Q: First things first, who are you and where are you from?
A: My name is Anshil Popli, better known as @kybalionvfx. It’s weird, I was born in Miami, moved to the Bay Area and have been here ever since.
Q: How did you get started in photography, as we understand it you moved into videography later?
A: That’s absolutely correct. I got started into photography because my auntie got her first DSLR. I’d taken a photography class in high school. As far as I can remember I always wanted to create, I wanted to draw specifically. Graffiti enticed me. Hell, I still try to draw to no avail. Can’t do it. I signed up for this photo class thinking this might be my medium. I was slapped with C’s even D’s in a photography class in high school.
I don’t know what was going through my mind, I thought I’d mess around and do journalism for a bit because my grandpa was a journalist. As much as I enjoyed that, it wasn’t enough. Journalism requires you to be unbiased. I’m a biased person, I have strong opinions. You might see how that’s a problem. Fast forward to that first sentence I said, yeah my auntie bought a DSLR and had no clue how to use it. I messed around for a bit trying to help her, I absolutely sucked but fell in love. Begged my mom for quite a few months and this was around ‘08 which was the greatest recession in my lifetime, somehow a Canon Rebel XSi landed into my hands. It’s been hard work ever since. I’ve ventured into videography, I went to school for it at the University of Iowa.
Q: So what happened at Iowa, isn’t that a far way from home? Did you fit in? How was the culture like?
A: Oh yeah. It’s a long way from home. It’s a different culture for sure. I hadn’t seen the place before commiting. I got of the plane and was upset with myself for deciding to come here. I didn’t have many options, I wanted to go to a good film school and I wasn’t booksmart enough to get into the USC’s of the world. Iowa popped up in the top 20. I rolled the dice. Found myself cursing under my breath when I got off the plane, didn’t see a single streetlight. As someone that prides myself on city slicking, it was a tough transition.
Thankfully, I picked the right apartment to stay in. I met my future roommate, Joel the first week I was there as he lived under me. That man did a lot for me. I owe my experience there to him. He’s like a brother to me. I haven’t seen him in over a year because of logistics but he’ll always be family. I don’t think fitting in would have been that easy if I didn’t meet him off the bat.
As far as the culture goes, it’s a small town. I’m a Bay Area product. It’s uninspiring to me. That’s no knock on Iowa but it just isn’t for me. I have utmost admiration for the fact that people are able to embrace simple living at its finest. Those people are legends in my book, they work their tails off and have great values.
Q: What about your video skills? Did you progress in Iowa?
A: To be honest, no. I feel like I’m self taught in photo and video. Video is still far more of a challenge. Maybe that’s my fault for thinking college would hold all the answers. I mean, I saw my T.A. submit her thesis project as a one shot iphone footage of the view through a bus window. That’s lazy to me. I wouldn’t say such harsh words unless it was true. They’d say I was too mainstream or that I needed to think more abstract. Yet again, I can’t take those words seriously if they’re coming out with a one shot window project. Being back home helped me progress in both photography and videography. Shooting in urban environments again did a lot for my creativity, losing that logistically in Iowa was hard.
Iowa was a little too experimental for me. I’m all for appreciating the weird forms of art. I mean, Winding Refn is my favorite director and he does all sorts of weird stuff. However, it’s important to note the primary goal is to entertain visually. I don’t think they had that mentality but hey it’s all good with me. My primary takeaway is passion does not translate to talent and all critique is not gold.
Q: Rewind for a second. You said you’re part of an immigrant family. What is that like? Does your family support this journey?
A: Man, my family is wild. Not my immediate family. My mother is a saint. She has 20% of hearing with her hearing aid. She still succeeds in the world working in deaf education. Against all odds in a country she wasn’t even born in with a disability, that’s difficult to do. I think being from an immigrant family you have a tougher upbringing. We’re raised to be tough mentally because our family is always ridiculous in their methods. It’s a thing in all Asian cultures, our parents don’t talk to us but we get verbally berated instead. There’s a lot of pressure that gets put on kids to perform not even from parents but the cutthroat culture that is Asia. As far as support goes, I don’t know if support is the right word because it’s more unspoken understanding.
Q: What about the rest of your family? How do they see you? How are you portrayed? I mean, from research you’ve worked on some big things.
A: Ah, they don’t care.
Q: What do you mean by that? Is there bad blood?
A: I mean, I find it silly. I have a 60 year old auntie in Detroit that is a terrible person. I have one out here that I find equally as terrible. No matter how irrational she is, I respect her hustle more than she could ever know. I was raised by primarily women in my life including her, so I know her perseverance is incredible. Although, I have no feelings for the Detroit one, none. They’ve both called me a drug addict which is simply untrue and made fun of a friend that died in a tragic violent accident. That’s the kind of people I have to deal with and I don’t tolerate bullying or slander. It’s best to distance yourself from dirty people and focus on your craft even if they’re family, certain people are unfortunately wired to be malicious.
