Of Ovals and other offices

October 27, 2012

Bill Clinton is making geometry news these days (oct 2003) drawing ovals and global circles around Iraq. 15 years ago when Reagan occupied that office there was this Star Wars thing where life was imitating the movie. Ronnie hadn’t quite given up his acting career. Scientists were no doubt working around the clock to develop laser guided watch-ya-call it to zap the soviet missiles as they emerged from their silos. It boggles the imagination to think of the dollars allocated for this. This was when there were two superpowers.

 

Today there is one. However it is telling that while there was all this intergalactech war stuff going on in the portals of the pentagon, and while Iraq was being funded, aided and abetted by both the superpowers in its Jihad against Iran (remember the Contras and Watergate), we are being told now that a tea spoon of Anthrax bacillus can kill us a million and ten times over. What kind of iron gates and rolling shutter and naka-bundhi in the sky and sniffer dog and radar this and doppler that do we now need to prevent us from a terrorist act. It begs the question. Who or what is a superpower. Can one person on a mission with a thermos flask full of goop be a superpower?

 

America via ABCNNBCBS,  and the media with all those microphones and TV cameras pushed up every orifice, is now briefing or is it debriefing us the world,  about its justification for a military buildup,  and by the way if we are cursed with memories of the ‘pin point’ accuracy plus or minus 100 km. of the Pershing and those perishing in ‘friendly fire’, we are now being reassured that the new tech of bunker busting, head banging, bio-incinerating missiles will complete what should have been done 10 years ago. Point is that Rambo perpetrating as UNSCOM couldn’t find the bunkers. So maybe then all that concrete searing shit should be unleashed on a Presidential site or two or how about the Baghdad suq, a few concrete structures there give or take a million people. But operation Desert Storm by any other name will check which way El Nino is blowing to make sure that if some botch up happens and Botulin gets released into the atmosphere, the crud will blow away the Kurds and then move into the Taliban occupied areas. The alibi for all this going horribly wrong (for it must) is already being set up. The best case scenario ie. from the American stand point is that they will beat Saddam into ‘submission’ and allow UNSCOM unfettered access which is back to their deal 10 years ago. Worst case scenario, Russia is predicting World War III. Is that Nostradamus tape running, the blue turban or was it saffron?

 

It seems from Trojan times sex and violence and S&M stimulate a psychological synapse, a power nasha. One wonders whether Bill’s secret missile is the zipless fuck.

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Sikh and ye shall find.

October 26, 2012

Raghu Rai is a photographer of international importance who derives all his nourishment from the land that raised him. From his days at India Today and those remarkable, unforgettable black and white photo features that helped propel IT into the serious content magazine category, his fame is legendary now.

 

His latest book ‘The Sikhs’ along with the redoubtable Kushwant Singh is fresh off the Lustre Press. Roli Books make an impressive large square format documentary on the lions of Punjab.

 

The text has been written authoritatively and with the very readable, simple style that makes Kushwant Singh the icon that he is. It is very clear that the subject is part of KS’s (not to be mistaken for Kamasutra, he writes because a condom for the pen has not been invented yet) blue blood cells. Kushwant Singh weaves his narrative over the history of the Sikhs interlocking its spiritual ideology with the religious rubric. The politics of the Punjab, the dynastic clashes, the fall of the kingdom, the role the Sikhs played during British rule, the Nationalist movement, the Akalis, The Temple and Operation Blue Star. Through reading the text (and its un putdownable) you somehow get to know the author more and how much he loves and admires the people and the land that give him an identity and a voice. He tries to be objective but is any objectivity ever possible? One of the most endearing qualities of Kushwant Singh is his ability to laugh at one and all. There is no malice in the man despite his columns’s claim. There are typically some Sardarji jokes too in the book.

