Sometimes we make choices that, completely unknown to us at the time, will change our lives in more amazing ways than we could ever imagine. For Canadian photographer Sharad Gadhia, not only did a travel opportunity give him one of the best experiences of his life, but it also resulted in an unexpected friendship, a deeper love of photography and the publishing of his first photography book, darling. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Sharad on his publication of darling and I hope it inspires you to let yourself wander this beautiful world and let your passions sing.
When I read the dedication of darling, then slowly flipped through Sharad’s photos, I instantly knew this was more than just a photography book, but a story of fate. A decision to travel across the world. The passing of a camera from one photographer to the next, like a torch. It would all piece together a story of self-discovery that is now immortalized in each of the photographs printed on the pages. But to fully understand the story behind darling I had to go to the beginning.
So Sharad, to jump right into it, what inspired you to do this trip?
“I was in my third year of university and had the opportunity to go on an exchange program through school. I applied to a pretty wide range of places – Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia – and I got into a school, based out of Singapore, so I decided to pull the trigger. It came at a point in my life where everything felt pretty routine. All anyone could focus on at that point was what jobs they were going to get after school; and being in business, it was a lot of networking events and business dinners. I very quickly realized I needed a change of scenery.
I’m someone who loves to travel. I was born in India, lived in Uganda for a couple of years, then my family moved to Miami for a couple of years before ending up in Canada. All this moving around meant that from an early age the importance of understanding and experiencing different cultures was pretty well embedded into my outlook of the world.”
Why did you choose Southeast Asia, specifically?
“It’s a place I’ve always been fascinated by, and still am honestly. I grew up watching a lot of travel and cooking documentaries. Like so many people my age, I was inspired by Anthony Bourdain and the way he interacted and engaged with different cultures. I used to binge Parts Unknown and The Layover and remember watching the Hanoi, Vietnam episode, in particular, thinking “Holy shit, I have to go there.” Something about the organized chaos drew me in and going there in person was even better than I could’ve imagined. I think the way of life in that part of the world really connects with me. I had a feeling I would feel very at home and going there confirmed that. You have such a wide variety of cultures and since it’s fairly easy to get from one place to another, it just really made sense for me to go there.”
Were there any unexpected moments, both positive and negative, during your trip?
“So many! I met a lot of great people there, some that I still keep in touch with to this day. Vietnam and Japan in particular held a lot of unexpected moments that I love to reflect on. I went into it with the mindset of saying yes to experiences I typically wouldn’t have in the past – and this led to some beautiful moments.
In Japan, I went to a city called Hakone to try and photograph the mountains, but by the time I got there, I found myself in the middle of a pretty heavy thunderstorm completely unprepared. I ended up taking a bus and walking a few kilometres in the pouring rain to go to a nearby onsen – a bathhouse with natural hot springs – and I was pretty annoyed by the time I got there at how the day had turned out. I was tempted to call a cab at this point but decided to roll with it and enjoy the hot springs, and it ended up being one of my favourite moments of the trip. Even though it was pouring rain and quite cold, I got a recommendation to go to a small restaurant in town after I was done.
When I went there I met a young guy in his late 20’s who owned this small pizzeria, and he invited me to stay in the restaurant after it closed, and we spent a few hours eating pizza and chatting about our respective journeys. He ended up giving me great recommendations for how to spend the rest of my trip and I was able to capture some of my favourite images as a result. This is just one of the dozens of similar moments I’ve gotten to experience, and I’m hoping for many more.”
Was there anything you wanted to get out of this trip?
“To me the trip was honestly just to experience what life somewhere so different felt like. I was at a place where life felt stale and I felt like I was really just going through the motions. Mentally, that can be pretty taxing. I was really looking to put myself in new and uncomfortable situations to just see what would happen, and I’m really glad I did.”
How did the idea of a photobook come to be then?
“This was an idea I loosely shared with some friends while I was in Japan. I had seen a few photography magazines before my trip, and even while I was there, I had an idea to create a small zine of my trip. But over time as I kept travelling, the idea kept getting more potent and I decided it should become a little bigger of an undertaking.”
