Ram Shergill is Indian by birth and British by upbringing. He is a fashion photographer whose vision encompasses a skewed reality that is at once beautiful and dreamlike; disturbing and neurotic. His images are stunning in the impact they make, a cross-cultural marriage that weds ancient classical art with the modern art of photography. He creates a visual feast that draws you into his world of altered perceptions, which possess a compelling power to seduce and ravish the viewer – forever altering their preconceived notions of beauty and style.
Shergill’s career trajectory was boosted by a fortuitous meeting with the late, great Isabella Blow, an influential member of the British fashion world who recognised in his work the potential seeds of genius. She promoted him and introduced him to her inner circle of intimates who had the power to recognise and launch his nascent talent. Another meeting that happened on the same day that he met Blow was with the milliner Philip Treacy, whose hats had captured the imaginations of everyone from the British royalty to the influential British Fashion Mafia. Shergill ended up shooting his collection – choosing to photograph Treacy’s beautiful hats in the most unusual of settings and compositions. It was also during this shoot that Shergill was introduced to Alexander McQueen, another figure to have a strong influence on his career. And thus was created Ram Shergill – Photographer Extraordinaire!
Shergill then went on to become one of the key imagists of the directional British fashion scene, which reinvented the concept of ‘Cool Britannia’. Today, he is considered one of Britain’s leading fashion photographers, working on editorial and advertising commissions for the top fashion magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Tatler, i-D, POP, Dazed & Confused and W magazine, among others. He has been commissioned to shoot the portraits of cult icons like singer Amy Winehouse, actress Diane Kruger, supermodel Naomi Campbell and rapper Will I Am – works that are considered to be classics of their genre today.
What makes a great photograph? For me it’s a peculiar quality that makes an image hauntingly beautiful, a dream barely remembered as it fades from your memory but is retrieved in a flash of recall that etches it forever in your mind, like the works of Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn – all great photographers who influenced Shergill’s work. He credits their elegant aesthetic with having formed his own vision and inspiring him to take his work to sublime, other-worldly levels.
Shergill was plagued with bad eyesight during his childhood, and when he finally got it fixed it was to have a profound effect on his entire life and the way in which he viewed the world – which had come sharply into focus after his rather impressionistic early years of soft, blurred images and rain-washed colours.
Shergill’s ‘Indian-ness’ is really not part of his earlier narrative, for it’s his project with the Indian designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla that really makes up his ‘Indian’ work. Upon seeing their designs Shergill said he was ‘immediately mesmerised by the quality and elegance’, and that he was ‘excited to see such quality and craftsmanship coming out of India’. Shergill then began work on an ambitious three year project for Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla’s 25th anniversary book, India Fantastique – the photographs from which went on to be exhibited in Paris and at Sotheby’s in London.
Shergill’s mastery of the medium is demonstrated in the way he plays with form and light. His juxtaposition of the model with backgrounds that seem to mimic the textures of the ensemble result in a seamless combination of seemingly unrelated elements – like the wrinkled skin of an elephant with the heavy encrustation of zardozi embroidery; liquid chiffon blends with desert dunes in an uninterrupted flow – both seeming to have been carved out of the wind. He can be playful and childlike – using colour with the abstract freedom of a child scribbling with crayon on a blank canvas. His women seem abandoned, sometimes like drowned Ophelias, overcome by the exhaustion of dressing up and being beautiful and desirable.
Surrealism abounds, a model mimics a windswept palm tree on a beach where an elephant reposes; butterflies alight on a models face becoming her maquillage, while ancient stone temples stand as sentinels of time behind a model who also seems to be carved out of the same granite. A dandelion headed model waits for a breeze to blow her quills away and old masters inspire the body language of the lovely women he celebrates with so much passion and sensuality.
Shergill’s work will undoubtedly go down in history as venerable classics that defined the times that he lives in. His technical expertise combined with a painterly eye could well deem him a New Master – a title he will well deserve as his work evolves and mutates into the masterpieces they undoubtedly are.