 

But this is largely a Picture Book in gleaming colour fabulously produced, with a clean layout. By any standard it is a beautiful book however, Raghu Rai has to be judged on a standard that he himself sets up and by that exalted benchmark the book falls very short. Raghu Rai has this genius quality of the elements of foreground, background and midground coming together in an almost advertising set up. When you see a Raghu Rai you cant help but be messmerised at how this trained dog and trained cow and trained crow and trained people and sculpted sky and etched tree all come together co ordinated and preordained in the middle of the nowhere.  Or from within the chaos of Chandini Chowk, a pattern, a shape, a form, a canvas emerges. He does this with such uncanny regularity that you would think that he travels with a caravan size prop box and trained extras who pop up like cutouts in the desert. His unique sense of composition leaves you not getting the ‘whole in one’. You need to come back often, mull, savor, get pieces of it till finally the synapses in your head go click and it falls mysteriously in place like a cyberslot machine. The greatest quality of a Raghu Rai is its ability to make you part of the creative process rather than presenting you with a beautiful picture that leaves no doubt as to its origins and destination, a fait accompli. A picture that you ‘get’ at once does not need to be revisited. Raghu Rai’s images have a shadowy, mysterious quality but here he visits his own work like a ghost, appearing sometimes and walking out of his mind at others. The work looks too similar to Rahgubir Singh’s, most of it shot as a observer rather than a participant. Yes if you are a sikh you will definitely want to own this book, but if you are looking to see a Raghu Rai then the book hangs tenuously and it momentarily seems like the plastic credit card is heavier than the considerable book, should you commit the Rs 1975 or not, that act of indecision is where the book loses out. There are books out there that leave no doubt that even if you have to rob your grandmother to own it then shut your eyes and your qualms do it and sit down gently later to explain, and buy your ticket to visit Benares and do Ganga snan too.

The photos on page 43, 51, 54, 75, 77, 80, 81, 83, 84, 92,105 and 115 are purely redoubtable RR and truly marvellous. Some of them do look staged but what the heck, it seems natural and within context. The others are there and have documentary significance, the gaping hole in the golden temple after operation Blue Star is a glaring example, the rest of the images are cold and seem to look a bit tired. The text talks of the diaspora but where are the sikh cabbies and truck drivers? They seem to be on strike. Where is the Sikh Regiment? And the sikhs all over the subcontinent and beyond? Where is Bangra, bangra rap, and hello where is Daler Mehndi and Jaspal Bhatti? Oh they are in the cabs and trucks that are on strike and stranded.

 

Raghu Rai’s style is inimitable though a couple of young photographers try hard, they if they don’t watch out will always be a facsimile. There can be only one Raghu Rai as there is only one Kushwant Singh, but there are many sikhs and thankfully this is not the definitive volume, so take heart. The Sikhs don’t give up their secrets all that easily, maybe they are more democratic in sharing their mystique and wealth than artists and photographers are.

 

 

There is a lesson and a huge one somewhere, Sikhism is a direct reaction against the Hindu caste system, it does occur that if one exchanges  this oppressive social structure for a more egalitarian one or reorganise it to be contemporary then the people of that belief system inherit the earth and the wealth it provides. There are no Sikh beggars, chew on that Yaswant Sinha and Lal Kishan Advani.

In ‘Secret Knowledge’ David Hockney proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Caravaggio and other sixteenth century painters used optical devices to draw spherical objects, perspective and detail, it is also ancient history that with the birth of photography many painters found themselves on shaky territory and either adapted or perished. In India today as in the west it is common practice that painters will use photographs or photographic processes in their work. But not much of reverse osmosis is seen among Indian photography. While the notion of purist can redoubtably be challenged, has Indian photography allowed itself to be influenced by other art forms? It might be appropriate to take an overview of contemporary photography and see how it jostles for space in an increasingly segmented market.

 

More people have access to a camera than ever before especially with camera phones and the sheer choice available.

 

As India was coming out of a socialistic, protective economy to a more liberal capitalistic one, and to make it in the high income bracket as a photographer you had primarily to be an advertising photographer, rich kids were scrambling over each other to get to Brooks in Santa Barbara. Advertising photography was also stratified with fashion being top dog and industrial photography weighing in at the bottom. While any renowned, international, photojournalist would give their seeing eye to come to India. Local photojournalists were sort of looked down upon by the advertising frat and the twain rarely met. If you were a ‘portraitist’ in the west, that would in itself be considered a title. An Annie Leibowitz is sought after and is booked years in advance to have your portrait made. Today in India if you are a portraitist, common perception is that you hang a white curtain behind the subject if it’s for a Saudi visa or a demat account or a red one for a US. Photographers by and large were in it because it made good business sense, not because they loved it, so when the business dried up they would become prawn farmers or run hotels.