Q: Do your relatives think you’re solid with your life? We’ve seen you do some high profile gigs but have they seen that?
A: Man, I’m not trying to brag but I wore $400 dollar sneakers today. I’m doing more than all right. I have things I’m buying that I couldn’t afford. A lot of this comes from working with a camera. Relatives don’t think I’m anything. I like it that way, I’m not trying to brag so nothing about my personal or work life gets said in public. I go home to edit and I hardly sleep. The whole world could think I’m nothing, it’s not about that to me. When you’re doing what you love every single day, I don’t have to tell people about it if my work can speak for me. If I’m okay, I don’t need people to know I’m okay.
Q: So I’ve looked at your portfolio, let’s just say you’ve explored and seen a lot! What do you make of all this?
A: I’ve seen so many beautiful things that I feel desensitized. Us Bay Area kids are so spoiled. We live a couple hours away from every terrain, every climate possible. I mean, when it gets hot, I have the luxury of going across the bridge to San Francisco and wearing a hoodie. It’s a privilege to be in one of the best places in this world.
Q: How did you get started exploring?
A: I would hop on the BART train with 40 dollars in search of clothes in San Francisco. Seriously, it was absurd. We’d get lost all the time in between buses. My best friend Kyle and I made these adventures once a month or so just to attempt to buy clothes. The magic of that era was being in a store and seeing what you liked. That was the adventure part of it. Sometimes you’d go out and couldn’t find anything you liked or the things you liked weren’t in your price range. I loved the process. Even if it was a bummer trip I’d hear the store workers talking about how they might get something cool next week. It was the mysterious allure of San Francisco before it was tech city. It was dirty, people were unfriendly and you went through this lengthy process to buy something as simple as a t-shirt. When I started to find scenic spots it was the same way, I didn’t have a car til later. We’d get in whatever bus took us where we thought we were going and get lost along the way. A lot of good memories were made.
Q: Have you ever had a bad experience exploring?
A: Oh most definitely. I’ve almost been robbed a few times. Those are always bad. You’re a hot target holding a camera.
Perhaps the worst was exploring this abandoned barn out in the country when I was about 18, reckless good ol days where trespassing was in my playbook. A couple of friends and I parked on the beaten path and walked to go check out this barn. Came back to my car with a burly bearded guy standing there with a pistol. He said he should kill us because we didn’t respect his property. Nothing is scarier than a man saying he’ll put a hole in you at point blank gunpoint. Eventually we had a talk and turns out he was just a lonely dude. He invited me back to check out his country decayed properties and have a beer with him. On the surface 10/10 scariest experience, at the end just a friend being made. If you show people respect likelihood is you’ll get respect back.
Q: You work with a lot of people, who are the most notable?
A: Without a doubt my collaborator and friend, K.E.L.L.S. It’s strange, we weren’t really close and I wouldn’t even classify us as close now in the literal sense. Every now and then a topic gets brought up and it strikes a nerve. We have great conversations about humanity, the things we’re going through, the struggle with art and all the good stuff. Then we go back to being awkward on the phone until we strike a nerve again. I know K.E.L.L.S. is doing something special, he has a project coming out titled A.R.T. and it’s all about mental health. I relate to him heavily through his music. No rapper is doing what he does, no rapper thinks like him. K.E.L.L.S. is an amazing human.
Q: You’ve worked on a set of portraits with him for the project, correct?
A: Yeah man, it was really a process. The stuff by the port represents the solitary part in reflection. The car represents the pain of just life to me. In the Bay Area you need a car. Our public transport is BART or bus. They’re both terrible because they don’t get you places reliably, the whole South Bay is disconnected from public transport. To see someones car destroyed like that is the reality of a lot of people here. We live in the richest place in the nation yet see some of the most unforgettable poverty in America. If you want to see how economists are wrong about the trickle down effect, drive in Oakland/San Francisco anywhere but downtown. See the type of businesses around you. People are hurting. I feel like K.E.L.L.S. encapsules all his feelings and puts it together in the perfect method. It’s not preachy, it’s just a story. It’s a piece of poetry cleverly woven together. If you meet the man, you can’t tell he’s that intellectual. He’s soft spoken on the surface and is extremely humble. But when he’s on a track, his words echo. I hoped to bring that to our portraits and videos together.
Q: Explain these portraits a bit more.
