When a photographer dropped out of a shoot last minute for Directions magazine two years ago, one of our senior art directors Alexandra Bruns got in touch with him. “Having met Vivek at a photobook workshop, I had my eye on his work for a while. He not only manages to capture the warmth and beauty in people and spaces through his honest approach but also their spirit,” as she put it. The joy and playfulness of his approach can be seen in the Sunlight and Agave story he shot for that issue, and he’s been a firm favorite since. For the recently published Taste and Place: The Design Hotels Book, Vadoliya brings the sun-kissed Umbrian landscape to life in the chapter Homegrown.
Indeed, the British-Indian photographer summarizes his work best “as celebrating people, especially those marginalized or niche communities who may not have a voice of their own.” His distinctive and personal work spans fashion, documentary, and portraiture, and often explores identity. In his first book, Mallakhamb, out now, he turns his lens on the practitioners of this ancient martial art form dating back to the 12th century. Shot in Mumbai, the images showcase an enthralling display of superhuman strength and agility that combines wrestling grips and yoga poses. We chatted with Vadoliya about his book, identity, and travel, among other things.
I grew up just outside London. My mom is Kenyan Indian, but I’ve never been to Kenya. I’ve visited India quite a bit growing up. I guess my images are very nostalgic and capture the warmth that I feel in India. I think there’s a sense of optimism in my images and a celebration of subjects in my imagery, which is really important to me. I think having that sense of warmth brings a sense of positivity and happiness to images that I really want to bring across.
I used to be a creative producer for a bunch of years and finished doing that. After that, Brotherhood was my first personal project where I explored the spectrum of masculinity within British Asian culture. So there’s different notions of gender and masculinity within those images. Ebony Horse Club is about identity. It’s in the heart of Brixton, and a lot of POC (people of color) kids go there because, you know, traditionally horse riding is seen as a space that is typically white and not where POC people can enter. Ebony Horse Club is giving these kids a chance to experience horses because what they can do for people’s mental health is so powerful, but also to teach the kids new skills.
I discovered Mallakhamb during a trip to India. I usually go to a place called Shivaji Park in Mumbai to visit friends. I saw it performed there and I just found the expressive, poetic movements very captivating. Mallakhamb uses yoga and wrestling. It was traditionally a way of training warriors. These kids in the club are bringing it back after years of it being unpopular. It got stamped out a little bit during the British rule. I wanted to share it with the world. I hope other people are as fascinated as I was.
I shot it before the pandemic, over a couple of mornings. The kids were always so polite. They would come before school or on the weekend and work with me for a few hours. They would show me the movements and really celebrate what they were trying to do. They were all very accomplished Mallakhamb performers. It was amazing. They were speaking a lot about how it relaxes them even when they’re stressed out. And I think there’s something quite mesmerizing about it because it forces your body and your mind to connect. In a world where we’re often so stressed out, that's really important to remember sometimes.
Also, I guess, I was moved just seeing the different characters of people. There is a full range of people from different ages. I found it incredible that people in their 40s and 50s were doing it. We arrived on a Sunday, and it was so apparent how there were like a thousand kids coming to the park to play cricket and there was a tiny group of people playing Mallakhamb. I thought, wow, cricket is an overwhelming that sport is in the country. But then you see these kids doing something very different, which has brought a lot of balance to their lives, and I found that very powerful.
That’s a tough one. I’ve got a documentary coming out, which is very meaningful. It’s about a grandson coming back to his hometown to discover that his grandfather was a famous poet. And through that, you sort of understand the South Asian migration story. Sisterhood was a really powerful project that showed South Asian women in a different light, specifically in the northern parts of the UK where the press often has a field day and presents them in quite a negative light.
I don’t think so. The pandemic made me look at home a little bit more. I was already looking there anyway, but I want to be able to find that sense of home in different places around the world…go back to traveling a lot and experiencing the celebration of people—that is what I try to do so much in my work.
Mexico is pretty high up there. California’s very beautiful. India has always had a special place in my life. Italy is great as well.
Post pandemic, I think the line between work and play will be more fluid since people can work from anywhere in the world. So taking longer, more meaningful trips where people can be a bit slower will be the norm. It’s better for the environment as well: taking less flights but maybe taking more meaningful trips rather than people taking short trips and going around the world too often.
Explore Vivek's story in Taste and Place: The Design Hotels Book, a broad and inclusive exploration of food. In our most ambitious book yet, we have called upon leading writers, photographers, creative chefs, and culinary innovators to delve into forward-looking ideas and inspiring practices around food through our hotels, destinations, and larger community. The online sale profits from this year’s book will go to humanitarian aid actions suggested by our two Ukrainian member hotels.