 

If you photographed Bollywood stars and your images appeared in Star Dust or Cine Blitz you were also regarded a lower mortal. Like the prize, if it’s the Nobel or Pulitzer, esteem and recognition would be bestowed on its recipient, in reverse, the other kind of prize gets its recognition by being given to someone of esteem. Here too there are direct parallels with celebrity photography, a sure ticket to becoming recognized yourself. But just compare celebrity photography from Snowdon to Avedon, from Lichfield to Lachapelle with local photographers and what they do with bollywood celebrities. Two way problem, 38 year old bollywood stars want eternally to be portrayed as teenagers and photographers have no visionary or creative way of convincing them otherwise. Big B will always be seen with his white goatee and his black weave. So much for originality both ways. Like the Oscars, an award ceremony to celebrate creativity, all the women in Harry Winston’s and all the men in black tuxedos, yeah right…. The only time Bollywood celebrities were shot uniquely and interestingly was for a funny campaign for a funny organization called Home Trade.com. No one ever knew what home Trade traded in,  and eventually it filed for bankruptcy and some scam was uncovered, but the images were wonderful and a blitz during the dotcom boom/bust days.

 

 

Editorial photography is going through a sea change and is catching up while it drags its feet with its western counterparts. The advent of Vogue in India should rattle things up a bit and status to editorial photography will shift. The prime accused in all of this is the editors who believe that photographers, models, make-up artists and stylists should not be paid even while they are. Irresponsible photographers too were queuing up to do ‘free’ work all with the hope of getting noticed. Net result is a magazine that does 3000 copies and considers itself humping. Finally magazines are realizing the potential market and will probably waste 3000 copies on the print shop floor. The Devil Wears Prada even if fantasy indicates the kind of machine, value and money editors are willing to spend to be at the edge of it all.

 

 

A visit to the bookstores only endorses the fact that while Indian writers in English are gaining status and international recognition, Indi pop, indi dance and indi photography indeed are languishing in some black hole. Part of the problem with Indian photography at least is its subservience to a dominant art culture that invariably is North American or European. Since there is this fashion/advertorial trickle down, the Black Book aesthetic gets promulgated and has been the bed rock of advertising referencing for over 2 decades, replaced only by Archive magazine and Communication Arts. What this meant 15 years ago was an art director showing you a dazzling yellow Lamborghini with an equally well featured blond, long limbed, barely clothed babe stretched across its rapacious chassis and wanting you with your Hasselblad to do the same with a Premier Padmini or an Ambassador and a model who barely brushed her teeth.

 

The other downfall has become synonymous with Anu Mallik, the art of ripping off. At last years exhibit A, a photo show expressly orientated to show original, personal, photographic work, a photographer had spent serious money on large photographic inkjet prints to rip off Sandy Skoglund’s Radio Active Cats shot in the 60s. What he did with digital manipulation was not even a patch on her in-camera, analogue work. Femina covers among others invariably have had verbatim copies of PeTA ads, Aditi Govatrikar covered in cabbage leaves. This is a double whammy; it firstly assumes arrogantly or naively that the public at large is stupid and that they can get away with you thinking how creative they are. Imitation is not the highest form of flattery. The Kingfisher calendars with all the hype associated are me-too, struggling to be like Pirelli, or Sports Illustrated and these are all left in the dirt by Lavazza in terms of creative edge.

 

The lack of originality and commitment are serious defects that manifests itself in contemporary Indian photography, the subjects are all tired, re hashed, recycled, work. The other issue is one of the ‘Indian aesthetic’, this is murky territory, an image is an image and should hold its own regardless of nation, gender, age and being hemophiliac but having said that from Picasso to Hussein to Gaitonde, to Rushdie, Penn, Araki and Arundhati Roy have resourced their environment outside and within with a certain geo, social, political orientation. Indian photography is barely Indian, it’s a kind of slick, accurate, technically correct, reproduction of what is available already. There is practically little or no attempt to discover worlds hitherto unexplored, the semiotics in mythology, of colour, texture, shape, the spirituo-religious rubric and the way light orientates itself in the tropics.

 

The only ones to have done this with some degree of international success are Raghubir Singh, Raghu Rai, Ashwin Mehta, Aswin Gatha and Dyanita Singh. The Ambassador by Raghubir Singh, a book published posthumously is perhaps one of the most evocative explorations of an India at the cusp. It holds out yet as a conceptual, modern classic as is the Ambassador itself.

