'We are all royalty, no matter where we come from'

Updated: 15 December, 2019 08:27 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Fashion designer JJ Valaya has photographed a variety of persons, from his domestic help to social influencers, for an exhibition that says, in the end, it's about the energy you exude

Malini Banerji, fashion direction with a magazine
Malini Banerji, fashion direction with a magazine

It's taken me two years to put this exhibition together. I was on a sabbatical anyway, restructuring my business. So, these photos would have remained in my laptop, if my spiritual guru hadn't pushed me [to exhibit them]. And that's that. It happened," says Delhi-based designer JJ Valaya about a new photography exhibition called Lalaari that launched online on Stir World, a digital platform pertaining to architecture, design and art. Much like his design aesthetic, which draws from royalty and is characterised by opulence and luxury, these photographs also have the "sitters" dressed like royals. "Dressing them up like royalty was me preparing my canvas," says the master couturier. Valaya has been dabbling in photography since 2011, when he put up his first show, Decoded Paradox.

Rabanne Victor, Model
Rabanne Victor, Model

"At that time too, I knew that if I had to do something out of my comfort zone, it couldn't be floozy. It had to be credible. We have a 27-year-old design legacy, after all. I told my publicists to call the harshest of critics. The art world has members like a pack of wolves. They see fashion as frivolous anyway. So, I sought their opinion. Thankfully, they loved the show." Despite decades of success in fashion design, validation from the learned lot about his photography skills was gratifying for Valaya, who then released a second exhibition on architecture.

Amin Jaffer, writer-historian
Amin Jaffer, writer-historian

The Punjabi word for dyer, Lalaari, talks of man receiving life like a blank fabric. Like a dyer, adding colour to it. For Valaya, the exhibit is about telling the story of people, who he is obsessed with. "I stare a lot, people-watch. I like to feel their energies. Thank God nobody minds. They think I am an artist, and I get away with it. It's the energy and aura of a person that makes them. When I was deciding who I will photograph, I sent the selected lot a giant, personal questionnaire, so as to align myself with what they were thinking. In the end, the people in the show, where chosen because of where they were from, and how I felt about them.

JJ Valaya
JJ Valaya

I have photographed some of my domestic helps, my long-time tailor as well as well known names, like Amin Jaffer!" All photographs are in the old-school portraiture style, including those of Leila hotel group heiress Aishwarya Nair, cinematographer Avani Rai, mountaineers Tashi and Nungshi Malik and model Rabanne Victor. Valaya says, for Lalaari, he used his experience of 30 years in textile, craft, embroideries and furniture design to explore the subtle nuances of the subjects. In some cases, the frame itself, plays an important role and is an intrinsic part of the narrative. He adds that he has been inspired by the decorative arts including Christian iconography and the classical Tanjore paintings. At the end of it, it is about making the subjects feel special. "I think all of us should have a superior belief in ourselves. For me, no matter where we come from, we are all royalty."

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First Published: 15 December, 2019 08:09 IST

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