In conversation with Burbank-based photographer Dilpreet Shah on his creative journey, Indian heritage, Imposter Syndrome and the complexities of self-imposed pressure as captured in his project, ‘Ball of Burden’.
Where did you draw inspiration for this particular project?
Growing up, I always wanted to understand dilemmas that revolve around our sense of self-worth. Why is it that when things are going well, we often feel like an impostor and can’t help but self-sabotage our way to happiness? Why is it that we feel unworthy of love and praise when someone takes interest in us and our work? Why do we suffer from crippling self-doubt? Do we not believe that we deserve what we want? This self-sabotage comes from the fear of success, which often causes a lack of confidence and motivation. There is a feeling of anxiousness about acquiring new responsibilities. All of this started to feel like a mental weight that we carry around everywhere we go. And that’s why I thought of capturing this feeling through my installation.
What was your creative process to bring this installation art to life?
In this project, I made a ball and chain, using a 30-inch paper lantern, covered completely in colorful flowers. The flowers represent the daily mental weight that I carry with me. This weight causes a lack of motivation to do things. Every task, no matter how small, feels like a burden to complete.
The exaggerated size of the ball shows how heavy the burden is for me but the colorful flower represents how the weight is not bad all the time but actually helpful sometimes in pushing myself to work even harder. It is the weight of things that I need to do in order to achieve my goals.
“Through this series, I wanted to show how mental weight would look like if there was a real, physical burden attached to me. I wanted to demonstrate the burden of constantly carrying the ball with me, how it hinders my progress and holds me back…”
Why did you embark on this creative journey?
The project reveals how this beautiful ball of burden has become part of my everyday life. I wanted to demonstrate the burden of constantly carrying the ball with me, how it hinders my progress and holds me back, constantly pulling me under and finally how it interacts with the environment while I go about my daily routine. I chose this project to better understand myself and the concept of self-sabotaging. By doing this, I’m trying to know myself and my thoughts a little better.
Is there a purpose that drives your work? When did you start out as a photographer?
For me, photography started as a medium to preserve memories. My passion for it deepened when I received my first digital camera in high school. From there on, my connection to photography deepened, and started deriving joy from it. While I was completing my Bachelors in Engineering back in India, I joined the photography society of my University, where I met so many like-minded people. Joining that club gave me many opportunities, and helped me realize where my true passion lies. It is then when my connection to photography grew even deeper.
Photography transformed from just being a tool to capture memories, to a medium for communicating or conveying a feeling, a message, and an emotion. By the time I finished my engineering studies, I knew that I wanted to become a professional photographer. After many online videos and YouTube tutorials, I finally gained confidence in the type of work I was creating, and started working as a freelance photographer. From there on, there was no going back.
This passion eventually led me to the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, where I continue to improve my craft and take advantage of the opportunities available to me. It’s been a rewarding yet challenging journey, but I am here for it! Things that felt difficult to achieve when I was back home, feel closer to me now. I am constantly striving to improve my work.
Has your Indian heritage influenced who you are as an artist or how you see the world?
My heritage has influenced my personal projects, but not sure if it has worked for my commercial work. But being in LA, away from home, has inspired a lot of the work I have done. Being here makes me feel more connected to my roots, and my culture. I feel more grounded in LA than I was back in India. Losing all my privileges and being an international student has put a lot of things in perspective for me. When I did photography in India, it was mostly working on commercially viable work. I still want to do that in the future, as that is what pays in our industry. But being in LA and going to New York Film Academy challenged me to take on projects that I otherwise wouldn’t have.
One of the photo series I did, titled ‘Kesh’, talks about me being an immigrant, being brown, being a person who wears a turban and keeps a beard because of his faith, and how I am trying to find a home away from home, trying to blend in. It is my obligation to know my audience and what they want from me. A photo series like this has made a lot of people relate to it, especially for people belonging from my community.
As an Indian origin photographer in LA, have you faced any challenges to put your work out?
My journey till now has been a mix of both highs and lows. I have had my fair share of problems along the way. But I was surrounded by supportive people who helped me through thick and thin. Coming from a purely technical background, I always had an inclination towards the creative field. I grew up in a family with no artists, so it was difficult for my parents and everyone to understand my dreams of pursuing a career in photography. But nevertheless, they were supportive. They had their reservations, but my dedication and passion convinced them. Honestly, LA has given me nothing but opportunities. If it were not for me here, I would have never made the work in discussion right now.
What sets you apart from other photographers? In other words, what makes you a black sheep?
I am a black sheep because of my curiosity, which drives me to explore more and teach myself over the years. I am always open to experimenting new ideas and suggestions. Another reason is my attention to details, for which I’ve garnered praises in the past. Everything in the frame is there for a certain reason.
What sets me apart from others is my consistency in delivering good work, be it my art style, or just being myself. I always try to build connections with everyone that I work with. I try to make them feel important, and I respect every feedback.
The Ball of Burden is currently on display at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. You can view Dilpreet’s other prominent works including ‘Kesh’ here.