Data + Design Project

The Vast Expanse: Visualizing Collective Consciousness

Tuesday 05.21.2013 , Posted by
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Being human is such a strange thing. We are given this opportunity as a conscious being to experience the universe, yet our perceptions of our self can divide us and make us forget that we all came from the universe. Carl Sagan explains, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Though we may look different, dress differently, and have different beliefs, we are all conscious beings made up of the same exact stuff. Altamash Urooj has captured this idea beautifully in a photo series he calls The Vast Expanse. The Pakistani/Venezuelan photographer visualized the collective conscious by wrapping models in cloth shrouds. In this way, you can not tell whether they are a man or a woman or what race they belong to- they are all just human. A visual communication graduate from the American University in Dubai with a concentration in photography, Altamash’s work often features themes of the “ongoing struggle that every creative soul encounters on his journey to becoming an artist…His passion is to discuss, explore, depict and project his cathartic struggle to be delivered from the dark womb of creativity into the light of artistic expression.”

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See more of the stunning images on his website. Follow Altamash Urooj on his beautiful photographic journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, deviantART, and blogspot and be sure to read through our inspirational interview with him below.

VN: I notice that you referenced Alex Grey’s poem, “The Vast Expanse” on your blog and named your series after it. (I got to see him talk at Burning Man in September and it was the highlight of my week.) How do you feel that this series is a reflection of the interconnectedness he speaks of? What do the shrouded people represent?
AU: I was fortunate to meet Alex Grey at his gallery in New York a few years ago and that really influenced my views on fine art and introduced me to the concept of a collective consciousness. The shrouded people represent you and me and us as a species, depending on the particular image. The idea that we are all connected on a level beyond the physical made sense to me on a spiritual level, something I did not even register in myself until I started looking at his work. His ideas on energy and being were big influences. My figures are a representation of how we are all intertwined together, our fates are connected, the way forward is together. As individuals, as societies and as a race.

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VN: What kind of camera do you use?
AU: I use the canon 5D mark 2 primarily, also use the 5D mark 3 for certain commercial shoots. I also use the Diana lomo camera for certain portraiture/art projects and use the iphone 5 camera regularly as a visual diary.

VN: How did you get into photography?
AU: It was something that sort of landed in my lap. I’ve always been passionate about photography, used to play around with instant cameras alot as a child and as my skills slowly developed, so did my interest in taking it up as a professional. If I had to pinpoint an episode in my life that triggered the photographer in me, it would be a competition in school when I was in 8th grade. I got my father’s Minolta camera and was looking for things to photograph in my garden when I came upon a wild chameleon. It was my first experience of taking a subject seriously and thinking about it in detail before taking a single photo. I won that competition and that really triggered me into pursuing photography as a hobby, which in turn helped me develop my aesthetic skills enough to be confident about playing with the idea of using a camera to make a living.

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VN: When creating the images with multiple people, do you really have that many models or is it photo manipulation?
AU: The biggest number of people I had in one given shoot were around 14 people. Shooting on a low budget and in a tiny studio meant that I would have to create the image digitally in the end, which is not a bad thing, as I got to really control the composition and canvas. It might have been a disaster if I did try to put 300 people in a single piece of fabric !

VN: Who or what inspires you?
AU: Random things can be quite inspiring. Other artists inspire me, experiences inspire me, and my own work inspires me too.

VN: It seems you are able to make a living from your art. Is there a difference between doing a commissioned series versus one for your own personal enjoyment?
AU: Big difference! I work almost exclusively on commission, so if I have to take portraits for a corporate entity, I will do it because it means it can provide the means to produce personal work. It’s a delicate balance.

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VN: What advice, if any, would you have for other artists who have put art on the back burner to “make a living”?
AU: Make the time! And if you must put your art on hold, find a way to stay in the same field. I shoot commercial photography to make a living, and that only makes my art photography stronger. If I was doing something else that did not involve a camera or art, it would only push me further away.

VN: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
AU: When in doubt, work! That’s the code that I live by, constantly find ways to create, even if you literally repeat the same things over and over, it is still practice and it’s still work. The key to creativity is to keep the ideas flowing, and the only way to make that happen is to be constantly producing stuff, even if it’s just sketching on a napkin instead of planning an exhibition, it’s still worth it.

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Jessica Czeck

Written by Jessica Czeck



Former NYC Science Teacher, Vegan, Singer, Super Virgo, Dreamer, Traveler, Vorzonian Zebra in Human Skin, Mom to @HarrisonLovesMe.

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