 

The other serious flaw in the engendering process is a lack of educational facilities. It is astonishing that despite India being the major country in the subcontinent, the only school for photojournalism resides in Dhaka, Bangla Desh. Despite the alleged thriving commercial photography business there are no schools for photography, barring a valiant attempt by Girish Mistry with his Shari Academy. But year after year the graduation exhibition looks so black bookish and dated.

 

 

Photographers who could have promoted other photographers via Magnum or international agencies held on to their territory as did happen with play back singing. What is needed is a Bose Krishnamachari of Photography, someone who is generous and willing to promote others while he comes along for the ride too.

 

There are a few photographers who climb on to the gravy train, and become activist photographers, will use words like diaspora, space, post modern, neo colonial, pre nuptial, to describe their work and dot Indian and red Indian to indicate continental drift. Bad photography gets cloaked under the subterfuge of the‘conceptual’.

 

 

The only gallery devoted to showing photography in Mumbai is the Piramal gallery that, despite being in a wonderfully prestigious location has no vision, is bureaucratic and is a mausoleum. Contrast this with 80 registered galleries devoted to showing photography in New York.

 

Cross-over photography, from advertising to photojournalism to editorial or fine art, few have accomplished in any significant way. Faroukh Chotia and Prabuddha Dasgupta are the only two that are orientated this way. And Swapan Parekh was unique in that he took a kind of journalistic approach to advertising. Most often his images were black and white and art directed but looked candid enough.

 

Large scale assignments in terms of what is euphemistically called the ‘coffee table book’ are most often sponsored titles, rarely will publishers do something because it needs to be done or is beautiful in itself, and it invariably turns out to be vanity press.

 

The only area of large-scale visible photography where there is a match between content and audience is with film hoardings much to the sad demise of the hoarding painter. The only people using the vinyl medium with great effectiveness are hoarding photographers who for the most part remain anonymous. The entire package of layout, typography, and graphic design come together interestingly.

 

Media itself is in a tumultuous state, news papers competing with TV. The main news broadsheets being directed to be more tabloid, every square inch of news print is selling or being sold, rarely is there news for news sake, photos for their own sake, some brand, some image, some commercial agenda, the marketing asses dictating content. Print media is loosing advertising revenue to TV. The government now has to regulate the greedy children with the advertising to news ratios. TV is loosing out to cinema where, in-film advertising is becoming creative in Machiavellian ways to sell you more stuff even if all you were wanting to pay for was to see Mallika Sherawat.

Anyone heard of AM radio? Or SW for that matter, only FM and there too the content that should be reserved for SW is on FM. When Bunty and Bubbly were reading news on NDTV that was the last straw. Paid for segments of the news. It’s all about the cash register. But this in a very obtuse way will work itself out in terms of photographic new age ness. Sadly or pragmatically finally economics will dictate who and what survives photographically. It can be predicted judging by the way the fine art market has grown steadily over the years with artists needing to do commercial assignments of murals in restaurants and residences to finally where in their ateliers they can produce the art they want to or the art that is being sought after, photography as fine art will find its own niche and identity. If photographers sought with commitment and dedication their own unique language allowing all that is around them to leak into their work, they would pass on an atavistic response that can only be the foundation for uniqueness.

 

 

The D word is out. Its raining digital, despite the fact that Photoshop, the first and last resort of photographers the world over, is more than 15 years old, there has not been a sudden or significant jump in creativity. Everyone is playing catch up with the latest technologies and paying awesome amounts of money for digital equipment, the primary focus is on repaying the EMIs. It is like the bad old days revisited, when art directors insisted that you were a photographer worthy of his direction only if you had a large format camera preferably a Sinar sitting on a tripod in your studio, never mind that the client was not going to afford the large format film or scanning. Same now, if you’ve got digital you get the job, never mind that your film camera might actually produce a finer result. It’s the herd, its convenient and its instantaneous. in the past all you needed was a camera and film. now when you travel to get an image you need a retinue of slaves to carry your laptop your humongous camera, its digital back, all sorts of batteries to power that, and guess what, a built in 18 month obsolescence.

 

The photographers who get no attention at all though they constitute a significant part of the business are the wedding and event photographers, these have become formulaic with software manufacturers creating masks and vignettes with Om and Shanti and ‘effects’, all the Noritsu machines in the back lanes are churning out 5×7 prints and powerpoint DVDs of Raju weds Rani – swahaa.

ART – PORN photography

October 20, 2012

 

At what point can nude photography be considered art as opposed to pornography? Pornography in the pejorative is associated with explicit depictions of the sexual act. ‘Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for’ — Alice Walker.

