An eye for beauty

Georgina Maddox | Updated on March 10, 2018

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As an eye doctor, Navin Sakhuja believes in the intervention of science. As a photographer, he venerates nature.

He spends his working hours looking through a Phoropter at diseased eyes. From gauging glaucoma to burst blood vessels, close encounters with the murkier side of the human eye, has given this ophthalmologist a sharp eye for beauty. Once or twice a year, Navin Sakhuja takes time off from his medical practice and roams the wild with his camera looking for that perfectly untouched vista.

This time around, his solo at the India Habitat Centre, ‘a thousand shadows’, in collaboration with the Discovery Channel, highlights the beauties of the un-tampered Namib Desert that stretches for more than 2,000 km along the Atlantic coasts of Angola and South Africa.

It all began in 1989 when he borrowed a second-hand camera from his cousin. “I started with pictures of the family and then moved on to take images at Lodhi Gardens and then wildlife sanctuaries. There, I discovered my penchant for shooting nature,” says the 52-year-old. He had his first exhibition of landscapes in 2005 and after that there has been no looking back. “Two years ago I was in Iceland, 66 degrees due North, in a part of the world that lays claim to being only 16 million years young,” elaborates Sakhuja, for whom facts roll off easily given his training as a doctor.

His discipline towards his practice serves him in good stead when he is shooting at some of the most remote places in the world, including 300 feet below ground level in the Slot Canyons of Arizona. “I usually start at 5 am and spend the whole time out with my camera, stopping only to eat to survive. It’s really thrilling to shoot the whole day and do nothing else,” says Sakhuja who began shooting with film and moved on to digital.

Sitting on the edge of technology with medicine, Sakhuja is not sentimental about preserving old techniques of silver prints or darkroom techniques that many photographers often indicate as a preference. “You cannot escape technological advancement. People get all caught up in the equipment and the materials used to create a good photograph. Ultimately I believe it is the composition that defines your photograph, the eye with which they are taken and not the equipment with which they are taken,” he says.

He did however shoot on an SLR with slides and film and that, he admits, has sharpened his approach to taking images with digital. “When you are talking about archival prints and limited edition you have to factor in digital photography that allows you to create high-quality images that are sometimes not possible with film," he explains. Has he ever worried about making his subjects overly exotic? “We already have enough suffering in the world and certainly, there is enough sadness. I look to art and photography to give me relief and the beauty that I capture is raw so I am not worried of it being too beautiful,” he says.

To witness the sublime roaring dunes of the Namib Desert and the rocky outcrops of the deserted coast, as seen through the eyes of Sakhuja, catch the exhibition. These are views that may be extinct soon.

A thousand shadows is on from 12th to 17th December at The Habitat Centre, Delhi

Georgina Maddox is a Delhi-based writer

Published on December 16, 2015

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