Interview: Clayton Shilling on his “Tour of India”

This month’s exhibit in the Post Art Library features Clayton Shilling’s photographic “Tour of India.” From the Golden Triangle to Auroville, Clayton spent six weeks traveling the country. I had the fortune of asking Clayton the following questions about his tour.

(Jill’s comments/questions are in bold,
whereas Clayton’s are not.)

How long have you been a photographer? Could you tell me a little about your camera set-up? That is, do you work primarily with digital? What are some of your techniques?
I became interested in photography about 8 or 9 years ago. I didn’t own a camera and had been wanting one so I asked for one for Christmas and the interest grew from that point forward. The majority of my experience behind a camera has been in digital although I took a film photography course during my undergrad studies and I have also worked with a Lomography camera which takes film as well.  Mostly, I shoot with a Nikon DLSR camera and I shoot most everything in manual mode which gives the photographer total, free-range control over both the aperture and the shudder speeds.

I read that your tour of India took six weeks. It’s my understanding that when you took this tour, you were five months post-craniotomy. How do you think this experience impacted your outlook as a photographer/traveler?
The initial idea of going to India came to me the days after I had surgery. I was in ICU and in between moments on consciousness I remember laying there planning out my life over the next 4-6 months and a little voice told me to go to India. My original plan was to move to Denver, where I am now but since I didn’t have to be here at any specific time, I set a few “gap months” aside to do this. Obviously I had to clear it with my Dr. and she didn’t have a problem with it. Planning something this big during that time was the perfect distraction. The physical and emotional recovery after something like brain surgery can be so overwhelming and the idea that I had to get better and pull through this so I could go to India was far more appealing than getting better and pulling through this so I could go back to punching the clock and paying bills. It was exciting and motivating and kept my mind in focus.

This exhibit includes 13 photographs. Have you an idea of how many you took from which you selected these 13?
I took around 6,000 photos total but a lot of them were several shots of the same subject taken at different camera settings. I still consider myself to be a novice at photography so I like to take as many shots of something as possible in case I goof up.

Of the photographs in this exhibit, most depict people. What about people appeals to your photographic sensibility?
A lot of what I shoot depends on the country I’m in. Typically I’m more drawn to architecture and landscape photography. During my year abroad in Germany I had a mild obsession with taking photos of people’s homes, historical buildings, and cityscapes all over Europe. Life in poorer countries doesn’t always present the most photogenic settings therefore as a photographer it’s on you to find the expression elsewhere. In India, it was people and daily life. I chose the man in Delhi: Day 1, and the 2 girls with the baby in The Residents of Tamil Nadu because they were all so eager to have their photo taken. That’s one of the things I love most about India. They have no reservations about being photographed.

Interestingly, all of these photographs are close-up. What weighs in your decision to photograph close rather than depict a scene at large?
As I sorted through my photos when I returned I did a lot of cropping and zooming and found there was so much more detail in some of these photos than what I had even noticed while shooting so I guess subconsciously I wanted to include all the vivid detail. Plus, my camera lens has its limits and I find that it shoots better shots when things are a little closer.

Generally, these photographs are very colorful, vivid. ‘Waiting for the Parade’ is the exception. What’s the significance of this photograph being in black and white?
What can I say? Sometimes a photo just looks better with no color at all. It seemed to show better when I turned it black and white. Although I chose 13 different shots, I tried to think of all 13 pieces as one whole piece with a variety of sizes, colors, subjects, etc. and I wanted to include some quiet, small shots to help balance the bigger presentations.

Did you set-out to India with photography/an exhibit in mind or is this something that came later?
I set out on two missions: to backpack and cover as much territory as possible, and to eventually end up in Auroville, an international eco-community in the SE region of India just outside the city of Pondicherry. I had stumbled across this township during my undergrad studies and as an International Studies major, I chose Auroville to write my senior thesis about. I had spent an entire semester researching this interesting little community and felt it was only appropriate to visit after all that work. I packed my camera, naturally, but had not planned to turn it into an exhibit. I spent hours upon hours riding trains, commuting between cities and during that time I would read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to DSLR Cameras and would take the time to practice when I stopped in a new area.

Do you have a favorite among these particular photographs?
The Best Kept Secret is one that is very dear to me. But if I told you why, it wouldn’t be a secret. 🙂

Do you have a memorable moment not depicted in these photographs that you would like to share about your tour of India?
I set aside several times throughout my trip to put my camera down and just enjoy the moment. Often times when you travel somewhere and have photography in mind you can get stuck behind the camera and forget to take in your surroundings and just be in the moment. I would have to say that some of the best memories were those moments when I got a little off the grid and away from the touristy areas. There’s enough going on in India that anyone can find something interesting depending on their taste. If you like the big city environment and the hustle and bustle of city life, India is the place to go. If you’re a history geek and enjoy monuments and museums, they’ve certainly got those too. I took the time to enjoy all those things but renting a small hut a half mile off a small country road and laying and swaying in a hammock all day proved to be the perfect fit for me.

clayton-india

Worn Hard and Hung Wet to Dry

“Tour of India” is on display in the Post Art Library through February 2015–be sure to stop by! To read more about “Tour of India,” visit http://www.postlibrary.org/?cat=8. 

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