Ilay has spent more than fifteen years living and travelling in South Asia, mostly in India. His family ties with the Indian subcontinent go back to the mid 18th century, when his 6x great uncle was a merchant captain trading around the peninsula coast. His Cooper grandparents, who married in Bombay, were part of the British Army contingent in India. His maternal forbears, Ferriers, took modest roles in British Indian history from the late eighteenth century. His grandfather, Col. Ilay Ferrier, Indian Army, met and married his grandmother in Nainital. His mother was born in Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh) and his father, born on the Isle of Wight, served with the British Army in India. They met in Secunderabad in 1938. Family photographs feature as many Indian as British backgrounds. Stories of ayahs, syces, cobras, elephants, a literary diet of Kipling and a family history richly laced with Indian tales gave him an early interest in India. He travelled aimlessly throughout the subcontinent during his first visits. After discovering Shekhawati’s wall paintings in 1972, he made Churu, Rajasthan, his base. (See Shekhawati & Diu).
He was commissioned to write ARTS & CRAFTS OF INDIA (with John Gillow, see Publications and Photography) and motorcycled around India, researching and photographing craft work. This was followed by TRADITIONAL BUILDING OF INDIA (see Publications and Photography), for which he repeated the motorcycle circuit. Afterwards, he was commissioned to write The Blue Guide to Northern India and spent three years travelling and researching for the text, but this was not published.
Ilay’s great grandfather (right) prepares for a hunting trip in Kashmir in 1881