Having said that there have been ‘terrible’ people who’ve made great art.

 

So that in essence is the polarity. All of us have resident within the human, the animal and the divine or sacred, individual or mob violence is a tendency that comes out of our animal side, compassion from the sacred, staying non committal, neutral is perhaps our human, sitting on the fence, side. The difference and similarity would be akin to Love and Lust. If we can remove morality for a minute, it might get simpler to understand. Human beings have a heritage of making judgments and often what has been handed down as good and bad remain our sacred tenets. Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols exhorts us to examine our values and see if they ring true.

 

A lot has to do with motives. Why are you making the photograph to start with? So even at the concept, ideological, wish level it is crucial to know one’s motives. Before anyone else has seen the photograph it could be art or vulgarity depending on that single test. But that is not the end of the line, just the start. A photograph when it becomes public has to fit into a sensibility. One culture would think a photograph vulgar/pornographic while another may not. Subjectivity comes with its own filters, morality, social mores and prejudice (pre-judgment). The point at which the photograph shifts from art to pornography could be several depending on who is viewing it. A general rule of societal thumb is when a group of people at a certain space/time become offended, the object of their disdain, ‘for them’, becomes vulgar. If a photograph is exploitative it veers towards the pornographic regardless of space/time or society.

 

M.F. Hussein’s Saraswati and Bharatmata along with Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ have a common element. The museum in Melbourne was vandalized by right wing fundamentalist Christians, in protest of a not too brilliant image, of a crucifix in an amber liquid. But go beyond the obvious, what if Serrano did not have a title to his photograph, some devout Christian might even have thought it worthy of veneration in their home, what if the image was called Honey Christ? What if it was dipped in Honey and called Piss Christ?

Vandalized Piss Christ

Many what ifs, as the answer oscillates from ‘art’ to ‘offensive’, notice the image has not changed at all. Only  ones perception. It might be crucial to check on Sorenno’s antecedents and his track record, would it change things to discover that he might be a devout and practicing Christian? If you saw a pair of perfect, sensuous breasts in a magazine half the populations could swing either way, but what if you then discovers a sign at the bottom that read, “Early examination prevents cancer”, would the context change the message.

 

Eventually art is not necessarily to be ‘liked’, art and artists roles are to challenge our perceptions of the world and ourselves. It holds a mirror to us and often times our warts and our insecurities show up. Shall we be content to be unaware of our ISness and bury our heads in the sand.

 

Most often historically, it is politics and those vested interests that create schisms and intolerance of one set of people over another. If we could borrow the sensibilities of the ‘other’, would our world view be that much more enhanced or diminished?

 

The nude human form is the most challenging subject there is. Because it’s all to do with perception. The human form laid bare of time and space, suddenly becomes eternal, divested of pretensions and fashions. It’s got the EQ (emotional quotient) that anyone from anywhere can relate to and identify with. The photograph does not need a title and explanation. It might be difficult to get emotional or attached to a pressure cooker, but the human form is quite another saga. How one deals from behind that eye piece with ones humanity is the process to greater potentials.

nude © david de souza

Advertising by definition is entirely attention seeking, if today people are aroused, shocked, jolted by an image, advertising will not discriminate. It is there for that reason alone. So if nudes bring the advertiser its target market closer to the client’s product, advertising will use nudes, but if you were in a society saturated with the nude images advertisers would find fully dressed images to sell their products. What is scary is that all the creative, intelligent people get into advertising; they know how the mind, and senses work and then use images to seduce people. There is a manipulative specter that surrounds advertising. It’s like some foul smelling, long haired, kid getting into your brain and pressing your pleasure centers, without your knowledge and/or ‘consent’.

 

If you have a society that is not squeamish, puritanical, or right wing. If there is a relevance to the product. If the advertising can be aesthetic and uplifting, responsible and have its motives sorted out. If it’s ethical there should be no problem in using the human nude form. Having said that with so many ifs, rarely can you justify using the nude as an advertising ploy in India.

 

There are several countries in Europe and South America and even some in Asia that have pornography channels along with porno magazines and DVDs that are free to view and buy if you are above legal age. Pornography has become so undeniable that reputed universities offer a study of the subject. It is such a far cry from our country where mere ‘sex education’ is such a hotly debated subject in parliament, where the objectors to the education outnumber those who are for it. If a proper scientific, sexual survey was done in our country it would then expose what everyone sort of surmises, that our sexual misconduct and crimes would then show us up and dent our ersatz pride for who we truly are, and that would not be acceptable. Hypocrisy is one of our many legacies.

