Karl Dmitri Bishop, fine art photographer, transports you to a mythical dreamlike existence, a realm where nature permeates the senses, in a gentle reminder of a long lost connection. He delves deep into the very fabric of the universe, the invisible yet omnipresent nerves that fasten us to the inexplicable mystery of life.
In this interview, we speak to Karl,who has unveiled his new series Samsara, a photographic exploration of cyclic existence informed by study of Buddhist teachings. Each image corresponds to a state in the bhavacakra, a pictorial representation that is rumored to have been devised by Buddha himself to help ordinary people recognize and transcend the impermanent physical world and its repetitive struggles.
Hello Karl, it’s a pleasure to have this conversation with you, tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in a small village outside of Cambridge, surrounded by forests that held the ruins of a medieval castle. My first memory is of my Russian Grandma, she would read me bedtime stories of witches, occult magic and far away lands. Growing up a hermit at heart sure had it’s benefits, the quiet and isolation of my surroundings soon increased my fascination with creating things, learning of occult magic, foreign cultures and a lost connection with nature. Nature was my inspiration and sanctity.
I now spend my days dreaming of the past and all it’s mystery. Some say I live ‘between worlds’ but I call them Cambridge and Bangalore. I strangely feel more at home in Bangalore, home is where the heart is.
The mysticism in your photographs is captivating, as if you’ve portrayed a parallel world. Where do you find inspiration for your artworks?
I’m inspired by my friends, whom I cherish dearly, India and all it’s magical qualities, and music that makes my soul sing. I believe there is magic everywhere, and would like to harness that through my imagery. Simply take the time to look at the moon arching over the nights sky, there is such a magical beauty in that alone.
My childhood, photography is a way of translating those childhood memories, a memory that feels like a lucid dream. It’s there somewhere but I can’t quite reach it. I actually have a background in medical training. I found working with the human body really helped my creativity, understanding what makes you human makes it easier to make something less human. I have also studied Hindu studies and Pagan mythology, both a passion of mine and are what make me ‘tick’.
We are extremely excited to launch your new series ‘Samasara’. What led you to take up this project?
After being in India for some time I started to research local myths, legends and religious beliefs. Many still believe in a dark force, the occult and witchcraft. Samsara on the other hand interested me as it translates to ‘wandering through’. I wanted to use this concept and explore the world between life and death, our reality.
My new series is a photographic exploration of cyclic existence, each image corresponds to a state of the ‘bhavacakra’, a pictorial representation of escaping samsara and reaching enlightenment. I feel the images match my style of work well, breathtaking, haunting images that present a mix of ethereal intrigue and muted sensuality.
We understand that you’ve studied Hindu mythology. What drew you to it? How has it influenced your work?
As a kid I was fascinated with ‘otherworldly’ religions, something that was exotic, strange and wonderful. India became a huge inspiration to me, there was something magical in the air. I fell in love with the way people had that magical element ingrained into them through their heritage and ritual. Rituals that connected you to nature and it’s universal force. There was a beauty in it. A beauty that I felt was missing in my life. I studied Hindu studies and mythology at Oxford in attempt to try and understand that connection with our past ‘magical’ selves.
Talk us through your creative process. How long does it take you from the moment you form your idea to the moment you complete it?
I collaborate with nature and the phenomena of it’s material world trying to bring back an element of our forgotten roots. I like to create a sense of timelessness with a overarching theme of nature, both dark and light.
My art is almost a performance, what you see is what’s being performed in front of the lens. Digital I can process in a instant where as my film stays in my camera for weeks, capturing images as and when they grab my attention. That’s the beauty with film, you never know what magical surprise you will get. I have a photographic memory and my ideas come to me like a medium’s vision, I have a very visual imagination. I’m a complete daydreamer.
Familiarize us with the tools you use to get the desired output; we would also love to have a glimpse at your work station.
I have a selection of 15 cameras ranging from 1920’s to now. My current favourites are my German Gevabox from the 1950’s and my Olympus Trip 35 from 1967 which takes great double exposure.
I only need my camera and imagination, which camera depends on my mood and then I head into nature. I don’t give away too much about my creative process as It takes away the magic. The beauty of my work is that everyone can see something different in my photos. I love hearing people’s stories they come up with and how they relate to the images, it’s almost like a postal into their soul.
How do you manage to divide time between personal projects and commercial work?
Photography for me was a hobby turned career. I was lucky enough to get noticed and published in America and it’s been growing strength by strength ever since then. I still see my work as a hobby and do my photo work on my days off when I can. When it comes to a commercial projects there has been many late nights and weekends spent to get the final product done in time. I take my work very seriously and always want the customer to be satisfied. The great thing is that people usually want me to create work for them because of my unique style, so all my work feels personal to me.
