March 30, 2010
Picture Bombay – Landmarks of a New Generation is probably the only lyrical and honest photographic depiction of this city, it was part of an international effort by the Getty Conservation Institute in LA to get young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen to define and articulate visually and textually what was important, beautiful, significant, repugnant, worth preserving and relevant to them. Half way while printing the catalogue Bombay changed to Mumbai and Picture Mumbai then became probably the first documentary of the changing facade and politics of this city. Not since the iconic Family of Man was photography celebrated so acutely. The then Prince of Wales Museum saw 4000 people engage with it daily for three months. Despite Bollywoods omnipresence, the city has never been depicted with any realness. Even as background it has remained another Nitin Desai set.
The process of Picture Mumbai was probably more significant than its superb outcome, thousands of young people representing as many diversified backgrounds as possible from across the city were interviewed, the common factor that selected them was their eagerness to express themselves alternatively. In that microcosm of diversity with all its ensuing pulls of age, caste, creed, economic station, and gender was a critical commonality, a desire not to compete with others, rather, with themselves. The twelve year old and youngest, turned out to be the most chivalrous and the protector of the group, confirming a Richard Avedon sentiment that we do not lead chronological lives.
While migration continues to be the hottest debate around, we all conveniently forget that each and everyone of us on the planet is a product of a migration and some or other religious conversion. All our ancestors black, white, brown, blond or blue eyed, a mere two thousand generations ago probably smoked ganja together on the plains of Africa. Race is non existent, its all a figment of a propaganda and some artificial construct just as borders are.
(the human genome project : http://www.tutorvista.com/ks/human-genome-project-begins)(unfortunately the YouTube video has been taken off the net)
But these divides are becoming sharper and more polarised. Where you photograph, whom you photograph, who is photographing, are turning locations into paranoid districts. There is a prickly thin skinedness now that gives almost anyone to right to ask you whether you have ‘permission’, even if you are in a public space in broad daylight, photographing the alleged innocuous. Being patient and coming up with long winded explanations for things that should not need explaining can be frustrating and a huge waste of time. Everyone feels they have the right to whisk you off to the police station. It is merciful when sometimes the police show boredom and fatigue.
Its all the more interesting as just about everyone has a camera embedded in their cell phones. When you can google map a car registration plate via satellite, photographing on Marine drive with a tripod becomes a municipal, traffic and police issue. Everything is a ‘sensitive’ area.
The only creature that stands up to all the political insensitivity ironically has a soft backbone, it lurks off our coasts and is delicious crumb fried. The Bombay Duck not mombil continues to be our quirky, indigenous, delectable mascot chased down by Bombay Gin you are likely to retain an original flavour of the city.