Kandhola, Max. (3 of 4). Oral History of British Photography.

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  • Recording date

    2016-09-26, 2016-09-30

  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Kandhola, Max, 1962- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Read, Shirley (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: Comment that MK and his wife, Sara, have been together for at least 20 years. Description of his wife’s family background, her career as a jewellery designer with her own business and gallery, their meeting and early relationship, that MK was always preoccupied with all the things which an artist has to do to survive and saw how focussed she was, that he fell in love with her jewellery and saw that they had a lot in common but were worlds apart in some ways, that they are both driven and that MK had grown up with a strong woman, his mother, so is a great believer in equality, that he encourages it in his family, how this works in the home, her family background as a military family and the sense of loss when looking at studio portraits of her father’s family who died in the death camps during the Second World War. Reflection on the fact that Sara introduced MK to her family quite quickly but he was nervous about his family’s reaction so it took him a couple of years to introduce her to his family. Comments about the way MK saw this, the way he looked and spoke, that his wider family were critical of these things and that he hung out with artists, left wing, gay people; that he had met Sara in 1994 and in 1996 she told him he had to tell his family. [23:26] Comment that when he told his family they already knew; that she fitted into family events very easily, is confident, a good dancer and independent; that they got married in New York in 2015. [30:25] Further thoughts about his family, that both came from bilingual backgrounds, that their son understands colour, that they both have faith but there’s a difference, Oliver is brushing up French to talk to his granny but doesn’t speak Punjabi though MK does, that they try to keep Sundays free so they can be together, MK’s cooking. [39:54] Comment on the sense that there is still a connection with the land in the Punjab. [41:15] Reflections on the significance of photography to MK, that he is slightly dyslexic, that it gave him a role in the, quite brutal, 1970s but that things have changed. Comment that politics should be on the curriculum because, for instance, when the issue of Europe came up people weren’t able to deal with it, that photography was a beautiful idea for him and it is also a way into the past and memory, that he thinks about where they lived and about his mother shopping when he looks at the family archives, comments about the things MK’s family did together and what he does with his son, that MK loves words but because of his dyslexia doesn’t always understand them whereas photography is about deconstructing what is in the picture and also about performance, having an audience, that it took his family some time to understand what he was trying to do with photography, that his design training meant he looked at things three dimensionally so he wanted to change the two dimensional aspect of photographs, that the design training gave him precision. Comments on being influenced by painting, by early Picasso, cubism, abstraction, an obsession with by [Mark] Rothko’s colours, [Anselm] Keifer and [Antoni] Tapies [55:37] Comment that MK’s work became quite abstract in his foundation year, he started to photograph naked men, Bill Brandt was a massive influence and he liked Steve Pyke and his book, the Philosophers, and his portraits of pop stars and [Richard] Avedon’s stunning portraits; that he didn’t have a ‘black perspective’ on photography, in love with Diane Arbus’ work and later read [Susan] Sontag; that MK was looking at the consistency of composition, that Bruce Davidson’s 114th West St is one of MKs favourite books. [59:27] Comment on writing notes on editing a portfolio, a good folio is consistent and researched, that at foundation level John Hodges was very concerned with how you made a body of work, MK made landscapes around the canal areas and thinks you need more than an aesthetic, about having an audience, creating an identity and a signature, a contrast between the photographer needing to work alone and the academic pressure for collaboration with other universities and academics. [01:03:21] Comments on working with writers, anthropologists and academics and how collaboration can work for photographers who are ‘lone beasts’, being in the moment, an incident during a tornado in India, looking. [01:07:35] A description of MK’s approach and working methods while working with boxers, just looking, ritual, training, different gyms, the camera, his black eyes, reading about boxing, the light and a comparison with the process of working on Flatland in India, that with both subjects he became obsessed, the university gave him time off to go to India. [01:20:08] Comments about MK’s respect for other photographers, that he invites a range of photographers to Nottingham Trent, and about Fazal Sheikh who, for 20 years, has made beautiful international humanitarian work using large plate b&w, very quiet work, that the international curricula needs a real review about the practice, that MK has loved Avedon and Arbus, his discovery of Flatland/Platteland by South African Roger Ballen, Alec Soth also touches on middle America. A