The Sapper by 47 year-old Indian photographer Bharat Sikka is a series of images that uses portraits, landscape photos, still lifes and collages to investigate the figure of Bharat’s father, a sapper of the Indian army (sappers are military engineers specialized in building temporary structures such as bridges or fortifications, layering and disposing of mines, etc.). “The project started out with some pictures of some of my father’s things I had taken on my phone” Bharat says. “I was always intrigued about my father. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him as a child because he was always traveling a lot for work. As an adult, I’ve decided to use photography to try and understand more about him.”
Initially, Bharat was only taking portraits of his father as he went about his daily life, but after a while he decided to take a different approach: “I wanted to go beyond the practice of conventional portraiture and bring other aspects of him in the work. I wanted to play the story out on different layers and take the opportunity to explore the possibilities of the photographic medium at the same time. I started to experiment with framing in different ways, creating collages, photographing existing physical structures as well as constructing sculptures with ordinary objects. I think these images fit well within the project as my father is an eccentric man, and it’s also a reference to his job as a military engineer.” Bharat’s father actually worked with his son on some of the collages and the improvised sculptures they created with things such as rulers and chairs, becoming an active contributor to the project other than simply the performer of his playful portraits. “We discussed about balance, construction and life, and bounced many ideas back and forth on how to translate these themes in photographs” Bharat says about their collaboration.
Working on The Sapper helped Bharat see his father in a new way. “He has been in and out of my life for forty years, so clearly I already knew a lot about him; however, being so close to him for an extended period of time let me see him as more than just a father: through this project I have analyzed him as an individual and as an adult. I feel a new connection and bond with him now.”
In general, Bharat’s main interest as a photographer is “to explore ideas of identity and modernity. I like to experiment by adding layers to photography and enjoy the idea of mixed media. I love exploring different materials and mixing photography with film, music, painting and more.” He describes his influences as dynamic: “There is nothing specific I can pin down as an influence on my photography. I can say I love architecture and space, and I find inspiration in art, sculptures, films.” Some of his favorite contemporary photographers are Christian Patterson, Ron Jude and Jeff Wall. The last photobook he bought was Williamsburg, A Place I Once Called Home by Mara Catalan.
Bharat’s three words for photography are:
Performance. Thought. Form.