About the artist
In this week’s artist interview we meet Syed Uzair. Syed is a doctor and a self-taught impressionist and abstract photographer from Pakistan. He started photography in 2015 and fell in love with the process of making photos.
Syed began to lose his enthusiasm for documenting reality, instead finding he could use his love for impressionism to enter the world of Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) photography. Using his camera as a paintbrush, instead of freezing moments in time, he can let things flow over time and capture the motion and energy of the scene. His work is about ‘Impermanence’—our temporary existence. It’s about our finite time on earth and the boundless desire and effort to conquer it.
How did you first get into digital art?
I always wanted to be a painter but never really got the chance to learn how to paint. In 2015, after my graduation, I got my hands on a camera for the first time. I didn’t know much about photography as an art form but I soon realised there’s more to it than just taking photos. Gradually I learned the basics of the camera, composition, post processing, etc. Ever since it’s been a rollercoaster ride!
Why did you choose digital art as your medium?
I didn’t necessarily choose the digital medium, it’s just I started my journey in the digital age. In fact I could have easily been a traditional painter or film photographer. I am very much fascinated by film and darkroom techniques like diffusion, toning etc. Digital is still struggling to replicate most of these old techniques efficiently. I have to admit I love the freedom and the creative possibilities that this medium has to offer.
Tell us about your artistic style and what inspires and motivates you?
After learning the basics of photography I realised that I didn’t enjoy documenting reality. Being a photographer was limiting, I wanted to be an artist who happens to use a camera as a tool, or as a paint brush, as I like to call it.
I had always loved painting and I think, subconsciously, I was trying to create painterly images. It took me a while to realise that it was impressionism in particular that I was chasing. That’s when it all started for me and I began to experiment with ICM photography. It was difficult because there were no resources for learning the technique, so most of what I did was trial and error. The Impressionist movement and artists, especially Claude Monet, inspired me a great deal. This is how my journey as an ICM photographer started.
Tell us about the process you use to create your art
I work in multiple ways: one is pure ICM, where I read the energy and motion of the scene. I experiment with shutter speed, based on what I want the final image to look like; using longer shutter speeds for more abstract images. ICM images tend to be soft and hence texturising becomes a very important part of my work. Not only for surface quality but also for mood and other creative possibilities.
My second process is multiple exposures. I rarely do it in camera. I use Analogue Effex Pro for that process. I’ve always had a thing for multiple exposures. The visual echo defines me as a person and reinforces the concept of “Impermanence”.
Third, and more recently, I’ve started experimenting with abstract photography and that changes the way I shoot entirely. So now I’m shooting either colours, moods, textures or shapes. In this style there are no rules and limits to how much I can post process. I keep experimenting until I reach the desired result.
If you could take only two of your images to a desert island, what would they be and why?
I always wanted to take a beautiful image of something as mundane as garbage. One day I was walking past a tree when I noticed filthy stagnant water in the shade of that tree. The colour of the shadow looked very blue, complementing the colour of the fallen tree branch. I used the tree branch to divide the frame and made and abstract image using the ICM technique. The result was a beautiful abstract with rich colours. I love it because it’s impossible to guess the real subject of this image and I am successful at what I was trying to do.
Second would be an image I took of the shrine of Sachal Sarmast. I love it because it is a little Turner-esque but also in terms of its message, which is about the world being a temporary carnival. It shows a Castle on one hand and a Mosque—a worship place—on the other; it’s up to the viewer to choose between them, and that’s how our lives are in this world. We are given all the choices and freedom but only we decide how we live and what we leave behind.
Tell us about any memorable comments or responses you’ve had about your work.
I love it when my mentors, like Eva Polak and Andrew S Gray, appreciate my work, or when someone calls my work Turner-esque, which has happened quite a lot lately. When people ask me if it’s a painting or a photo I feel successful, because I like to blur the lines between them. It’s also very encouraging when an abstract painter admires my work. It’s a different feeling knowing my photography is inspiring people across mediums. For me inspiring others is more important than appreciation.
Name three artists who inspire you. What is it about their work that resonates with you?
It’s an interesting story. I always wanted to create a certain type of work but I didn’t exactly know what it was until one day I landed on Alexey Titarenko’s website. It was a bag of mixed emotions; seeing exactly what I’ve been trying to do, and here it was done by an artist of his stature, and done so perfectly. Although I didn’t want to end up copying his work, of course, I couldn’t unsee it. I have never studied his work for that reason, but he continues to inspire me.
Ansel Adams is another photographer who is a master of tones. He’s the reason why I love black and white photography. The Zone System he introduced is pure genius and makes black and white photography easy and fun at the same time.
J M W Turner’s work just feels right. It has the kind of colours and drama that I believe define me as an artist, more than my own work. In fact it’s true for all the above mentioned artists. Despite being truly inspired, I try my best not to copy any of them. But they’ve subconsciously changed something in me forever and I can’t help but produce work that resembles theirs.
How do you think you’ve improved as an artist compared to when you first started?
I think art is just a by-product. My real improvement is as a person and not just as an artist. Photography becomes an added dimension and different context, and when I mix it with other areas like spirituality, psychology and religion, is where I’ve improved the most.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t improved as an artist. When I started I didn’t understand composition, my post processing was poor and I had no sense of balance. All these things have improved over time and especially because of studying abstract art, my sense of balance and flow has improved a lot. I think it’s more about the journey and constant growth. I will continue to grow learning new things every day. But I really feel blessed to be a part of it.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started making art?
As an artist, it’s very important to ‘trust the process’. It’s only been a little over five years since I started photography and fewer since I started ICM. So everything I’ve done, whether right or wrong, has led me to the point where I am at today and there is still a long way to go. I have to make my share of decisions and mistakes; I’ve hit creative ruts and always found a way around them and that’s how creativity works. It’s a journey with no shortcuts and I would do nothing different if I start all over again.
What devices/equipment and software do you use to create your art?
Obviously it all starts in camera. ICM and everything I previsualise is all done in camera. So shooting is the most important part. I use Lightroom for basic adjustments, then I switch to Photoshop for most of my creative work, which includes mostly texturising and any further color adjustments that I need to make. I also use the Nik Collection plug-in, especially Analogue Effex for multiple exposures and Silver Effex for monochrome.
Do you use images from image stock websites in your work?
Never. That will not satisfy me as an artist and that’s just my opinion, with all respect to those who do. I only use my images. Part of the reason is the experience of going out and shooting. It is very important for me, even if I am taking an abstract image which is not about location. I am always looking to develop an eye and see like an artist and I want my work to be original. If I download stock images that would beat the purpose, at least for me.
Do you think digital/new media art is still not regarded as a valid form of art?
I think photography overall is still struggling to be accepted as an art form, especially where I’m from. Photographers are not allowed the kind of freedom that painters enjoy. We are restricted to the original colour palette and are not allowed to clone out the tree branches and lamp posts. Even some prestigious sites don’t allow these things.
But yes, digital as a medium is also struggling. Most digital painters I know paint over final print in order to make it look more authentic and the fact that you can make multiple copies of digital artwork affects its pricing in galleries. I think artists have to step up and own digital as a medium and what it has to offer.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and artwork with us, Syed!
Find more of Syed’s work in his entry in our Artists’ Directory