Are there any artists whose work has influenced you significantly?
As a kid I would listen to the voice of Kate Bush slowly drift into my room like a sudden dense fog. I would lie in bed and let me imagination run wild, I still remember the haunting lyrics ‘It’s in the tree’s, it’s coming’, I’m a huge fan of the Bush.
Czech director Jaromil Jires ‘Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders’ is one of my favourite films, the soundtrack is also something that hugely inspires me. Henri Plaat’s ‘I am an old smoking moving Indian Movie star 1968’ and all works by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
Not many people know this about me but I’m a huge Lata Mangeshkar fan. When I was around six years old I was shown ‘Aayega Aanewala’ from the film Mahal (1949). I was instantly bewitched by Lata’s mesmerising voice that came from a disappearing woman in the darkness of the night.
What do you think about India and the artists here? We know you’ve spent quite some time in India. Which is the one place you’d love to visit that you haven’t seen yet?
There is such new and exciting art coming out of India. Young and emerging artists from all over the country are experimenting with new styles and forms of art, it’s a very exciting time. Every time I’m back In Bangalore there is new art spaces popping up and new street art along the now appreciated sidewalks.
I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Kashmir. One of my favourite photos ‘floating with flowers’ was taken in Kashmir, India, November 1956 by Norman Parkinson. I could get lost in that photo for hours, it’s what my dreams are made of.
Are you working on any projects currently? We’d love to know more about your work.
This September I will be in Bangalore working with artist and friend, Gumani, so watch this space! I have just finished working with the amazingly talented Gaze Is Ghost from the UK, we’ve just made a music video for her new single ‘Revolvere’. it was a great opportunity working with Gaze Is Ghost as I think her sound and my visual match beautifully. I’m also close to launching a new table book with a collection of works over the years, soon to be available on my website.
What does success mean to you?
I feel very driven to produce bigger and better work. Not due to success but to satisfy my audience. I receive such positive emails from all over the world from people saying such kind things. I recently received a email from a art student in Russia. she told me how my images influenced her so much she was going to write about them in her studies. It’s things like that which gives me the drive. As long as people enjoy my work then I’ll continue to make new work.
How important is music in recreating visions off your mind?
Music is very important to me. I’ve always said without music it would be a sad world. Music is a huge inspiration, I grew up to my parents listening to Kate Bush, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. With music I find it very easy to build a ‘image story’ in my mind. I have made some music videos, it was great to have the opportunity to provide the visual aspect to the feel of the music. Also music helps build a very atmospheric mood when I take my images, movement is very important with my work. I alway have music on through the editing process, I like to get lost in that ‘otherworld’.
My current favourites are Beach House ‘Space Song’, ‘The Work Of Death’ from the Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders soundtrack and Kate Bush’s ‘The Dreaming’.
According to you, what is your greatest work so far?
That’s a tough one. It’s an honour so many people appreciate my work and give me positive feedback, so I guess every piece of work feels like an achievement. I’m very proud of my new series ‘samsara’ as India has a special place in my heart and it was great to take photos in India with friends whom are dear to me. There is also a very personal side to my ‘samsara’ series, I guess we all have our struggles and try to reach for the light out of the darkness. I think ‘The Awakening’ and ‘The Witching Hour’ has become two of my most iconic images, also personal favourites.
If you could wish for one, and only one superpower, what superpower would you chose?
Time travel. I would go back to a time when the world was shrouded in mystery. A time before knowledge, where myth was truth and people were at one with nature. In the modern mechanical age I feel we have lost our sense of belonging. The further we drift away from nature, the less we understand.
If you weren’t a photographer/artist, what do think you would be doing?
As a kid I always wanted to tell people their fortune with my Grandmas tarot card deck, maybe I could of been a fortune teller looking into my crystal ball with heavy fog swirling around me, that would be fun! I have a dream to set up some art programs in India, giving the younger people who don’t have the opportunity to get an education, a voice and a chance to explore their creative sides.
If you could give one piece of advice to budding artists, what would that be?
Try something new and crazy, go experiment. If it doesn’t turn out or goes wrong learn from your mistakes and try something else, that’s how you get magical results.
Lastly, how has the journey been with Cupick thus far?
Cupick is wonderful, thanks to Cupick it has opened up my work to a new audience in a country I adore. Cupick gives so many other artists the chance to display and sell work as well as meet and explore other budding artists out there. This is something India needed for old and new talented generations to come. Keep up the good work Cupick 🙂
Visit Karl on Cupick to discover more of his work.
You can also find him at www.karldmitribishop.com