Mohan Bhasker captures transcendent landscapes of the earth’s most awesome locations and is obsessed with traveling to remote, exotic, and exquisitely beautiful places. Born and raised in India, he came to the USA at an early age, and graduated from UCLA. When he’s not on one of his far-flung treks shooting spectacular photographs, he works as an Internist and Gastroenterologist practicing in the Los Angeles area. He has trekked extensively in Patagonia, Tibet, and the Himalayan Ranges of Nepal, and also traversed the deserts of Lencois Maranhenses in Brazil on foot to photograph the lagoons in the middle of the deserts. Herewith is the first part of his first person narrative detailing his adventures and his motivations.
Q: The subject line for this portfolio is “Seven Continents.” Does that refer to a specific project? If so, can you provide us some background information on it?
A: I started my project in mid-90s to photograph the seven continents. I completed photographing the seven continents on August 2013 and I have maintained a log of hand-written manuscripts of my experiences for every photo shoot I did. I wrote my experiences while in the field before I returned to Los Angeles to assume my other duties as a doctor. My book, which is comprised of photographs from all seven continents and notes on my journey during the photo shoots, was released in November 2013.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: I acquired my first Leica, an M6, in the early 1990s. I believe that Leica makes some of the best lenses in the industry.
Q: Evidently you used a Leica M for your recent work? Is that correct? How long have you been using it? Do you or have you used other Leica equipment?
A: I was fortunate enough to place my hands on the Leica M as soon as it was released. As I mentioned, above, I have been shooting with a Leica M6 since the early 1990s.
Q: What specific features and characteristics does the Leica M possess that that makes it a perfect tool for your type of photography, and which lenses do you favor when shooting landscapes? How do you feel about the color accuracy of the files and the way Leica lenses render the subject? What ISO settings do you typically use? And given the exquisite technical quality of many of these images, do you always use a tripod or did you shoot some of these images handheld?
A: I have primarily shot with film all my life. I have used the Leica M6, M7 and Horseman SW-617 panorama cameras. I shot slides with Fuji Velvia and Provia. Color has been an important factor in my photography. I own a whole range of Leica lenses including the 50 mm f/0.95 Noctilux. I had originally wanted a Leica digital back which would give me quality images with color accuracy. Then the X2 was released and I was impressed, but it was limited to a single lens. I was anxiously waiting for the M and once it was released it blew my mind away. The quality of the raw files and color accuracy were absolutely phenomenal. The M has now become one of my primary cameras in the field. I am primarily a landscape photographer but I also enjoy street, people photography. The skin tones rendered by the M are amazing and life-like.
My second edition of “Seven Continents” will include images from India, which depict the daily life of the villagers and were shot exclusively with the M.
The other feature I like is the flexibility of using high ISO settings that can still yield very good quality images. By using a high ISO and shooting without flash, I am able to shoot indoors for people photography. When the light is not a factor for my outdoor landscape photography, I generally use ISO 200.
With the M, I can go to higher ISO without compromising my image quality and this gives me the flexibility of shooting handheld. Due to security reasons, the use of tripods has been restricted in several places and I am forced to handhold the camera. My favorite landscape lenses are 24 mm and 28 mm although I still use 21 mm, especially when I want to emphasize the foreground.
Q: Are you a full-time professional photographer or would you describe yourself as a serious enthusiast?
A: I am a SERIOUS enthusiast, and also a professional.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a way to express yourself and as a profession?
A: I started expressing my views through photography during my childhood beginning at the age of 8. I started to refine my expressions into an art form in my early 20s and I am still on a journey to improve my artistic impressions. I decided to make photography a professional career in the late ’90s.
Q: You apply describe yourself as a SERIOUS enthusiast and that is quite evident in the excellence or your work, but you also noted that you decided to make photography a professional career. Aside from your “Seven Continents” book and your many shows at galleries, how do you earn a living through photography? Do you shoot on assignment for clients and sell fine art prints of your work? And can you tell us something about your “other duties” as a doctor in Los Angeles?
