Vishal Marapon is a an artist who plies his trade in photography not because he is unable to express himself in other artistic ventures but because his photographic work is quite simply that good. All it takes is a glance at one of his photographs to see this, the complete simplicity, the masterful combination of colours, the use of lines and the overall appeal of being able to combine the more mundane parts of a city with the liveliness of nature; it’s a concise style that can still err on the side of surreality, and he has made it his own.
We wanted to get to the bottom of how Vishal creates his aesthetic and manages to supplant it in almost any setting…
Where is home for you, Vishal?
I moved to Vancouver in 1995 whilst I was still a kid and so I have always felt this to be my home, I grew up here my family is here and everything that would make something home is here and so this is home to me.
Moving from abroad, what has kept you in Vancouver?
I wouldn’t say that it’s easy to stay here considering it’s a metropolis of sorts, it’s an expensive city and so you have to really want to be here, there’s also limited work for creative people in this city despite the scenery that we have at our disposal and so the only people who can survive here are the ones who take it seriously, who are willing to do commercial work to get by and not rest on their artistic laurels by being unwilling to do what needs to be done. However I still find it incredibly inspiring after all this time being surrounded by mountains and oceans and I suppose that this has partly influenced me in creating work that is a combination of a few styles (minimalism, nature); I couldn’t have got to where I am without having based my life here. I am actually considering leaving Vancouver for more opportunities though as I’ve only recently begun working full time as a photographer and so I’ll still have to see if I can break into the industry a little more.
Your work tends to bend to the whims of what it needs to be whilst still remaining Vishal in style, do you enjoy this artistic direction or do you prefer complete creative openness?
It’s great being able to achieve what a client is looking for but still keeping it in your own style, that’s why on my website there’s several different projects that I’ve worked on, all with their own message but still in an overall style that I would say is my own. Platforms like Instagram really gave me a voice, and I suppose ears too, to be able to display my work and then to hear what people wanted to see more of. Over time I was able to learn what people wanted and then do that in my own way so as to remain interesting, these platforms have definitely helped shape me as a photographer and my professional work is now a lot more flexible as a result. In order to make a living out of being a photographer, as with any job, you need to be able to understand what it is that people want whilst not going against your own morals, I think taking inspiration from multiple sources and really listening to your market is the only way to combine your artistic vision with someone else’s.
Would you say that you have a certain aesthetic that you prefer or is it simply a matter of having taken photographs for so long that you no longer stick vehemently to specific styles you just enjoy your own aesthetic?
Time has definitely played a role in what I do now, I’ve been a photographer for over seven years and I began with things like photographing weddings, fashion, landscape etc and now I simply keep tabs on almost anything or anyone who inspires me whether it’s conceptual art or architecture, as a photographer it’s my job to remain inspired and aware. There’s also a new world of photography now and new ways of achieving certain looks and it’s amazing what’s possible, I know minimalism has been around for some time and there’s still people who follow those original “rules” of minimalist photography but it’s great to see what else is coming out especially with colour play and different angles and digital alterations.
What inspired you to take on photography as a format?
Originally I went to university to study film making but I quickly discovered that I hated working in the film industry. I’ve always been somewhat creative, as a kid I used to draw a lot, comics and such, and then I tried oil painting when I was a little older and I couldn’t express myself well enough in that format and so then I just naturally fell into photography. I found it to be an accessible outlet for creativity and because it’s so much more personal than film making where you’re surrounded by a crew and others with their own artistic vision, it felt a little easier to control and get the results that I was after. One thing that really influenced me, artistically not specifically photographically, was when I saw a Picasso exhibit in Seattle. I saw the work that he produced over his lifetime and I remember being amazed at how brilliant a painter he actually was. I used to think that he was just a famous abstract mind but his work prior to the style that he is most known for is incredibly advanced, and so being able to see his sort of “life cycle” laid bare in front of me really gave me an insight into time and how it’s spent. This influenced perhaps not my work itself but the way in which I work; I think had I not seen this when I did then I might not have worked as hard as I do, I wouldn’t be living, mentally, in this artistic way of always creating or thinking about creating; Picasso influenced me a great deal.
Do you ever discuss your work with others before completion?
Mostly with my wife actually, she’s a designer which is great because I can bounce ideas off of her and get a response that will be constructive rather than placid. If I’m ever stumped by something I tend to ask for her opinion and she’ll give me a new angle, a different perspective, and sometimes that’s necessary because when you’re so intent on creating something you tend to get tunnel vision; she gives me that other perspective that I need. I also make a conscious effort to befriend other photographers online so as to keep stimulated and fresh. Having said all that I do also hike quite often and find that simply getting out of the routine of it all gives me myself a new perspective, so I don’t necessarily always need to ask others because if I put myself in a different mindset by changing my surroundings then that can be just as beneficial.
Do you travel a lot for work/pleasure or do you find yourself mostly staying in Vancouver?