Once you decided that you wanted to create a photobook of your trip, how did that process go?
“Well, I went on this amazing trip and less than 2 months later, the world went on lockdown. All of a sudden, I was spending every day in the house like everyone else. Glued to the news and scared of really interacting with people and doing too much. After the first few months, when school finished – I graduated during Covid -, and the initial novelty of being able to just play video games and watch movies all day wore off, I got real bored really quick. That’s kind of when I started to dedicate more time to really polishing up the book.
But again, I realized I’d been pretty uninspired, so I started going to the library and used bookstores – shout out the basement of Pages in Kensington! Pretty soon my room had heaps of photo books scattered around it. This let me escape the reality of being stuck inside and get inspired like I hadn’t been in a long time.
Studying the works of photographers like Rene Burri, Steve McCurry, Joel Meyerowitz, Raghu Rai, Robert Capa, Lu Nan and countless others helped me feel refreshed and motivated to shoot again. The way so many of these greats saw the world around them and were able to create these images that I’d stare at for hours was honestly mind-blowing.
That helped me realize that photography does still need a tangible aspect to it. There’s something really special about holding a print or flipping through a book that commands your attention and draws you in — and that was the fuel I needed to finish the book.”
When prepping for this interview, I was told you decided to publish independently. Had you ever published a photobook before? Was there a reason you decided to publish independently?
“Nope, this was my first time taking a swing at it. I honestly chose to go the independent route because I just wasn’t sure where to start when working with a publisher and was a little apprehensive of sharing something so personal with a third party. But that being said if there’s anyone reading this and interested in doing this project or future ones on a larger scale, I’m open to chatting!”
How was your experience independently publishing a photobook? Did you encounter any unexpected turns?
“In terms of my experience doing it all myself, there were a lot of twists and turns for sure. I was just so focused on the photos that when it came time to lay it all out there were so many details I hadn’t even considered.
I still remember thinking I was finally done and a friend asking me “so what’s the bleed distance” and just looking at him like he was speaking a foreign language. Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled about having to go back in and get my files actually production-ready, as opposed to just laid out nicely on a preview, but ultimately it was one of many similar learning experiences that will help me a ton going forward. I’m also really thankful to have friends around me who were willing to go through the book and layout multiple times, help me with copy, and point out things I hadn’t noticed at all that needed to be fixed. They all were so crucial to this project getting done and I’m really grateful to have that energy around me.”
As you touched on, there was more to making a photobook than just putting your images together. Are there details of the book that you feel will influence the way someone will interact with your work?
“For sure, a lot of the images in darling are old school in terms of the colour palette and shooting style, and the subject matter has a lot to do with seeing new places and what life on the street looks like there. So I chose a colour palette and paper stock to try and emulate an older National Geographic magazine or something like that. The feeling I tried to capture is the same one I’d have as a kid flipping through those magazines and being like “whoa what is this place I wanna go there one day”, and honestly all I really want out of this book is for some kid to find a copy one day and have that same reaction. That’s my litmus test for a successful book.”
Before our interview, I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek of darling and was able to read Sharad’s dedication. This dedication was to John, the man who sold Sharad the camera he took on his trip. But it was much more than a transaction.
The fact that your dedication is to John, is it safe to say he influenced you during your trip? Furthermore, did he influence your photobook?
“One hundred percent. Seeing some of his photos was really inspiring and I always kept that in the back of my head as I hopped around cities.
In the dedication, I mention why I chose the name “darling” as the title of the book. Basically, when I realized I was going on this trip, I set out to find a film camera that would force me to just focus on the present and get really familiar with the camera. I found this Pentax K1000 listing – which is a workhorse of a camera and I’m sure so many photographers’ first camera.
I messaged John and came to the house to check out the camera. I got to speak with him and his lovely wife for a few minutes. John showed me the camera and as he was talking, you could immediately tell how passionate he was about photography and the attachment he had towards this camera. He wanted to make sure the camera was going to a good home and not really being sold for parts or anything. I told him I wanted to use this camera as a way to document my upcoming trip and also to learn film photography. He showed me some photos he’d taken dozens of years prior on the same camera, including the one on the dedication page, and his wife let on that due to age and shaky hands, he wasn’t able to do as much photography these days, like he used to.
