Vikesh Kapoor’s love letter to his immigrant mother

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“My mum served the girl community in the grandest possible way. That was the spark for this whole idea, ” states Vikesh Kapoor , as he embarks in the Leica x 1854 Witnesses of: Devotion commission

Music was Vikesh Kapoor ’s first love. A long time before he found his way into the world of digital photography, he wrote songs. Travelling across the world to play shows, he’d spend months away from home. But at some point, he began to think about the path he’d taken. “I started thinking a lot regarding my purpose, and what kind of sacrifices my parents had made for me to get to where I had been, ” he says. “Being an American folk songwriter of Indian descent put me within an unique sphere — and I kept questioning whether the things i was doing was important or consequential enough. ”

Kapoor is the latest photographer to be commissioned to create a brand new body of work for the historic camera brand, Leica , in collaboration with 1854. Addressing the theme Witnesses of: Devotion , he will receive a £5, 000 grant and Leica tools to create an unique body of work over the course of three weeks.  

© Vikesh Kapoor.

Having emigrated to the USA from India in 1973, Kapoor’s parents completed in a small town in non-urban Pennsylvania, and to this day they may be one of only a few immigrant families in the region’s overwhelmingly whitened population. Before their pension, his father was a doctor, and his mother was an obstetrician-gynaecologist. After his period of existential pondering, Kapoor started looking back at old family photos, as well as spending some time with ones he’d taken more recently. “At the time associated with taking those pictures, I had been just documenting my life with them and creating memories, ” he says. But almost unknowingly, a series of sorts had started to emerge.

See You At Home is usually, as the photographer explains it, “a kind of visual study of the latent sense associated with loss that immigrants may feel as they grow old in the non-native culture. ” To be an immigrant is a strange paradox, he says, because the shift can mean freedom, but also remoteness too. In the pictures Kapoor took, we see a constellation of small but representational moments: his father by itself in the garden; his mom, quiet and contemplative, gazing out of a window; framed photographs adorning a dressing up table bathed in afternoon light.

© Vikesh Kapoor.

Provisionally titled Modern Country Doctor , Kapoor’s offer for the Leica x 1854 Witnesses of: Devotion commission continues the personal thread begun in See You At Home . In essence, it is a love letter in order to his mother, and the girl devotion to her community across the decades — namely, within delivering babies. “Sometimes after i was growing up, I’d hang around in her hospital waiting room after school, and I’d hear her providing babies, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to think about her as an migrant and how immigrants are often viewed as servers, ” he says. “This led me to realise that she served her community in the grandest possible way. That was really the spark for this idea. ”

As a path into the process, Kapoor continues to be speaking to his mother, plus her former secretaries, and is planning to sift through hospital records too. After getting some facts together, he learnt the total number of children she delivered in her career is within excess of 3000. “In 2019, the census recorded 9083 people here, ” he explains. “So that means, within an obtuse way, that she’s responsible for a third of the town. ”

© Vikesh Kapoor.

Kapoor’s idea is, in part, inspired by Eugene Smith’s iconic 1948 photo essay, Country Physician . In a similar manner to Kapoor’s idea, Jones documented the everyday life of a doctor in a small Colorado town. Kapoor’s mother, however , is currently retired, so he is tasked with finding ways to signify her impact after the fact. “I’ve been thinking about stories my mother told me about how she bartered with sufferers whose children she shipped, ” he says. “For example, an Amish family in our community built handmade grandpa clocks, and so, in return for her care, we have one of those sitting in the living room. ” 

Another story he tells entails the owners of a Chinese language restaurant — “we had unlimited Chinese food for the rest of our lives after that, ” this individual laughs. He’s now taking into consideration the ways he can incorporate these layers of nuance and private stories into the commission. Together with the grant, he will furthermore receive a place on the well-known Leica Lab course, one of the industry’s most prestigious online learning programmes which facilitates artists in evolving photographic narratives.  

© Vikesh Kapoor.

Kapoor is hoping to make new pictures of some of the people his mom delivered. In a more abstract sense, he’s been experimenting with predicting old photos, as another way to bring the past alive. “I also want to create a minumum of one penultimate portrait of the mother, ” he adds. In the end, this new work from Kapoor will be a tale of devotion told via the many lives that branch out from the central figure of the artist’s mother: “[It] makes me think of a family tree, but a single for the whole town, ” he admits that.  

Meanwhile, his mother has begun carrying stamped tackled envelopes in her bag. If she bumps in to any of her former sufferers, she’ll ask for pictures of the children and post all of them back to her son.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is an author and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over forty international magazines and magazines, and held positions as editor for organisations such as the Photographers’ Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Become Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University associated with London

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