When I was younger I used to absolutely hate this city as I think most people hate the city that they’re from at some point, everything was the same and from an artistic point of view the city had become banal and plain. I moved to New York for a while because I thought that perhaps I would have more opportunity there and that I would grow as a photographer, which I did, but on return to Vancouver I discovered that I saw the city in a new light. Suddenly all of the things that I thought were banal were now tilted off their axis a little bit and I began to see them in a much more interesting way. That’s when my work really began to flourish as my brain had finally caught up with what my eyes were seeing.
I still travel a lot though because like I said I’m always on the lookout for inspiration whether it be online or in the real world. Last year my wife and I went to Morocco for our honeymoon, specifically Marrakech, and I found it inspiring in a different way. It was an incredibly old style city with a very specific look that was at the other end of the spectrum compared to what I normally look for, it was a challenge but it’s not supposed to be easy. I’ve also recently been to Spain, Portugal, Germany, The Netherlands, etc. I found some of these places equally as difficult as Morocco to photograph because of my style not really syncing well with the cities themselves, and even in New York I suffered from this inability to photograph without feeling like every shot was a cliché New York photograph. It can be a struggle to go to these amazing places and remain unique because so many people have been there, I had to work on adapting myself to these surroundings and it’s an ongoing process. I try to look at it as a test of my abilities and a test of my eyes and so whilst I live in Vancouver and work here I still plan for other experiences. Next year I hope to go back to Europe and potentially visit Paris, I’ve even had my eye on getting into the heart of Africa because it looks so foreign and bizarre. A little closer to home I’d love to travel through Route 101 which traverses Washington, Oregon and California along the west coast of America; it would be a challenge but everything is when you’re trying to grow.
What is your go-to equipment?
A lot of my more day-to-day Instagram work is shot on an iPhone, but for professional or more serious work I use a range of cameras from medium format film cameras like the Pentax 67 ii, Mamiya RB67, Mamiya 7 ii, and Mamiya 645, and then a handy point and shoot Olympus MJU, and as far as digital photography goes I use a Nikon D800. Personally I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t prefer medium format film however due to the financial and time constraints that most of us abide by it can be creatively stifling; sometimes you see something amazing and you have your medium format camera and so you take a photo, then you see something that could be amazing but it isn’t quite worth the money that you spent on the film, and then developing and scanning, to take the risk, and so sometimes you lose out on potential great shots with film when you don’t necessarily have the resources or want to take those sorts of risks. I do get nervous when I use film for clients because as I said there is that element of risk and so from that and from the fact that I learnt digital before I learnt film I do tend to go back and forth between the two formats; it all depends on what look I’m trying to achieve in that moment because whilst film is fantastic and cannot be replicated on digital, there are times when it is also limiting.
Are you currently working on anything?
I am actually, I was approached fairly recently to create a photography book which is new and exciting for me, I was also approached by an agency to do some freelance work for them so right now I’m just focused on adding to my portfolio.
Are these projects in keeping with your usual style or are you branching out in order to as you put it, continue to grow?
I’ll be integrating both into these projects, keeping my aesthetic in check and still delivering what the client wants, that’s the difficulty of being a photographer, making sure that everyone is happy including yourself. You don’t want to give in too much to the whim of the client because you’ll be betraying your own integrity, but you don’t want to be stubborn and only do things your way because you’ll find yourself without work; it’s a balancing act and I know if I go and work on something and get home and can sleep then I’ve not betrayed my morals. My personal projects are slightly different in that I’ve garnered a following of a very specific style of mine, and a little while back I began to test this with some more portrait based work and I didn’t receive the feedback that I was looking for and so I realised that in order to feed the people what they want then I couldn’t give them everything, and so now I keep some things for myself.
Are you ever frustrated by the fact that your following only wants more of the same?
It can feel that way at times but I still feel that if you don’t actually shoot what you want, then you lose your voice as an artist, I still feel that I abide by this even if I push those limits at times.
Has your growth as a photographer had an impact on your growth as a person?
Not as much as you might think, I’m still nervous around people when taking their photograph and that isn’t a hurdle I’ve completely jumped over yet. I remember once when I was in New York I had my camera slung over my shoulder and this older lady comes out of nowhere and starts swearing at me and it was incredibly intimidating, I’m a very non-confrontational person and so situations like this can affect your future thought process even when you’re being as innocent as possible. Also whilst in Morocco I noticed that the people there are so used to foreigners and tourists that as soon as they see a camera they start hounding you for money, they see an opportunity in that you’re taking something from them (their culture, traditions, aesthetics etc) and so they’re due some sort of fee for the pleasure; I can understand the idea behind it.
How would you like to be seen?
I’d like to be seen as I am, I’m a friendly enough person and I try to help out because I’ve also received help, and still do. I try to balance a lot of aspects of the world into working for me and I believe that that’s all that anyone can do, you can’t make everyone happy, it’s difficult enough making yourself happy, and so I suppose I’d just like to be seen as someone who is doing their best to make the most of it.
To see more of Vishal's work visit