 

Hypocrisy can be pornographic.

 

Other Ways of Seeing

September 18, 2012

Why are we identical and why are we so different?

The Genome project has given us incontrovertible proof today that genetically we are all identical and that we have a common ancestor and that all our ancestors smoked ganja on the plains of africa.

This puts paid to the notion of caste, of pure breed, Aryan, Brahmin etc

Have you ever wondered why homo sapiens is just a single species, while two tropical birds of the same size, living in the same tree, more or less feeding on the same worms, cant intermarry.

Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man and in Le Milieu Divin seems to indicate that ‘migration’ is the single most important feature that has kept homo sapiens a single species. That puts paid to all notions of ‘mool nivasi’ we are all migrants and drawing artificial chalk lines only limits the possibilities.

However when that single species put down roots and started to own immovable property, caste, creed, race, economic station and other forces started to claim its own right to uniqueness, mythologies, ‘identity’, ‘culture’ and psyche. Culture is an amorphous term that seems to define our aesthetic. Is our culture different from the Japanese or Alaskans, despite our common 23 pairs of chromosomes?

Or when a country gets geographically isolated (Madagascar – Australia) fauna and flora take on its own genetic twists. Are we global citizens because we can BBm each other, Skype or even travel frequently?

Does the suicide of farmers in our own state really affect us? Does Tiananmen or  Tahrir Square really touch our global lives. Do the travails of tribals in Chattisgargh dislodge our air-conditioned lives on pneumatic tyres?

. The notion of what is pure – Needs questioning. Nothing is, we are all a fantastic goop of a rich mix.

Yet some of us are blond and blue eyed, others have mongoloid features and many of us look distinct. This singularity and plurality is central to understanding the way we see, and negotiate our worlds.

Does the prithvi, vayu, tej and akash (elements) not influence the way we negotiate the world? Does the desert and the jungle, Siberia and the Thar not influence the way we dress (fashion).

Should it not influence the way we ‘see’?

. We trust our ears, our sense of smell and our hearing.

music can give you involuntary goosebumps more often than any painting or photographs. The spoken word, a book, theatre, cinema at its best can do the same.

. And yet, still photographs more than any other form of communication, have made cataclysmic changes to state policy. The Nick Yut photo of the Mylai massacre is attributed as one such photo that changed American policy over the Vietnam war.

. People buy art with their ears.

. what is the proof that light exists?   

our eyes

. We do not trust our eyes.

In the nature of light (light fantastic BBC) a mere 3000 years ago, our ancestors  thought that we saw because particles were emitted by our eyes much like a beam from a beacon, or a flash light.

We are determined pretty much by light/heat, dark skin, fair skin, the angle of light (latitude) and its intensity ipso facto governs our aesthetic. Europe is 50 shades of grey, mommy porn not withstanding. Exit Schiphol airport and you see a mass of people wearing black and grey. Their fashion and aesthetic has a hard time with colour. Their understanding of colour is very different from ours. They will tell you academically what does not ‘work’ in terms of primary and secondary colours, stripes and checks. They will condemn you to ‘wrap around lighting’.

Enter India or Africa and there seems to be an ‘overload’ of colour, smell and taste. Everything in these parts seems ‘hyper real’, exotic, vivid or even vulgar to a foreigner. To us who live here bhel puri and pav bhajji has the pungency that is what it is. A life of boiled potato or cabbage will only indicate that you are an invalid in India.

. The trouble is that all the great established institutions are in the west, the universities, the publishing houses, magazines, festivals, fairs and Biennales  and to a great extent the galleries, the critics and the ‘market’. The other trouble is that magazines like Vogue and all the others that set up in India are brands, cookie cutters that force feed an ‘aesthetic’ to fit that ‘brand’ profile. That makes us see a certain ‘Vogue’ way and if fashion is the leader then obviously Vogue is not fashion but about the business of fashion. Marketting people have forced content producers, writers and photographers to see only certain stories and not others that they cant sell. Tail wagging the dog scenario.

