Vasant Nayak: A Photographer Comes Full Circle
While pursuing a B.A. in sociology at St. Xavier's College in Mumbai, Vasant began to use photography and media for the first time when he received a UGC grant for a visual anthropology project. He photographed indigenous peoples in India's tribal areas, who were being displaced through modernization. Following his B.A., he studied communications media at Mumbai's XIC, including film, television, and radio. Vasant was offered a position at the Institute, where he used video, photography, and sound recording to create presentations. There, he scavenged spare film and frames to use in his personal exploration of the art and technique of photography. He examined British and American photographers in old magazines and books, consuming Andreas Feininger's The Complete Photographer, and its lessons in technique. In the early 1980s, there was no school of photography and no community of photographers in Mumbai with whom he could share his interest, so Vasant built his community from within the pages of the published works he could find.
In 1983, Vasant went to the United States, where he showed his photographs to Jerry Stephany at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Stephany had studied under Minor White and Henry Holmes Smith, and was clearly impressed by Vasant's portfolio, granting him a scholarship and admission to the undergraduate school. Stephany generously sharing an extensive resource of photographs, film, and recorded conversations. UMBC also boasts the Special Collections at the Kuhn Library, with hundreds ofphotographs from world-renowned photographers from around the world that Vasant could handle and study on a daily basis. He remained there for one year, taking in everything the UMBC professor had to offer.
Vasant then submitted his portfolio for two prestigious workshops on the west coast, explaining that he had no funds to attend. Both the Friends of Photography and Ansel Adams Gallery Workshops granted him full scholarships to make two trips for the one-week workshops. These put him in the room, working with Paul Caponigro, Linda Connor, Dave Bohn, and William Clift - four of the most significant artists to inform Vasant's own artistic development. Reflecting on the experience, Vasant says, "This is when photography was revealed to me. It had a profound impact."
After the workshops, and unable to work for a living on his student visa, Vasant returned to India and began to establish a presence as a photographer in Bangalore. In the months following, he received notification that he had been accepted into a graduate program. Friends he had made at the workshops got him admission and a full scholarship to earn his Master of Visual Arts from Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.
Beginning at Purdue in 1985, Vasant was there for two years with a teaching assistantship. He worked with faculty who had studied under Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, who were part of Chicago's New Bauhaus. Here, Vasant gained excellent teaching experience, as well as having two years of total immersion in photography, art history, and criticism. From Lafayette, he was able to make frequent trips to museums in Chicago and to nearby universities and their photo departments.
Upon completion of his master's degree, Vasant moved to New York, where he worked as a photo researcher at SYGMA, a news stock photo agency. This provided wonderful experience, locating and sending images at the request and based on the criteria of Time, Newsweek, and other such publications. But the work soon became repetitive and uninteresting. Vasant then took up a position with FPG, another stock photo agency, where the requests were more conceptual in nature. But he was asked to return to Purdue to teach as a sabbatical replacement.
Upon completion of his temporary position at Purdue, Vasant moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and began to teach photography through the extension program at the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA). Once he joined the faculty in the photography department, his distinguished and promising career as a professor and artist really began. He had gallery representation and exhibited in group and solo shows in the United States and abroad. A committed teacher and professor, respected by both his students and his colleagues, Vasant attended many conferences nationally and globally, addressing educators on culture and its relationship to photography, as well as other topics.
As photography moved away from the darkroom and into the computer lab, Vasant took a great interest, and was at the cutting edge of the movement, creating large-format color prints that were digital montages of his photographs and other objects. His own portfolio expanded to include digitally manipulated prints, large-format color photographs, websites, and interactive animation, as well as black-and-white photography. At MICA, in the late '90s, he created and directed a master's degree program in digital arts, the first of its kind in the U.S., at the time. The program worked with students pursuing video, 3-D design and animation, interactive programming, and digitally-constructed imaging.
When the internet was new and people were still not quite sure what to do with it, Vasant used his sabbatical to launch an online venture. It was taking off, and the potential could not be ignored. Vasant returned to MICA, but the elitism of the fine arts scene also became too incongruous with Vasant's ideals and his relationship to all he believed to be simple, pure, and honest. After nearly a decade, he left his teaching career at MICA and took a hiatus from the art world.
Vasant's interest in the digital arts planted other ideas he wanted to pursue. He worked on the development of custom-built software, marketing, branding, building an online community, and he pushed e-commerce into new realms. As new technology was developed, he found ways to incorporate it to benefit his online venture. Nayak's unique perspective, philosophy, and vision, have proven well suited to business as well as to art.
Once financial success in business enabled the establishment of the MurthyNAYAK Foundation, Vasant returned to working in communications media, making short films, websites, publications, and more for NGOs in India and nonprofit organizations in the United States, working for social change. These projects are offered through grants from the MurthyNAYAK Foundation, to organizations whose goals are in line with its mission. Vasant has also funded numerous photography related projects in the US and India, and is currently working on an online resource on Indian photography to launch in 2020.
He is making photographs again. India remains the source of his inspiration.