Kandhola, Max. (1 of 4). Oral History of British Photography.
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Kandhola, Max, 1962- (speaker, male)
Read, Shirley (speaker, female)
Part 1: Peter Max Pupender Singh Kandhola born Selly Oak [southwest Birmingham] May 21 1962. Reflection on the significance of his name and mention that he is known by his second name. Description of his family, that his parents migrated to Britain in 1956, their background in the Punjab, that his father sent money back to India, both sides of the family, about his parents arranged marriage, his father’s looks, the way arranged marriage has developed in England, his parents ‘good house’ and their work ethos, close neighbourly relationships with local Irish, Scots and Jamaican communities, father and grandfather’s work, moving out of the city into the landscape, the importance of education to MK’s family. [21:29] Further reflection on MK’s father’s work in a factory, the mix of nationalities there, the social club at Christmas, that he talked later about the issues and aggression he faced; that MK’s mother started work when the children were old enough, she wanted her independence and was a socialiser, she worked on a production line, came home with egg poachers which were a mystery to them; that the children did household chores and family shopping on Saturday mornings; that meals became a fusion of Punjabi and English, that MK remembers their first roast dinner, that he loved fish fingers and school dinners and the Punjabi traditions were changed; comments about the colonial stigma that Punjabis drink. [31:12] Comment that religion was significant to the whole extended group of migrants from Punjab, that it was the closest thing to home because of shared values and it brought the community together, that MK attended the Smethwick gurdwara, one of the oldest in the United Kingdom and that there are about 300 now, that the family went every Sunday, a big family get together, a description of being there and of Sikhism, about changes, that it is about being humble, that MK hasn’t bought his son up as a Sikh because his son will chose and tends to go to temple mostly for weddings or deaths, that his extended family do go, description of how a man is identified as a Sikh through the visible symbols such as the bangle, beard or turban, MK’s interest in the values and process. [47:52] Comments on the Sikh warrior tradition and that Sikhism is evolving; an issue in Leamington, about Guru Nanak and Das Guru, the importance of food in the gurdwara, helping out in the kitchen and that the gurdwara does a lot of charity work, that the Golden Temple [Amritsar] was extraordinary and humbling, that clothing isn’t important but hair is covered and hands are clean, that the atmosphere is very like that of Chartres cathedral, you sit in silence, listen to repetitive music sometimes, that his parents had a tape recorder and lots of Hindi and Punjabi songs, the family would get up early to watch a programme in Hindi on BBC ,then go to the gurdwara; that MK’s mother liked western music like Elvis and the Beatles and his brother became more assimilated into western culture in the 1970s so they listened to the Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, Led Zeppelin and so on, a fusion in the same way as cooking became a fusion. [01:05:05] Comment that MK’s brother, Michael, was four years older and his sister four years younger than MK; Michael’s role as the oldest and his brilliance as an artist, that he would have gone to art school but an uncle stepped in so he worked at Cadburys, for the police, then in computers and did well. [01:10:35] Comments on the brothers’ close relationship; that MK’s brother protected him at school, he was a good fighter, a boxer, though they didn’t tell their parents this till he came home with a broken nose, that they also did karate and judo together for a time; MK admired him, he was straight and tough about racism, an example of comments about the colour of the food at MKs birthday; that MK’s father would share his tiffin box with dhal, chapattis, yoghurt at work; that MK remembers his family being ridiculed for their clothes and saris and that he felt he would never fit in though his close mates were ok. A description of MK’s friends at school and that karate and music helped him, that he came to punk late and started to dress like a punk in 1978/9 and hung out in a punk clothes shop. [01:17:50] Memories of starting to go to gigs which included Bauhaus and the Au Pairs where people addressed MK as The Paki Punk and the audience was entirely white; he was confronted about his colour and had to defend himself, that even his brother thought he had gone too far and the extended family thought he was possessed. A comment that he loved the clothes and a description of what he wore, his spiked hair and make-up and that he had started going to London with friends and went to famous punk shops including Worlds End set up by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, the effect of this, that he still listens to Joy Division and to John Tavener, that he went to a lot of gigs all over the country, that his family worried, that he started dating, that he picked up his brother’s camera. Thoughts about his mother’s