Fashion designer JJ Valaya is glad he traded off his detachable steering wheel for a manually-operated Pentax camera, 22 years ago. “It was sort of a barter I made. My friend wanted a steering wheel and I was looking for a camera,” says Valaya laughingly. Since then, the couture king has been surreptitiously pursuing his passion as a lensman.
Now, the 43-year-old seems to be going forward in Karl Lagerfeld’s shiny shoes — juggling between design, photo studios and balancing himself as a skilled designer and a keen photographer. “It’s a great honour being compared to the genius of Lagerfeld. He’s a brilliant designer and has over 20 photography books to his credit. This is just the beginning for me,” says Valaya at the launch of his coffee-table book, Decoded Paradox, in the city. This collector’s special is a culmination of four months of research that took Valaya across Delhi.
Featuring black and white portraits of Valaya’s close circuit — stylists, restaurateurs, artists, socialites and even his masterjis — his subjects are seen rubbing shoulders with Delhi’s locals. Valaya says he has tried to capture the city’s past and present through his lens. “The idea was to try and put together two very different periods of Delhi — the historic past and the vivid present.” No surprise then, Valaya’s animated images see his subjects donning royal regalia, who are thrown in offbeat locales like Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid as well as architectural relics like Agrasen ki Baoli.
Handpicking 24 of these exciting frames, Valaya announces his arrival as a photographer with a debut show in the city. “The exhibition is my tribute to the Delhi, which has been my home for the last two decades. The pictures are a portrait of the static merged with the alive or the dynamic. I’ve tried to juxtapose contemporary Delhi with Delhi from the Mauryan period – the age of the Mughals and the days of the Raj – and seamlessly integrate them.”
Ask him whether his frames work as a personalised catalogue, since his subjects are seen ostentatiously parading in his majestic attire and the designer blatantly refutes. “This has nothing to do with fashion. It’s about me leading a double life, as a designer and a fine arts photographer. The pictures are staged reality. Though the shot was completely staged, I brought in subjects into unexpected locations, with unforeseen results.” Sure enough, with women dripping in jewellery, clutching a sitar and turbaned men with kartaals in hand seen against the backdrop of the CWG construction, the on-the-site ogles must have been aplenty.
After this exhibition, Valaya plans to take his new persona across the world. “I plan to take this show to London, Paris and New York,” he says. And in June, Valaya will be off to Dufftown, Scotland with a group of artists participating in the Artiste in Residence programme at the Glenfiddich distillery. “I’ll be visiting the place as a photographer,” he beams. Next up, the designer-turned-photographer plans to take to the canvas. “My next exhibition should be a mix of photographs and paintings,” he adds.
The pictures are a portrait of the static with the alive or the dynamic. I’ve tried to juxtapose contemporary Delhi with Delhi from the Mauryan period — the age of the Mughals and the days of the Raj — and integrate them.
Designer JJ Valaya Glenfiddich presents Decoded Paradox, an exhibition of photographs by JJ Valaya at The Viewing Room, Elysium Mansion, Walton Road, Colaba till February 27