. And they’re very quiet if you talk to them, but once you let them on a soccer field, they can cause great damage. They’ve got a kind of latent anger, which is what I sort of thought of myself. I’d been quiet all this time, for many years. I’d had to move constantly, change languages twice, and thanks to the camera, I’d been able to get this far.
ED: So what did you do?
MV: There was a very famous film producer at the time called David Putnam, who was from the same area in North London where I lived, Enfield. In the ’60s he had been an agent to some big photographers like Guy Bourdin, Richard Avedon, and David Bailey, so I knew he had this feel for photography. I hoped that maybe he might have a little empathy with me. I called his company up and left a message, and lo and behold, like a month later, he called back! And he said, “What can I do for you?” I said, “Well, I’m just starting out. I don’t want to waste your time, but can you please tell me if I am wasting mine? All I want you to do is look at my work and tell me if it’s got something that you think has a real voice.” At first he told me he was too busy, but eventually he told me to come in and bring my six best prints. I took them in, and he simply said, “You’ve got it. This is great photography!” He told me, “Just keep shooting this over and over again. What you’ve got to do is to stick with this and keep going.”
ED: Stick to your guns.
MV: Well, that was very sincere, intelligent advice. I said, “But David, I’m trying to make a living. I don’t have a trust fund here.” It was a tough life, you know, growing up in a council estate, with a mother that’s been brought to England, has her entire life destroyed, and is terrified of stepping out of the door because she can’t speak the language, and with a father who speaks perfect English but the moment the door opens, “Oh, colored man at the door! Sorry, sir, the job’s gone!” I understood very clearly their experiences. David simply replied, “A living? You’re young! You don’t have to worry about this right now. Take any random job, it doesn’t matter. Just keep going. But perfect this.”
ED: I know that at around this time you wound up in Paris where you landed your first fashion shoot. What prompted that move?
MV: At that point I just thought, “I’m done with England! I’ll go where I think I’ll be loved.” So I went to France, and it was back to the grind of sleeping on park benches. There were only three magazines that I wanted to see: French Vogue, Marie Claire, and Elle. At that time, those magazines were really astonishing. You had [photographers] like Hans Feurer, Sarah Moon, and Deborah Turbeville shooting for them. I took my photographs around and got great responses—they were truly excited. There was a guy at Marie Claire, his name was Walter, and he was this cigarette-smoking, wine-drinking art director with a saggy chin who would take three-hour lunches every day, and he really loved photography and photographers. He said, “You’re wrong for all of us, actually, but you are right for one person, and I’m going to make it happen.” And that person was [fashion designer] Yohji Yamamoto.
ED: Who was disputably one of the most important fashion designers of the time. That was such a pivotal moment in fashion in the mid-80s, and Yohji was at the forefront of it. Did you know who he was?
MV: Nope. I was sent over there, and I had no idea who Yohji was. I went in and presented my print box to them.
ED: What images did you show?
MV: It was all street photography. I met with his PR, Marc Ascoli. He came back after five minutes and said, “Yohji wants you to shoot his next ad campaign.” I was like,“Yeah, great.” Someone in the office asked me, “Do you understand what he’s just asked you?” and I go, “Yeah, he wants me to shoot stuff.” And he goes, “Yeah, but do you understand what ‘Yohji’ is? Do you understand that this is the biggest thing happening!” And I just thought, “No idea, I just have no idea.” But, I mean, I did know that it was big and how important it was for me.
ED: I’m always struck by this story because it’s so inconceivable for that to happen today. No one is willing to take even the smallest chance on an unknown photographer.
MV: Not at all. I mean, I think that today it’s all over.
ED: What do you mean?
MV: I don’t mean [for] photography, but the love of creating out of joy, the love of creating even out of ignorance, the love of creating out of passion. Like, everything about making fashion images today is calculated and sized up before you even get hired for a job. Everything, every idea, has to be vetted. How do you like it when somebody tells you how a book is going to end before you’ve read it? This is exactly what I deal with now in editorial. I mean, it’s what an editor-in-chief has to deal with too, and the fashion director—the whole creative team basically.
ED: Everything has to be approved by corporate or, worse, by the PR team. And the only value system they understand is sales or how many Instagram followers a person has!
MV: Today, I always have to say to [editors], “Don’t tell me the end of the story because I haven’t seen the film yet!” They tell you how it ends. They tell you exactly what they want to see so by the time you’ve gone through the journey of shooting, it’s not fun anymore. It has no life at all.
ED: I imagine the way you came up with the concept for Yohji's campaign was very different.