A: I own a landscape photography gallery in Los Angeles. Most of my clients know of my work by word of mouth. A significant percentage of them are from the hospitals in which I work and from the local community. I have decorated several hospitals, homes and commercial institutions locally. I undertake special assignments for clients and customize my shoots to meet their demands. I am in the process of looking for ways to reach out beyond my community to further share my work. I am hoping that this interview will help me to achieve my goal. Furthermore, I am currently putting together photographic expeditions consisting of clients who are interested in photography to join me in visiting India, Kashmir and Kenya.
I am a graduate of UCLA and a Gastroenterologist by profession and my practice is in the South Bay Area of Los Angeles. I have my own private practice and I also work as a consultant for several hospitals. Having two professions, as a physician and as a photographer, enriches my life by creating a unique balance.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: Photography is my ultimate passion. I will do whatever it takes to capture a scene with my camera and bring it back home to share with the world what I witnessed.
Q: What do you think it is that drives your passion to capture the perfection of your vision and share it with the world? And do you think this is a personal characteristic or something shared by every true artist — to preserve, immortalize and communicate his or her consciousness, thus striving for a kind of immortality?
A: By nature I am a very passionate person who carries out any venture I undertake. The ventures that I undertake are very difficult, but it is the passion that fuels my journey. My frame of mind during these ventures is HOW to achieve it and not if I CAN. I stretch myself to the limit. Tiredness and disappointments are not my hurdles, and if I have an obsession I intend to enjoy it to the utmost.
Q: “Antarctica at Sunrise” is a simple, eloquent image that captures the serene and crystalline purity of the place. Do you agree, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release. Can you give us the basic tech data for this image?
A: Antarctica is one of the most serene and tranquil places on earth. It is also one of the purest, most untouched landscapes. It is a feast and almost a visual overload to the eyes. I visited Antarctica in the summer when the sun rises around 4 am and the temperatures vary from minus 5 to minus 10 degrees Celsius. I witnessed every sunrise at 4 am for 14 days and captured sunrises with different moods. When I pressed the shutter release, all I could think about was capturing that brief magical moment in time when a perfect harmony is created as the first rays of the sun struck the icebergs, with the moon in the background.
Q: “Catalina Island at Sunset” has a transcendent richness with the lights of the harbor in a swirling diamond-shaped pattern, a dark mountain on the left, and everything, including the water, bathed in the deep purple-reddish hue of the sky. For me this image bounces between the real and the surreal, and you can’t stop looking at it and wishing you could be there. What are your feelings about this image, and how did you shoot it?
A: The Catalina Island image was a special assignment that was shot to advertise the Annual October Jazz Festival in Catalina Island. This image was used as a marketing tool for the Jazz Festival Magazine and printed in posters to sell as a token of that annual event.
The Casino is completely lit as you see it on only a few occasions during the year. I took this shot on Independence Day, July 4, when the harbor was filled with boats to witness the fireworks display. This gave me a perfect opportunity to capture the Casino and the harbor. I was also lucky to get a spectacular sunset with deep purple colors. It was shot at the transitional time, about 20-30 minutes after the sunset. The sky still had the purple glow just before it turned dark. This picture was shot with a Leica M using a 28 mm lens.
Q: Spectacular is perhaps an overused word, but it certainly describes most of landscapes in this portfolio. How do you find such amazing locations, and once you get to a specific area of interest how do you scout out the perfect vantage point to create such unearthly (yet clearly earthly) perfection?
A: Finding an amazing location is one of the most challenging tasks in landscape photography. It could be as easy as your target being a specific location such as Taj Mahal or Mt. Everest; or much more complicated to scout, such as a vast national park or an entire country like Tibet. My most intensive undertaking was my 245 miles trek in the Himalayan Mt. Everest range in Nepal for 21 days. I had photographic opportunities at every step during this trek, which I have described and illustrated in my book “Seven Continents.” Finding a vantage point in these locations is a learned art. You learn to look at the scene through your lens. Composing a scene with a strong and captivating foreground and backdrops and using the light to dress-up the scene results in beautiful photographs.
Thank you for your time, Mohan!
– Leica Internet Team
Connect with Mohan on his website.