death from a heart attack when he was 19. [01:28:37] Description of starting in design engineering, having an apprenticeship at Land Rover which he didn’t enjoy, it was hostile and he suffered from racism, sometime he bumps into those people who are now friendly towards him, that he had already decided to leave and go to art school. [01:32:16] A comment that he was already documenting his mother and did a series of paintings of his mother’s last 12 days which he later compared to the work he did around his father’s death. [01:32:52] Comments about his sister, that he brutalised her toys, they had lots of homework. [01:34:08] A description of their terraced house in Acocks Green, that MK’s uncle lived two doors down, there was a lot of painting and decorating going on and a traditional set up for an Indian family, that they had lodgers for a time, a memory of orange wallpaper and lime green, that MK’s Dad was good at DIY. MK learnt a lot of skills from him; that he was also an avid gardener and that MK had a great den in the garden shed. Comments on the mix of non European ornaments and the sculptures and paintings the children bought from school, a back extension, a colour TV, that his brother got married from the house where MK’s mother died and MK moved out because he wanted to be independent and started to work on being a photographer. Comment that it was a comfortable house, that the children all did the chores, MK or his brother would shop, MK would vacuum, he started buying his own clothes, his mother showed him how to iron and he has carried on doing it, he made his own bed and still loves cooking, he worked as a kitchen porter in a casino at university then became assistant to the chef. [01:43:47] Comment that taking areas of responsibility has continued into his marriage. [01:45:05] Reflections on MK’s interest in becoming a photographer; the influence of his brother and the difference between their approaches, the methodical and the risk taking; that MK had been good at art, history, geography and not bad at maths and he could write at school; looking all the time, buying his first camera and that having a camera meant people respected him and stopped being racist and abusive, amazing but also a time of more of a racial mix; discussion of issues, sexuality, ethnicity and the politics of the period, that he started to be called Max the photographer rather than ‘Paki’; that he saw music magazines and fashion photographs and tried to imitate them. [01:50:40] He started to go to Bourneville College of Art, where Nick Hedges was a tutor, while still doing design engineering; that he was spending all his time at art school doing Foundation and was passionate and made large constructed sets, documentary of his colleagues at Land Rover, ripped constructions, montages and that he would colour or destroy images, that his early influences came from Rothko, Rauschenberg, Tapies, Basquiat; that it was freedom and he was there 1984/5. [01:53:52] Remark that MK built a darkroom at home and would work late at night while listening to music and became a good b&w printer, the smells. [01:55:34] Comment that the family moved house and description of spending time in the darkroom teaching himself to print, that MK used a grid, a helpful tutor at Bourneville, learning about Ansel Adam’s Zone System. Comment about no longer taking instant photographs although he still photographs with his iphone and knows how to make a good picture. Comment that after his mother passed away MK was just getting my bearings about what he wanted to do in life, that the darkroom helped, a transition period. He then left for Wolverhampton [School of Art]. Further thoughts about being in the darkroom and seeing it as a meditative space, being focused. Comments on Wolverhampton tutor Nick Hedges analysing the social and political aspects of work, that MK thought things have to have a commercial viability; the work he did; going to see Face [magazine] and realising he wouldn’t become a fashion photographer; being avid about sketchbooks; the destruction of work and a documentary in the streets in Heathtown, an estate, based on 10x8 [magazine] what Derek Bishton and John Reardon had done, that he looked at Avedon in the west. Description of the Heathtown project, that the work is in the collection at Autograph and Pete James bought it for the library collection [Birmingham Central Library]. Comment that he found it difficult to find work when he left college despite having a good folio. [02:08:06] MK’s initial work on leaving university. [02:09:11] Description of opening up a gallery with a friend, the Goat Gallery, that it did well and was a way of introducing new work. Mark Sealy [MS] of Autograph visited 1991-2, the relationship opened doors, MK became critical about subject matter, through Autograph MK worked in the Print Room at The Photographers Gallery [TPG], Pete Ride was the manager. Through MS he went to Syracuse University as artist in residence in 1996 and returned in 2000 and 2002, that he closed the gallery in 1994/5 and moved to the Custard Factory; a description of how he used the space to sell his own work, how he learned about selling and his situation and influences at that time.
Life story interview with photographer Max Kandhola (1964-)