MV: It was. I really wanted to shoot in New York. There was a dirtiness about the city. It was still quite dangerous. I really liked New York. I thought, “What I want is [for] the girls to arrive like birds, landing on the pavements of New York, and I want to see what life is like around them, and the camera’s just there.” So we got on a plane, and we cast in New York. It was a two-day shoot with two models. It was just me and an assistant carrying a bag for me.
ED: What was your communication like with Yohji?
MV: As a matter of fact, he didn’t speak much English. He really didn’t communicate that much, which was perfect for me because I didn’t want to [have to] explain anything! It was all about the excitement. It’s not about focus groups, it’s just totally direct. That’s it—go and do your thing. And the funniest part is that I still didn’t have my own camera!
ED: I’ve heard this story!
MV: They paid me, I think it was $5,000 in cash, which was a lot to me! I’d never made $5,000 in my life. So while the models were having their hair and makeup done, I literally ran to Willoughby’s [Camera shop], got a Nikon F3 with the brand new motor drive, put some batteries in it, and got about 40 rolls of Tri-X film and only one lens. And that was it.
ED: Totally guerrilla style! How amazing.
MV: I had a little light meter, and I think I asked the publicist, “Can you find me some kid to help me carry a bag, please? That’s all. Just carry the bag. I don’t need an actual assistant.” So that’s how I did it. Everything was moving so fast. The crew kept asking, “Where are we going?” I said, “I don’t know! I’m not excited yet. We just keep going until I get excited. If I see something, I do something.” And that’s the method I used to work with for a long, long time. That’s essentially how I got started, and black-and-white [photography] was really the foundation of that work.
ED: Can you tell me a bit more about how this experience compares to shooting fashion editorials for a magazine today?
MV: We didn’t need to ask permission! And those that commissioned us for editorial didn’t dare question us. All the power was down to the photographer, basically. The years between those early Yohji years and when I moved to Paris where I started shooting French Vogue, all black and white, were just magnificent. Those editorials are historical, and they’re still phenomenal today. Those are examples of shoots that are based out of the same kind of preparation and wildness and enthusiasm. It’s a bit like this: Imagine you’ve gone and seen, I don’t know, a really great film. We meet. You’ve got a brush, and I’ve got a makeup box. We talk about this movie. You’ve got a face here. Suddenly we talk about it, and suddenly this face turns into something that excited you and excited me. As opposed to today, where some idiot shows you a mood board that shows you how it’s going to look, what it’s going to be. And despite the fact that you’ve had a fucking orgasm seeing this film, you’re now asked to eliminate all of the excitement and just follow [a prompt]. I mean, why even bother? There is no point!
MV: Do I sound angry and pissed off? I am! I mean, of course I am, because this is cannibalizing not only an industry, but it’s cannibalizing our sensitivity. It’s cannibalizing our curiosity. And without this [approach], there is no hope. When I look at the work of young photographers or students today, I’m not excited. And don’t tell me that I can’t get excited because I go and see Francis Picabia paintings at the MoMA show, and I’m sitting there for the fifth time staring at this painting, and I’m like, “WOW, that’s amazing!” When I look at these kids’ [portfolios] I think, “Come on guys, impress me! You’re just knocking off something that you’ve seen on the Internet. You pull up a picture and you copy a bit of this, copy a bit of that. You’ve actually done nothing. Nothing came out of your head.” I’m not saying there aren’t good photographers out there. Of course there are. But there isn’t much out there I want to sing about. I do love Ryan McGinley. I think Ryan McGinley is fabulous, and he’s got his thing going. It’s perfect. What he’s doing is exactly where I was when I was trying to explain to Yohji what I wanted to do. It’s like, “This thing, it’s my thing. This is what I wanna do. I don’t care if you don’t understand it. I don’t want to be understood.” I sit here many times thinking about projects I would like to work on, and often I almost think, “Why do I even have to bother asking a magazine anymore?” because everything has to go through a sad vetting process.
ED: It’s hard not to feel fenced in on all sides.
MV: It’s bullshit. The respect that you had for a stylist or an editor or a journalist or a photographer back then was incredible. I would never put words into someone else’s mouth! But this lot, they tamper with everything. My business and love of shooting editorials has morphed into something that I simply don’t recognize anymore as editorial.
ED: How has social media or digital media in general influenced image making?
MV: There will always be somebody who’ll find a clever answer for saying that it’s great. To me personally, it feels destroyed. Where is the photographer who’s able to take you apart and find something amazing about you just through that personal connection—the manipulation of you without a [postproduction] digital technician? To me, the mark of a great photographer is to be able to create something really timeless. And in recent years, it’s tougher and tougher to do that. It’s a yawn. It’s just a yawn. Again, here’s a mood board: We’ve read the book. This is the end. Now go and shoot it.