A: These are different even for me. I wouldn’t take a normal person out to Mt. Davidson in San Francisco to shoot portraits. For K.E.L.L.S. however, I felt like this was the perfect spot to describe mental health. The city is busy around you, there’s homeless people everywhere, there’s parents working, people skipping meals to make ends meet and he’s here reflecting on the disaster called life. I think that’s what it was about, all this for lack of a better word, shit. Just shit happening around you but you’re still able to analyze whether it’s with your notepad or just a chill session to ease away from the stress.
Q: Breaking away, what are your goals?
A: I have a lot of goals and not a lot of time. First things first, I’d like to do something good every single day. I mean it’s really hard being in the city eating at a window seat or on the street watching somebody starving and begging outside. Everyone deserves a chance. I don’t know how but I feel like my first obligation should be to help those people around me that don’t have anything get on their feet. I spent a couple weeks in India in my lifetime and it was heartbreaking knowing that literal children you see on the street are going to die of starvation. I want to make it a point to have enough to share with people whether that be charity or sharing a hot meal with a person that doesn’t have the means to afford one. I want to do that every step of the way.
Secondly, I’d like to help myself get better every single day. It’s my race. I’m running my marathon at my own pace. I have to get better to support the people I care about with my skill. I feel like there’s a lot to be done still. Whatever team I’m on, I’d like to personally improve and deliver for the well being of everyone around me.
Of course, there are things I want for myself. I want to direct one of my scripts. I want a advertising job at a good agency. I want those sort of things. Yet, I feel like doing all of the above first would help me get there. Also, I joke with my ma that one day I’m going to buy the house and it’ll operate on my rules which means dumping my clothes everywhere. Yeah, that’s big to me.
A: How do you usually shoot?
Q: I get lost until I find something cool. As the phenomenal late Anthony Bourdain’s show title, no reservations. You explore until you find something enticing. You settle until you’ve taken it in and you move on. You keep in mind that everything is temporary. The weather, the light, all that is subject to go every minute. You engrain that memory in your head. That’s what you explore for. The light may not make this spot look cool every again, but you were here to capture this moment. That’s the best part about using a camera. Earth is beautiful in strange ways.
Q: Anshil, what sets you apart?
A: I’m just a guy. I don’t like building up my ego. I like achieving things for team satisfaction. I’m selfless. I’m relentless, I’ll go places they won’t and explore all day to get the job done. I’ll stay up all night and won’t sleep to help my team. I believe sleep should be earned. I don’t talk about myself or what I’m working on unless it’s the right opportunity. I’m just a dude that wants the best for everyone that deserves it. You won’t ever hear these words out of my mouth unless asked.
Q: What do you hate about what you do?
A: Oh boy, here we go.
Politics, I don’t play em. If you play politics or gossip, you’re on my never do a favor for list.
I hate one click editors that use presets with no modifications. Have some pride in what you do.
Last, talkers. There’s two types, one voices their opinion on everything and knows nothing. The second type is always saying they’re working on something lucrative. If you’re working, it shows. If you’re not working, it shows. Shut up and have fun. Get it done.
Q: Have your friends played a part in helping your art journey?
A: Nah, nobody really cares about that stuff. They won’t really show up to things I’m doing or if I have a showing. I had the opportunity to set up a pop-up and I honestly knew I couldn’t get enough of my friends to go. It’s all good though. I mean we just have different interests. If one of my friends was a professional golfer, I can promise that I probably wouldn’t watch their games due to lack of interest. It’s the same concept in a different setting.
Q: Which celebrities would you love to grab a drink with?
A: Anthony Bourdain, one of my greatest inspirations. He was the anti-celebrity, no bullshit kind of dude. I liked that about him. Then of course, Obama. Man, that was the first time I got into politics. I was making phone calls for the dude’s campaign. He was awesome. Jay-Z is up there too, to turn a rap career into an empire is jaw dropping. Martin Scorsese cause I love mob movies. Winding Refn cause I try to be his muse for photography and he seems just as weird as me.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Whatever I can do to help. Whatever I can do to challenge myself. Whatever I can do to be a better person than I was yesterday.
Q: Anything to end with?
A: To quote my favorite fictional character, Jimmy Darmody, “I’m a product of what time and circumstance has made me.”
That wraps it up for me. But hey, a big shoutout to my brothers K.E.L.L.S., White Dave, Clif Soulo, Sndtrak, Zenan, Legendvry. All those guys are making a difference and will be superstars. I have the utmost privilege to contribute to each of their respective journeys. Much respect for those guys for allowing me to have fun while working on my craft. Each of them are special in a unique way.
Respect your journey and respect the people around you. We all have different routes, some are longer than others. There are 16 year old kids that are doing things that we can’t because they are that skilled. On the other hand, there are 40 year olds picking up a craft for the first time. Respect them all, encourage them all. You give what you get back.
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