description of Ballen and Soth’s work and MK’s reaction to it, that both show another way of looking at their countries. An anecdote about not meeting the Cohen Brothers, who also like Alec Soth’s work, in New York and that MK talks to his students about the unique qualities of the work, a comment that he likes the work which annoys him because he doesn’t ‘get it’ straight away. [01:32:30] Description of seeing the work of Dhruve Malhotra [DM] while doing portfolio reviews in India in 2009 or 2010 and a comment from Martin Parr who selected DM for the Brighton Biennale. MK had met him in 2009 or 2010, that DM’s series of Sleepers has done well and he had a fellowship in New York. Comments on photography from India, Japan and Korea and Dayaneeta Singh. [01:38:09] Reflections on MK’s own work, that his idea is always clear, that he doesn’t go to portfolio reviews or festivals with his work but will go to see someone he wants to show the work to, comments about portfolio reviews and curators, an example of a friend for whom it worked well and a description of working with Rhonda [Wilson] on these issues, that he cannot shift from his own vision and is stubborn about it. [01:43:43] SR Reflection that all MK’s work comes from his own life, that he grew up with boxing and the whole family watched Muhammad Ali on television, Frank Bruno, that MK’s son is learning karate, that MK grew up playing chess, an analogy with boxing, that Flatland was an extension of the work about his father s death, about his ashes going back to the land and being brought up on stories about India. [01:49:34] A description of the first time MK went to India for six months in 1970 or 1971 when India and Pakistan went to war over east Pakistan while the family was there, his memory of being scared and watching dogfights in the sky, the village being full of the military and tanks and then empty again, like a dream, the destruction of villages, his father’s concern, that MK had a romantic vision of India but understood it was his parents country, not his because he was born and bred in England. [01:51:45] Comment that he loves Delhi but it’s his fathers country not his, his decision to photograph the landscape of the Punjab without people. Reflection that some people found it boring but that MK likes looking at work in which everything is almost the same with only a slight difference, research and autobiographical about the death of a man who had cancer. Mention of MK’s research, seeing a film with Jack Johnson, reading The invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and a book The Harder they Fall, [James] Baldwin and Norman Mailer. [02:00:28] Comment that MKs new work goes back into boxing and he is making abstract work about identity and place though only through traces. A description of his method of making this work and where he is making it. [02:05:06] Description of current work trying to map England through its 300 gurdwara, his approach and use of metaphor, that he is driven by concepts and ideas, all connected to his previous work, that he always works on two or three things at the same time, sabbaticals, photographing the university. [02:09:20] Comment that his work is shaped by reading and looking, that he draws and writes, that the university celebrated 170 years recently and he wanted to make fairly abstract work about that. [02:13:20] Reflection that he hadn’t photographed boxing as an expression of masculinity, that its quite individual, detailed, forensic and that there’s an echo of Illustration of Life and how close he got to his fathers body, comments on other photographic work on boxing, a book by Mark Hamill of a gym in New York. Description of the three exhibitions of the work, that MK had seen work in Arles where a house was wall papered with photographs, comment on how one picks up ideas, that it was quite tender and delicate because he wanted to remove the brutality, that it was about a contradiction and shown in New Art Exchange as MK wanted it. Comment that he also knows how he wants his new portraits to look and mention of a film by Pasolini. Comments about the scale of prints, using archival inks, his printers, framing, that it is costly and buying work an investment and that he talks to clients about hanging work where it won’t fade. [02:27:50] Comments about his time, about his decision not to do commercial bread and butter work to pay the bills despite the money being good, wanting to work on his own vision, the recent Vogue documentary which was illuminating, that he has a degree of autonomy at the university, that as head of a large photographic course there is a lot of pressure but the university has also supported all his work and give him time, that the boxing meant he worked with a world class famous boxer from Nottingham, Carl Froch, through his trainer Robert McCracken. Description of the REF (Research Excellence Framework) and that MK has submitted for every REF over 15 years, which in terms of his profile is very good, that it is tough to do this and work full time as an academic running a large course. Comments on being accountable, that the NSS (the National Student Survey) grades the course, a description of this and that it affects recruitment, an example of a year when the course did badly, how it was dealt with, that MK’s door is open but that has an impact on the research and his time.

  • Description

    Life story interview with photographer Max Kandhola (1964-)

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