Meet Arjun Kamath: From engineering student to internet stardom
The provocative photography essay Coming Out, which tells the story of a lesbian couple has stirred up a lot of passion on the internet. Arjun Kamath is the photographer behind this project. He started off as an engineering student in a university in Bangalore, India but soon realized that his heart was elsewhere. After taking a photography workshop, Arjun fell in love with this art form. When he completed his engineering degree, he moved to Los Angeles, USA where he is currently getting a Masters in Film and Television production. UNAIDS recently spoke to Arjun about what inspired and motivated him to create Coming Out.
UNAIDS: Your project is called ‘Coming Out,’ what message are you trying to convey?
Arjun: Basically the message I’m trying to convey is that we have made such big advances in technology and science – we’re sending rockets to space and exploring the galaxy – but I feel our thinking is going backwards. We cannot even respect each other here on our planet . We don’t respect a man who loves a man or a woman who loves a woman. If we cannot love and respect the people around us just based on how a person chooses to live and love, then what is the point of such scientific advancements? The biggest mission for all of us on planet Earth should be to love and respect each other.
All this progress is great but it’s important to understand and accept that we are primitive in our basic instincts. When a puppy cuddles with you he doesn’t base it on who you love; he doesn’t care if you’re white or dark skinned, gay or straight. He just loves you. Human beings on the other hand look at how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin is, what your sexual orientation is before they love you. Is that love? We haven’t even gotten past basic human emotions yet.UNAIDS:
What was the thought behind the title Coming Out? Can you explain the story briefly?
Arjun: The story is called Coming Out because it shows two women coming out of the closet. It metaphorically describes them embracing homosexuality and not hiding anymore. They come out but before they can be happy they are captured and put back into the closet. So many people are hesitant to come out because they are afraid of being persecuted. We live in a sad world right now because so many people are not understood and accepted based on their choices. The series begins at the closet and ends there, a full circle. Like I said, what’s the point of being so technologically advanced? It is hollow if we are not able to grow emotionally. There are so many things to fix around us. We have the capability and intelligence to look out of space but we lack the emotional ability to look into another human beings’ heart and understand them even though they’re right next to us.
UNAIDS: You are heterosexual male, why did you want to focus on a lesbian couple in your photographic project?
Arjun: I wasn’t really thinking too hard about whether it would be a lesbian couple or two men. For me it was just about conveying the idea. I had a choice but I went along with two women, because when you see two women together there’s a sense of poignancy and elegance.
A subtle message hidden behind showing two women is that in Asia and a lot of other parts of the world, women are still not as respected as they should be. It shows how women are so easily trapped and locked down in the society. If you notice, in the photo essay, there is very little struggle there when the women are put back into the closet. I want people to understand that women have the choice to love too.
I want women to see this and say “ I’m not going to be like that. I’m not going to go out without a struggle. I will do what I want. If I want to dance I will dance, if I want to travel I will. I will love who I want to.” If we love the women in our society they will love us back and make this world a much happier place to live and breathe in.
UNAIDS: Are there any personal experiences linked to this choice of theme?
Arjun: Definitely not. I’m straight and that’s why I feel like I could be objective in this project. As a storyteller if I was homosexual, I might have been too involved in the story to be objective. I have gay friends who have shared their stories and struggles with me and I felt I had to show this struggle through my art. Being a friend and fellow human being I was able to connect to their struggle and that’s what I wanted to bring to the forefront with this story.
UNAIDS: As a young person today, what do you hope to see in terms of LGBT rights?
Arjun: I hope for a tomorrow where we’re not even talking about this issue. Just like how we go to McDonalds and have a burger and no one talks about it because it’s so normal. I want to reach a point where no one is discussing this anymore because it’s no longer an issue.We are all talking about it because it’s an issue, the day there is no longer any need for articles or discussions about this issue is the day I hope for.
UNAIDS: How do you think your photographs can help create a more supportive environment for LGBT people?
Arjun: I received a lot of personal messages from the LGBT community all over the world. They said that even though I was a stranger, they felt that they knew me because I was their voice. I became their friend without even meeting them. I expressed their voices through my art and it brought me closer to so many wonderful people. Although the end of the story is tragic, the LGBT community knows what I’m trying to say, they know that that’s not how the world should be. The only reason there is a tragic ending is because I want people see it and be shaken up. I want them to realize that’s not how the real ending should be. I didn’t stand up on a stage with a microphone to shout for rights, I did it through my art and I feel that’s how beautiful things happen.
UNAIDS:What is your hope for tomorrow for the LGBT community?
Arjun: I want to be able to see LGBT men and women living and loving freely. I want to see LGBT marriages legalized all over the world. I also hope to see young people taking steps like I did to try and stand up for LGBT people instead of looking down to them.
For my LGBT brothers and sisters- I’d like to encourage them not to be afraid to be different.Our strength should be drawn from theirs. They need to believe they’re not doing anything wrong and strive for a better tomorrow for themselves.
To everyone else – Don’t tell your kids whom to love. If you do not understand them, don’t- but don’t force them into situations they don’t want to be in like marrying someone they don’t love. Support the.Love them. Treat them like equals. Everyone deserves a chance to be happy, give them that chance.
See the full photography project by Arjun Kamath: http://on.fb.me/1F9Lzks