Ashok Koshy loves his camera. Priyadershini S. looks at his offbeat work style

His photographs have brought life to cold steel. His pictures have romanticised heavy machinery, be it the weathering troughs in a tea factory or the ball bearings of the spinning loom. Ashok Koshy has brought beauty to the pale pink shrimp and the dried ginger root. His close-ups of rough coir, tea, rubber and spices raised industrial photography to a new high. Says the glamorous lens man, “Industrial photography is all about classy pictures, be it of ball bearings or heavy machinery.”

Koshy’s affair with the camera was serendipitous. “I went to The Lawrence School, Ooty, after which I did a year at MCC, Chennai, two years at Elphinstone College, Mumbai and then took a year off and went on a hippie trail to Nepal and Goa. Those were formative years and I was gathering different kinds of experiences but not moving ahead academically. It was in 1971 that I went to London and began working, manual labour, in the fashion boutiques in Oxford and Bond Street, King’s Road, Chelsea. That’s where I met photographer Adrian Flowers who was looking for a fifth assistant. I convinced him that I was suitable for the job though I was a greenhorn. The minute he hired me he knew I had no experience in the field and began teaching me the very basics. I learnt my photography under him.” And Koshy’s learning was vast and keen. “It was at his studio that I met Peter Sellers, Edna O’Brien, Stanely Kubrick, Clive Lloyd, Sir John Gielgud and so many famous personalities. Adrian Flowers used to handle their portfolios. He taught me the nuances of photography, the subtlety and fierceness of light…of how light falls gently on a shoulder …”

After four years of invaluable apprenticeship Koshy was back in India, “back to my flute and kalaripayattu.” Along with photography, music and martial arts have been a part of Koshy’s mind frame.

“I learnt the Carnatic flute at Kala Bhavan in Kochi and kalaripayattu since childhood.”

Back in Bangalore in the eighties it was a chance meeting with Martin Henry, CEO of Madura Coats that got me my first assignment in industrial photography. “It was a very big break for I was paid Rs.3,500 a day and flown to the factory sites by the company’s Cessna aircraft. I had no assistants then. I set up the lights on my own, tried and failed but soon was able to get fantastic pictures of the machines and looms. Suddenly I was flooded with work from other major companies. The next ten years were spent only on highly specialised technical photography.”

Back to Kerala in the nineties, Koshy realised that the market in photography was way behind the times. “Photographers were still being paid per picture. At best there were only wedding photographers. I structured the work and payment style and once again began work with the industries here. Tea, coir, spices, seafood…I went on to do it all. But it is the natural beauty of Kerala that is a shutterbug’s delight.”

It was at this time that Koshy was approached by the Gulbenkian foundation, to do an exhibition of the Portuguese presence in Kerala. “This got me in contact with Portuguese architecture from Goa, Kasargod to Kochi. It was a major exhibition at Macau, in 1991. From then on I graduated to architectural photography.”

In 1985 Koshy won a UN award for ‘Focus on the girl child’. Moving on with architectural photography a coffee-table book on the Houses of Goa, a book on tea, pictures of old Kerala tharavadus, a philosophic book ‘Light and Songs’… his subject grew wider. With major exhibitions in art galleries, Koshy says his life has come full circle when he got an assignment to photograph his alma mater, his school, in its 150th year, 2008. “I went to school as a child and today when I had to take pictures of the school, the top flats, the halls and hideouts, which I had lived in, it was sheer joy. When Dr. APJ Kalam held my works, the book in his hands, I felt thrilled. It has all been worthwhile,” he says with a philosophic look.

And through the light and shade, through focus and zoom, transparencies and positives, Koshy’s pictures like his mind have turned philosophic. “It’s my third eye now,” he says. “I am looking beyond…” and goes on to click just that simple smile of his son Aastik, the blinking eyes of his pet boxer, Zora, the smugness of his cat Flakey and his beautiful house by the water in Poothota, Naksatramana.