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The past, frozen in time

Published Sep 27, 2015, 9:22 am IST
Updated Mar 27, 2019, 4:53 pm IST
They say a picture says a thousand words, but couturier J.J. Valaya’s photos speak millions...

If the average picture tells a thousand words, couturier J.J. Valaya’s photographs whisper millions. They are frames of pre-modern royal fairytales in intense shades of black and white. There’s nothing accidental about these images — they are as provocative, passionate and introspective as their creator.

“To me, photography is a simultaneous recognition in a fraction of a second, of a significance, of an event, as well as of a precise organisation of a form which gives that event its proper expression. I believe that, for reactive living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us — which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us.


A balance must be established between these two worlds: the one inside us, and the one outside us. And as the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate,” Valaya explains.

He describes photography as a “mental process”, one that requires us to be clear on what we wish to say “as it depicts our innermost conceptions of what we think of a certain situation, a certain problem”. “The creative part of photography is very short. A painter can elaborate and so can a writer. But we have to pick that decisive moment, to show what we’ve seen and been there,” he says.

Valaya is showcasing Revisiting Beauty, an exhibition of his black and white photographs, at the Threshold Art Gallery in the capital until October 18. Not wanting to shoot New Delhi in the typical way — tombs and minarets etc — Valaya’s challenge was to bring a subject from 500 years ago into the chaotic Indian capital. Using no fashion models, his subjects were people from all walks of life. “The casting process, as in the selection of nobility, was perhaps one of the most critical aspects of this show,” Valaya says. “Irrespective of which strata of society they belonged to, my selection was based purely on one criterion: A distinguished presence.”

Among the chosen models were stylist Pernia Qureshi and event organiser Nishant Peralta, hotelier Aman Nath, artist Subodh Gupta and artist Satish Gupta’s son.The clothes and jewellery worn by the models in the photographs are from the House of Valaya archives as well as from select private collections.
Valaya hasn’t learned photography formally, and of his love for black and white visuals, he says, “The ambiguity of a b/w image stimulates the imagination and emotions, encouraging individual interpretation and reflection. And, that’s why I like it the most.”

In one of his frames, a girl dressed as a maharani sits on a chair next to a street girl on the pavement. In another, a hungover, sleep-deprived Peralta radiates nawab-like nonchalance amidst a crowd. “There was no conscious intent. I wanted people to have their own interpretation of two Indias — of beautiful clothes and bubble lives — to show what royalty has come to now. It’s whatever you want to understand the regal as — that’s the beauty of art,” says Valaya.

Ask him what is it that photography allows him to do that fashion designing doesn’t, and he replies, “It’s the liberty that I have. I am not concerned about the pressures of the market. Fashion is always about trends and we have to take care of that aspect in our clothes. A photograph is timeless because when you take a picture, you are freezing time and you make it timeless. And what is amazing is the viewer can take away whatever he/she wishes to. Art should have something to say.”