July 20, 2010
Every photographer in India should embrace the idea that there is now a new gallery in Mumbai that devotes itself to photography, toppling the musty, mofussil and retrograde reputation that the Piramal Gallery might have held for many years.
Matthieu Foss for a few years now has been showcasing indian photography and like a hermit crab has been renting and time sharing space whenever, and wherever it became available.
His swank new, if shiny gallery breathes a sigh of relief in Ballard Estate extending the perimeter of south mumbai galleries in an ever widening orbit.
The gallery opened with photographs (Jan14th-13th Feb) by Montreal-born Marcus Leatherdale, who lives in India and in one politically insensitive, attitudinal swoop joined the ranks of magazines like Vogue who launched their Indian edition with Patrick Demarchielier showing the natives how its done. Bravo. Had the photographs of the tribal natives playing their ethnographic sometimes fetishised roles been outstanding the urban natives might have had to hold their heads in neo-colonial shame. Eventually there is good or bad photography, devoid of gender, caste, creed, nationality or economic station.
But let the natives not get ahead of themselves, what they could not do in post independent India, Foss has done with a quiet je ne sais quois.
The second show, Where the City Rests by Shahid Datawala (16Feb-13th Mar) had framed cabinets on the floor looking at spaces used for resting. At the opening that translated into where the cities hip rest their cocktail glasses, ironically twisting the idea of Dystopia.
The gallery itself is on Goa street, the narcissistic self portraits and attempted erotica in the current show called Unseen, Unheard, Unexplained by Pat (16th Mar-10Apr) who spends a lot of his time in the place the street is named after might have been better off borrowing from its title. But the upside and there is one, is that Foss is open enough to the idea that you can be anyone without pedigree and an influential art parent to have access to the space should he think you worthy. And that is something most natives need to learn quickly.
March 19, 2010
Don’t we all remember, damn! it is possible to forget that a large section of India are under 20 where the latest nokias and motos give one instant amnesia, but for the rest of the growing minority, with memories of socialism and ‘nonalignment’, embedded in our national subconsciousness, is the fact that until rather recently it took up-to 5 years to get a ‘legal’ landline. When the phone did arrive it invariably was black bakelite and could be used to bludgeon the ubiquitous MTNL Yadav on the noggin when it didn’t work, and that was often enough.
The pay-phone was a large equally ugly, black device with a rotary dial and a chain that kept the hand-piece attached to the caged telephone, dont we remember cussing and swearing and kicking the instrument when it swallowed your last rupee coin and you had to report home that you were going to be late.
Chirodeep Chowdary’s exhibition of photographs is of a current generation of I Rupee Phones that are not black and not yet mobile enough to wander un tethered. The photographs document playfully the way Indians will use every square inch of space available to them to put in devices to increase revenue. All the while depicting the indian aesthetic that remains vehemently non geometric, where straight lines and ‘finish’ are only meant for engineers.
We’ve seen all the phones before, the locations, the incongruity, the ubiquitousness, and the ridiculousness sometimes, but because they have just been so utility orientated no one till Chirodeep has thought to make of them an artistic statement. Phones pop up in red and yellow in the most unlikely of places.
The photographs are tack sharp and beautifully composed, but that you would expect anyway from a photographer who has been making images professionally for as long as he has. What is also striking is the use of colour and shape, the telephone and coconuts is one of the better images, its less cluttered and graphically interesting monochromatic for the most part except for the bright red, shiny phone.
Perhaps the best image is of the telephone and haircutting saloon.
The telephone and meat-shop is another beautiful image, again relatively less crowded and less colourful, where the colour tells its own story.
While the photographs are attractive they disappoint, for several reasons, one expects a new way of seeing the familiar especially from a veteran of editorial photography . The photographs are uni-dimensional in that you see – you like, you may not want to re-visit. There could have been a suggestion of the phone, since the idea has been established, it could have been more abstract where the viewer is encouraged to wonder and discern, rather than tell all and leave no room for the viewer’s involvement.
March 19, 2010
A suite of photographs simultaneously spread across two galleries in south Mumbai itself induces many questions. Are these two shows or is it one show divided or is it many shows that happen to be in two galleries, or could these be 51 shows each playing themselves out in disparate surroundings, in your home, office or public space?
Dayanita Singh’s Go Away Closer and Beds and Chairs happen to be positioned temporarily in two distinct galleries, Gallery Mirchandani+Steinruecke and Gallery Chemold, but it is the intention of the photographer that the show travel in a box and be exhibited maybe two or three or 5 or 7 at a time and place undetermined yet.
That is about the only explicit ‘intention’. There are no other motives in the 51 exquisitely printed, rich, square, traditional, silver bromide, and archival prints. In some sense the images are authorless, though don’t try reproducing these photographs unless you want to to invoke a copyright infringement suit.
If you are looking for a Decisive Moment, someone caught mid air over a puddle, then you will be disappointed, for most of Dayanita’s photographs look like they were there exactly the same way monthhours (sic) before and yeardays (sic) after she visited the scene of the crime. Except that there is no transgression, though these could be used as forensic evidence, physiognomy of people that inhabited the place, worked, slept, sat, lived, loved and hated there. In many ways in that on going elastic moment you catch a sense of the familiar whether it is the seat numbers in a theatre or starched Nehru shirts in a glass case. There is a sense of suspended animation, where actions have stopped and words find no utterances. It is a mute world that Dayanita Singh dopplers away closer towards. There are no captions and no arrows to direct the flow of traffic, you could theoretically intersperse one photo with another and form your own curation.
The images are unmemorable, amnesiac in the sense that they would like not to carry too much baggage of history, of human bondage, they are light as you are light or heavy and dour and humourless as you might be, they are musical if you are a percussionist and a novel if you are an author. They are detached and isolated if you are itinerant. They could be you as a schoolgirl flopped on a bed during the afternoon recess making sure you don’t dirty the cover with your shod feet.
It is like reaching home-ostasis.