Gagan Moorthy: People/Place, Pictured

Gagan Moorthy is the only person I’ve met who’s Instagram handle is just his first name, which somehow makes talking to him feel like talking to someone famous. This effect is only enhanced by his photography, the composition, color, and curation of which are pristine—enchanting even.

Moorthy’s photographs pull in the viewer, asking them to come closer, explore, and look beyond the canyons and faces they capture into the stories they can tell. 

Gagan Moorthy is a photographer, yes, but where his real talents lie is in his ability to turn the static stills of a camera into dynamic narratives. 

“Photography is important in terms of being able to just physically strike you, or give you something beyond words on paper or beyond just dialogue,” Moorthy said, and his work does just that. 

As a visual storyteller, Moorthy employs multiple forms of media to compose in-depth explorations of people and place. One such project dove into the social fabric of Alva, OK. 

Alva, home to Northwestern Oklahoma State University is a college town in the most real sense of the phrase: upon first looking at it, the college seems to be the only thing there. With a population of just under 5,000 and sitting in the mid-North of a state already viewed as the boondocks by many, Alva really does appear to be the middle-of-nowhere. But in Moorthy’s project “Somewhere,” he turns viewers' expectations on their heads.

“Somewhere” incorporates film, photography, and audio interviews to explore tradition, progress, change, and diversity in Alva. Best of all, the project doesn’t fall into the tropes that often accompany small-town coverage. In his project, Alva is a many-sided town, as complex and valuable as the people who live there. It’s smallness, in Moorthy’s project, is exactly what makes it so big.
Moorthy’s project on Alva hits close to home, since it is, afterall, his home. The child of immigrants, Moorthy’s mostly-white hometown shaped his understanding of otherness.

“They came to the US in the 90s,” Moorthy said of his parents. His dad received his Phd at OU and took the first job he could get, which happened to be in rural Oklahoma. “So that’s where I grew up,” Gagan said, “Our little family of four in this really white rural space...growing up, you realize how different you are. The feeling of otherness is very clear in a place like that.”

If the feeling of otherness was a sharp edge growing up, then access to wide open spaces was the softness that gave Moorthy escape. Aside from projects like “Somewhere,” “Noceur,” and “Soham,” each of which focus on people and the environments that built them or vice versa, Moorthy spends much of his time outside taking in what he can of the beauties the earth has to offer—at least before they’re gone.

The writer Susan Sontag described photographs as “memento mori,” writing that “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” 

In an age of ever-changing environments, the role photographers play in capturing disappearing places is something Moorthy takes seriously, saying that part of his work is “reflecting (natural spaces’) beauty and even sometimes the loss of beauty in the sense of climate change or environmental challenge.”  

But this urgency to freeze moments for future rememberings expands beyond the threat of climate change. It is present in all of his work. 

“It’s almost like being able to control time in a way,” Moorthy said of photography. “You’re almost time bending... You can take a photo of something that’s only going to happen in a moment—like a sunset will only happen that way one time for the entirety of our time space continuum, so that is an interesting dynamic of being able to create visually.”

Coming up, Moorthy has some ambitious plans, namely, an ‘Earth Recital’ in which he hopes to bring in contemporary dancers into natural spaces, using elements of biomimicry to reflect a humanity in the landscape. 

Until that project is complete, you can check out more of Moorthy’s work and buy some of his photographs as prints, puzzles, or postcards on his website