Through the Lens: WHTMAKESYOU?
Through the Lens: WHTMAKESYOU?
THROUGH THE LENS: WHTMAKESYOU?

Gugzay is the UK director and photographer behind ‘What Makes You’, a project distilling the duality of human emotion through intimate polaroids. If there was one word that underpins Gugzay, full name Gurinder Singh Kumar, and his work it’s “vulnerability”.

This approach to his craft began when Gugzay was given a prognosis that lead him to believe his life was going to be brought to a sudden halt. Met with a situation where doctors thought he didn’t have long left, Gugzay was propelled to seize the day and make a difference with his craft since starting in 2019.

“It’s something that still lives with me right now. It just taught me that even when you’re young, life can come at you at any moment, and time isn’t promised,” he tells Hypebeast, “Every day we wake up is truly another chance.”

Since the health scare, Gugzay has been active. After shooting music videos for a host of the UK’s best rappers, namely GdUp, cityboymoe, Scribz (67) and BZ, he would go on to work on campaigns for Lego and Corteiz. A full circle moment will be landing later this year, too: Skepta will be making his long-awaited return to music, and Gugzay was enlisted by the UK music pioneer to work on the visuals for his upcoming track, where he’s captured alongside Corteiz boss Clint419 in front of his 1/150 Virgil Abloh x Mercedes Maybach S-Class.

Aside from his work documenting the very best of UK culture, Gugzay’s primary focus is now ‘What Makes You?’ – a lifestyle project showcasing how people “are cut from a different cloth, but tied by the same thread.”

While the project is still in its infancy, What Makes You?’ has seen Gugzay photograph over 2000 people on Polaroid and ask them two simple questions: “What makes you happy?”, and “What makes you sad?”. Equipped with just a permanent marker and some tape with me to record each response, each answer provides an honest, intimate insight into people’s minds, from all walks of life.

There is a beautiful simplicity in ‘What Makes You?’, for both shooter and participant. “For me, the most exciting thing is just not knowing what the next story is. It helps break any small talk,” Gugzay explains, it’s just getting straight to it, people defo ain’t used to it!”

For the latest Through the Lens, Hypeart caught up with Gugzay to learn more about what makes him happy, what makes him sad, and everything else about his emotionally-driven project.

“In every other post, there’s someone that’s mourning, heartbroken, hungry or horny.”

What is ‘What Makes You’ all about?

‘WMY?’ is levelling the playing field of life. We’re in such a divisive place right now with everything. Its men vs women, left wing vs right wing, one race against another, anti-culture vs pop culture. There’s not a platform in my eyes that brings everyone together and which removes status, class and just celebrates humans for being humans. WMY is how we’re cut from a different cloth but tied by the same thread.

When did you first come up with the idea?

I can’t lie, I was bored out of my mind on a cross-trainer at the gym. I do an hour of cardio every single morning and as u can imagine there’s hella time to burn. I was sweating away and then BOOM it just hit me, it was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment. I don’t think I’ll really get that again, on that level. But before that, I was taking Polaroids on the set of a commercial. I told my friend Alex I’m real good at this – he said just think 10 years from now about what you wanna do with these polaroids and I was like what’s the theme? He said “Go figure it out…”

What is the main motivation behind the project?

Celebrating confident vulnerability. Everything’s just small talk nowadays bro. We’re all going through a shared experience without even knowing it – but this project is all about bringing awareness that in every other post, there’s someone that’s mourning, heartbroken, hungry or horny. In other words, “sonder” (Google it!).

Do you find WMY? a cathartic part of your artistic process?

It’s honestly so much fun, I have no idea what any person is gonna say and most of the time I’m really surprised. For me, the most exciting thing is just not knowing what the next story is. It helps break any small talk… it’s just getting straight to it, people definitely aren’t used to it! And neither am I!

What’s your experience of growing up in the UK – and how did your background shape your outlook on life?

The UK is sick ‘cos you see so many cultures in one spot. The UK is probably the only place you get to eat Turkish food, sushi, Indian or Somali cuisine… and all of them spots are on one road! Outlook-wise, it’s just opened me to so many new experiences, food and cultures – and that’s exactly what I reflect in ‘WMY?’

Who are some of the people you’ve photographed so far?

I’ve only photographed around 2000 people right now, and it’s a true range of people: from the homeless to my friends, family, strangers, pilot repairers, painters, huge celebrities, musicians and even babies. There are endless amounts of people on my list to get… but I’ve got to get David Attenborough, ‘cos that would be lit!

“The space is small so you gotta make sure you’re as concise and clear as possible.”

Who has given the best responses to the questions so far?

For me, the best responses are always the ones that are worded poetically – or they’re two answers (smile and sad) that go together. What’s great is you actually don’t have time to chat sh*t, the space is small so you gotta make sure you’re as concise and clear as possible. But then again, some people don’t care either.

There are also some answers that will never be released, mainly because of how heavy certain subject matters are and people ain’t comfortable with their answers being public…

Do you feel people’s reactions differ significantly?

Yeah, some people do it mad quickly, some people take *ages* to do it and some people end up crying because of the stuff they end up writing. But I’ve noticed most men feel the most uncomfortable doing it – they kind of start smiling, but it’s like an uneasy one. Reactions can vary so much, especially if there’s a crowd of people watching someone. Fun fact: the sad part didn’t exist when I first started the project, it took me a month or two to start implementing the sad aspect.

You’ve been working on a lot of projects in recent years. What have been some of your favourite things you’ve done?

My favourite thing is definitely exploring through ‘WMY?’, the conversations, the laughs, the tears shed and the moments between me and whomever it is. I’ve photographed people that have passed away. The ‘WMY?’ Polaroid I took of them was printed on a t-shirt for their funeral (RIP, Ashman), with everyone wearing them.

I’ve had a situation where an answer has connected two family members that don’t necessarily talk to each other. This is true, authentic, raw expression connecting people – and I wouldn’t have it any other way man.

You’ve mentioned you’ve got a lot of plans for where you want to take the project. Can you disclose any more about what’s in store for the future?

Right now we’re looking at a very Eurocentric, even London-centric view of life. Just wait until WMY starts hitting India, Nigeria, Sudan, and corners of the world that don’t necessarily have a voice. WMY is the next worldwide platform that has no barriers to entry, it’s universal and I’ll show it through a series of books, exhibitions, stickers, socks, hoodies and much more. Stay tuned.

All photographs courtesy of Gugzay for Hypeart.


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