When I told John that I was going to Southeast Asia, he kinda chuckled and told me, “Oh I’ve been there before ages ago, don’t worry if you ever get lost, Darling will help you get home”, referencing the camera. It was such a beautiful sentiment and something that was said in passing, but for me, it just stuck out as the perfect representation of how much love he had for his craft.
When it came time to name the book, there weren’t really any other names I seriously considered. I knew I had to tie the book back to John somehow and this was the perfect way to do it. It just felt right.”
Are you still in touch with John?
“I am. I’m not sure how much he knows about the title of the book and the meaning behind it. I haven’t given him any details at all besides me telling him I’m publishing the book with some images I’d previously emailed him. I live in Vancouver now and he’ll be in town in a few days so I’m really excited to share a copy with him and just bring it all full circle, honestly. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a really, really long time. I’m sure it will be a moment I’ll remember forever.”
Looking at other influences on darling, would you say your photography style helped to shape the book and the way you presented your work within the book?
“I’d like to think so. I think there are moments in the book that feel very busy and chaotic, and some that feel very tranquil, and that’s what a lot of my work feels like. Documenting life on the streets is very much like that.
I think Joel Meyerowitz spoke about this infamous walk that he had when he decided to quit his job and become a photographer. On the way back from seeing a shoot with Robert Frank, all of a sudden to him, the streets just felt alive. He started to see it as the streets being like waves, where there are moments where the action peaks, you capture that, and then it calms down, and that’s an analogy I think about constantly.
I think for me I like to show both ends of that, and it’s a direct representation of both how I’m feeling and how the environment around me is responding to that. If I’m feeling particularly energetic and surrounded by a lot of moving parts and action, I tend to take photos aimed at capturing the peaks of those waves. And there are days where I’m a lot more calm and laid back, and am more attracted to capturing moments that feel like a calm sea because there’s an equally different kind of beauty in the tranquillity there, you know what I mean?”
If you could do this project over again, is there anything you would do differently?
“Any of my friends and family will tell you how indecisive I can be, so there are a million different little technical things I could change in the book. Every day I look at the proofs I have and I find different things to alter, but part of finishing this project was learning that you just gotta close chapters in your life, learn from them, and start to look forward. So in that sense no I think I’d leave the book as is, but big picture wise, I think a lesson I’ve learned is the importance of learning the technical details when putting together something like this. Next time I’ll likely be a little more experimental with the layouts, typography, colours, and so on. But I’ve gotta go live life and draw more inspiration before I even think about the next project, gotta go recharge the battery!”
Now, after everything we’ve discussed, would you consider doing another photobook in the future?
“Absolutely! I’d like to have a catalogue of books one day like so many of the greats do. It feels like the best way to express myself and my work and something that will outlive me long after I’m gone so I’d really love to keep making more.
Although if you had asked me that when I was drowning in the production nuances I’m sure my answer would’ve been a little different.”
And finally, is there any other important information you’d like our readers to know about your experience of creating darling?
“I think really if there’s one thing I want someone to take away from going through the book or this conversation, it’s really that there’s a vast and fascinating world out there that I hope they push themselves to discover. The initial trip to Southeast Asia kickstarted this project, but there’s photos in here from around the globe. The small text on the front of the book essentially translates to “I will get to my destination, even if I have to wander. Lost is the one who hasn’t yet left home” and I think that’s a beautiful way to live life.
Make yourself uncomfortable and go out and see what the world around you has to offer. Break bread with new people, experience new cultures, and give yourself the benefit of understanding how different people around the world live their lives.
That’s really it honestly. Thank you again for asking me such thoughtful questions, I’m really excited to be sharing this with the world.”
And I want to thank you, Sharad, on behalf of myself, The Camera Store, and our amazingly dedicated readers, for sharing your story. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and I truly feel your story will inspire someone to take that next step. Whether it’s the next step in their photography, a passion project, or just life in general. Thank you.
To purchase darling, please visit shop.sharadgadhia.com