Culture

Nick Sethi—the Indian-origin photographer on Virgil Abloh's radar

From creating one of 2018's most lauded photo books to working with Abloh, Sethi is on an epic journey

Nick Sethi fell into photography by way of music; in high school, the second-generation American played unsuccessfully in a few local bands. “I was never any good, but as my friends’ bands started becoming bigger and touring, I started photographing the shows as a way to stay involved,” he says. Learning to capture a feeling or a fleeting moment in that frenetic world of live gigs, profoundly shaped the 29-year-old’s work.

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Nick Sethi

Late last year, New York-based Sethi’s first photobook, Khichdi (Kitchari), a kaleidoscopic compilation of 846 images of his travels through India over the past decade, was named one of the year’s best photobooks by The New York Times. Published by Dashwood Books, the title is an ode to India’s unofficial national dish, whose countrywide presence varies with each region. “That’s why it’s spelled twice,” says Sethi, “It’s about change and adaptation.” The busy cover too was an act of careful calculation by Sethi and his designer-friend Brian Paul Lamotte—from the red stitching, the embossed cover, the section-printed spine, the use of saffron and vermilion; they wanted to incorporate the attention to detail they saw in daily life.

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A spread from Khichdi (Kitchari)

The book’s first print run of 1,000 copies sold out in six months, and Sethi is still coming to terms with the success of what was a deeply personal work. “Because I was born in the US, I’m both an insider and an outsider. I’ve spent my life coming to terms with how both countries affect me,” he says. “Photography was a way to connect the two.”

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The colourful cover of Khichdi (Kitchari)

For now, there won’t be a second print run; Sethi has been shooting for projects that have come his way because of Khichdi (Kitchari). Like luxury giant Louis Vuitton’s latest look book, as well as three editorials. (Ask him about his equation with LV’s maverick creative designer Virgil Abloh, and he offers, “He’s talented but humble. When he’s around, there is so much positive creative energy in a room.”) But he says he plans to keep making many trips to India and to take “a million photographs”. If he hits that target, be sure to watch out for his next book.

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A spread from Khichdi (Kitchari)

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Louis Vuitton’s fibre-optic glow in the dark bag from its fall 2019 collection, as shot by Sethi

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An image Sethi shot for Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall 2019 look book