Artist Spotlight: Alex Ekins
Alex Ekins is a Sheffield-based artist combining photojournalism, street art and sculpture. We spoke to him about the inspiration behind the striking Sadhu images, often located around the city’s suburban areas, and his history working with the natural environment as both a mountaineer and photographer.
Sheffielders may recognise your Sadhu street art pieces which have intermittently popped up around areas like Kelham Island. What inspired your interest in these unique subjects?
I liked the Hindu and Sadhu concept of renouncing material possessions and worldly things; I thought that was really interesting. I had been using a portable, white backdrop at the base of Mount Everest to photograph climbers, so I used that in Nepal to photograph the Sadhu when I was introduced to them. I’ve been back a few times now. As you can see, they are also very colourful people, which makes for striking photographs.
What first inspired you to venture into street art? Is there something different that you think can be achieved through it as a platform?
Yes, I think so. I didn’t initially envision pasting the photographs up. But the Sadhu looked so stark against the white background, I thought they need to be life-size. I liked the idea that people would encounter them in places where they feel like they shouldn’t be, and I hoped that would make people challenge their environment. One of the Sadhu street art images ended up having offerings left under it; the Hindu community of Sheffield seemed to have welcomed them.
You have had a long and successful career in rock climbing and mountaineering alongside your work as a photographer. Would you say that there is a link, or similarities, between the two practices?
There are definitely similarities there. I did rock climbing and mountaineering photography, so the two did literally cross over. But I also think there are similarities between the life of a climber and a Sadhu, in a way. There is a shared rebelliousness, and a connection with nature.
Have you found that your subject interests have changed as a photographer due to the pandemic now that you are restricted with travel and exploring different environments?
I still work as a mountaineering instructor, which provides a connection to the environment. But I am doing a lot of wood sculpture at the moment, and I think there is some sort of Covid connection to be uncovered there. Working with wood feels primitive somehow, and there is also a connection to nature, the idea of nature carrying on.