If Mick Rock is the “the man who shot the ’70s,” consider Ruvan Wijesooriya the guy who snapped the aughts. You might know him as the official lensman behind the book “LCD” or the photographer who captures fashion editorials for major magazines, but there’s a quieter side to the artist as well. This is made abundantly clear in his new series, “Explore the Expansion of Space.”
Wijesooriya has ripped a selection of images captured on a trip to Mexico in half, and poetically juxtaposed them to “awaken the senses and challenge the idea of space.” The beauty of a bisected flower next to half that of the sun is simple, but effectively mesmerizing. But to round out the concept fully—currently on display at the Ilegal Mezcal Gallery in New York—Wijesooriya created a book that also takes shape as a VR component, worked with perfumer Darrel Do to capture the scents of the Yucatán, and created a soundtrack that calls to mind a sense of place with friend Gabe Andruzzi of The Rapture. With so much to consider, we checked in with Wijesooriya to learn more about the project and his departure from the glitz and glamour of rock’n’roll.
Why did you decide to explore an expansion of space?
I’ve been focusing on capturing a moment in time that is really specific, like that moment at a fashion shoot when the person turns around and their dress is all up and [claps] nailing that shot or at friends’ weddings, capturing the kiss—there’s only one time that’s going to happen, and I have to nail that shot or else I’m shit. So it’s different focusing on taking pictures that are more elastic in time, rather than a specific moment.
In many ways I think that the show is really embracing what I’m not supposed to do, like taking the risk to change the work that I’m doing and to take the book and turn it into a virtual reality experience. Francesca [Wade, his girlfriend and the show’s curator] has been a big part of the project; she designed the book and she helped me have the balls to rip through the pictures. She really pushed me to take some risks, to do some things I always wanted to do. I’ve got like four or five of these projects sitting in my archive that I’ve never gotten to fully explore, but I think because I took Francesca to Mexico last year it felt fresh.
Why 21° N 87° W?
All of the photos come from the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s this place where when I get there I think, “Wow, I could really lose my mind here”—in a sense of thinking about things differently. You get a different perspective on living in New York, you know, when you’re in the middle of the jungle. So I wanted to capture that and play with the idea of a moment that’s elastic rather than finite. Part of that was getting these really general pictures, but which still evoke that same feeling the place has. When I was capturing it, I didn’t see the point in making it time-specific, and so having these broad kinds of pictures allows it to be classic and lasting, rather than be “that time when.”
How did you know how to create in VR?
After doing this live-action piece a year ago, a 360-degree VR fashion editorial [called Unstitched], I sat down and thought to myself, “What is the biggest impact I can have on this medium, with understanding that I’m a total luddite?” And I found it, it’s just a very different approach, a more mental approach.
My approach to photography is all on film, and a lot of it is degraded film. The VR thing is not CGI, and I don’t know any VR that isn’t from a digital source. So the idea of taking analog content and putting it in VR that isn’t even moving is different, not to say it’s better or worse, it just shows that there’s a certain texture that’s missing in the entire VR form. In the same way that Casablanca with the grain looks better than anything that came out last year. There’s something about the depth, and there’s something about trying to help pioneer or introduce new ideas to VR that’s important to me. But it’s all an experiment.
Is there a narrative to the work?
There isn’t really a narrative per se, though I think with these meditative VR pieces that I’m making there is a story, a very abstract story. With this, it’s about being this person who kind of falls from the sky into this place. So in the book, as well as the meditation video, you’re in the perspective of going through the clouds and then you’re in the water and then you almost come up and the sun’s coming out and coming toward you and then all of the sudden you’re in the trees.
What was it like the first time you ripped one of the photos?
“Explore the Expansion of Space” is one part in an on-going collaboration between Ilegal Mezcal and the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar, which includes an experiential art series curated by Matthew Green and Kaylan Rexer. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 12-6PM and Saturday 12-8PM. Mezcal will be available throughout.
Images courtesy of Ilegal Gallery