ED: They’re gutting the process.
MV: I do think, though, that it is a very exciting time visually, and somehow you have to have faith in yourself. Now, you can only have that faith if you recognize that you have some talent, some gift that is different from others, that only you can do. It’s that ability simply to stand there and ignore mass consensus. I think the problem is that there is a fundamental lack of awareness in how you lens something—which lens you pick and how you’re going to look through it. You see, it’s about understanding what each lens does. They’re all sharing the same lens right now. And it’s about you being able to find that one lens that’s your secret, and you can look through it and nobody else can possibly copy it.
ED: Let’s return to the point in your career after you started shooting with Yohji. What were the ensuing years like?
MV: At that point, I was really on the international level. I was known. I moved to New York because the demand was there, and I was seeing a real paycheck come in. I mean, it was still very hard. You’re just living from handouts, from friends. It was Heineken, fried eggs, and some bread. That was it! But you can cope with that lifestyle at that age; it’s not a problem. At that time, Steven Meisel was erupting. He was big and just immensely fabulous and still is the greatest fashion photographer living. But anyway, I eventually moved back to Paris where I started to do French Vogue, and those years were great. Again, I worked with Yohji many, many times, for 27 years in fact. I worked with a lot of amazing brands, though sometimes I felt compromised because it was an advertisement, and obviously they wanted something [specific]. It dilutes your image a bit. And of course, life moves on—you have a family, wife, kids, and suddenly you have a house, and these things have to be paid for. But those years really cemented my signature as a fashion photographer with a unique punch line. Not many photographers were working in black and white, or were allowed to.
ED: What is it about black and white that attracts you?
MV: I love the emotion. I don’t wanna talk too much. I just want to get to the point, and black and white gets to the point quickly. Color is very beautiful now because the level of control [in postproduction] is very nice. Whereas before, I think the color was dodgy and difficult to work with. My personality is very fast-thinking and very nervous when I am actually activated and shooting, but with color you need patience. You need to have a certain level of art direction. You can’t just randomly shoot stuff and throw it out there. So black and white to me has always been the medium for masterpiece.
ED: Can we talk a bit about your portraiture as well as your years as staff photographer at The New Yorker?
MV: I started to get a lot of work in America. I was shooting a lot for Vanity Fair, American Vogue, etc. Vogue is a very powerful title commercially and in so many ways; very good for the business. But if you’re an emotional photographer, and you work with your feelings and depend so much on feelings, to have them tampered with is difficult. At that point I was quite friendly with Richard Avedon because we were collaborating at Égoïste, the French magazine. Dick liked my work. He’d always say, “Max is not an echo, he’s a voice. He’s gotta keep singing!” He would take me to Cipriani, and we would sit there and have a couple of drinks and talk. It was just beautiful to know him. What an intelligent, wonderful man. What a loss.
So, Dick was shooting for The New Yorker and [one day] said, “Look, I need somebody to help me out here. I can’t do every assignment. I think you’d be a good contract photographer.” So I signed up with The New Yorker for the second contract that magazine ever gave, and it was fun. Of course, the medium was black and white, so I was at home.
ED: How do you approach portraiture versus fashion photography?
MV: I think the difference for me is that fashion is a collaborative effort, and more than one person’s taste is involved. Portraiture is really just a blind date, and you do not want somebody else around on a blind date, you know? You don’t want any chaperoning.
ED: What’s something that comes to mind when you think about your career?
MV: Well, my great collaborator, Yannick D’Is said, “Max, do you realize you are the only photographer who is Indian who’s [shot for] Italian Vogue, French Vogue, British Vogue, American Vogue, and German Vogue and had covers of these magazines too?” And I realized I’d never thought of that. I’ve just never exposed the identity thing. I’ve never played that card. I just never understood the labeling thing. When I look in the mirror, I see a human being. I don’t see a color map.
ED: You just see who you are.
MV: I just see, you know, a great photographer!
MV: I mean, even if I was born green it wouldn’t matter. If I’ve got something good going on, that’s all that matters.
ED: That is definitely all that matters.
MV: I want to show you something. [Opens an image file on the computer.] So this is me in Kenya.
MV: When I was 5. Now, I want you to [publish] this.
ED: Please! That would be fantastic!
MV: And here are my mother and my father—the story of my Indian parents. That’s the reality of how I ended up being here, through some strange form of political chaos. I look at them many times to remind me of the place I’m from. Photography is so important because it’s the only time you can gaze at something: that you can go deep inside, and it’ll never pass on.