. The other aspect of seeing is that we have categories in India which we have locked into water tight compartments. Fine art photography looks down on commercial photography that looks down on editorial photography, that looks down of photojournalism that looks down on wedding photography that looks down on portraiture. And all this looking down has only economy and day rates as a yardstick. Avedon, Lachapelle and Penn move effortlessness from one to the other. Its going to be a very long while before an advertising photographer can show in an art gallery in india. Hans Neleman fights the good fight in the west. But who of us is championing the cause in India. It affects the way we see because we then wear our fine art hats, or our commercial hats and never the twain shall meet. Its nonsensically artificial.

. Unless we have home grown institutions we are not going to be able to make an impact.

In India we should be extremely sensitive to colour as just about everything including colour is coded. Haldi and Kumkum are not mere yellow and vermillion, Jaswand and gendu are not merely Hibicus and Marigold, they have semiology built it, a peacock and a tiger are not merely birds and animals but are vahans of gods and godesses. Nuts and fruits, trees and seasons, including drums, are coded, a certain drum is played only at a certain festival etc.

From this perspective the only indian fashion designer who explores india in a global way is Manish Arora, it is no surprise that Pacco Rabanne grabbed him as the next IT thing.

My desire is that as photographers we do for photography what Manish Arora does for fashion. Its quirky, its international, its surprising, its fun, its wonderful, its fashion, its joyous as it can be dark and its inspiration comes from an aesthetic that we from this part of the world can clearly identify with.

. What is the fundamental difference between : Camera and a Gun (Bresson/Barthes/Sontag), and between  Photography and Photorealism?

We forget that LIGHT itself has been making gestures on our planetary system from the time the sun was around, from the beginning of time itself much before we arrived and learnt how to make a camera obscura, let alone film and CMOS. So photo-graphy – light gestures, has been around forever. Its light that goes into the camera that makes the significant difference from a gun that emits a bullet with report, there is also the question of ‘intention’, the camera can be a gun when it is used to violate, the gun is built to violate, its intention is in its design. It is astounding that Barthes and Sontag got away with it, its shows how heavy duty NY Times intellectuals can intimidate. It’s also obvious that Barthes and Sontag could not make a photograph between them to save their skins. Its the outside looking in which sometimes fill their  observations with mendacity.

. Black and white photography has an etymology, a history and a practical quotient. It also became an instrument of abstraction in the west.

National Geographic put a moratorium on b/w photography not without good reason. The real world is in colour, 4D (space/time).

But from an indian/asian and I daresay with some caution, African point of view, where colour has syntax, metaphor, mythology and semiology built in, would a photojournalistic photo , that commits to representing the truth not be telling an untruth in b/w. Would it not be fraudulent in this case, making an ‘aesthetic, artistic’ statement for the photographer rather than the subject.

For me the most poignant photos are when the photographer disappears.

. when was the ‘star’ born?

There were great actors since the time theatre and troubadour performances were held. But there were no ‘stars’  till the camera got invented and was mobile enough to make the subject ‘larger than life’. The camera suddenly affected the way we saw and communicated.

. placement of the lens?

The microscope and telescope – both make the invisible – visible, the telescope reversed makes distant objects more distant.

Where do you place your mind’s eye, the camera lens? What is the arena of contact and engagement? Depending on how far  you zoom in or pull back, the perspectives, both visual and psychological change.

The wonderful closing shot in Men In Black has a continuous  camera zoom out from the hideous, monstrous alien creature that Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith shoot down, CGI notwithstanding to seeing a blue planet in orbit to finally a dot of no significance.

While in Fantastic Voyage – Raquel Welch  zooms into your aortic valve at sub cellular environments.

The west is like our left brain, the east, to oversimplify is the right brain, which brain is better? The moment we start to moralise these differences we have wars on the cards.

Men are said to be left brain, women right brain and so the metaphors can go on and on. Which eye do you place your camera at can affect, maybe the way you see, there is an optic chiasma where the left eye is connected to the right brain and vice versa.

Being conscious of where your photographs are coming from is crucial to the process of seeing and re-seeing, respect. Does the external, the magazines, the viewership, the hits on a photo-site determine the way we see? Are market forces determining our colour palette and our choice of subjects? Do our photos come from a place of integrity?

We have never seen ourselves, we have seen at best the tips of our noses and that too out of focus, we have seen virtual/mirror or photographic images of ourselves.

And yet everything that we look at deep and long enough can reveal, reflectively our true selves. Sometimes maybe we need to shut our eyes and sense the heat of light as the visually impaired often perceive.

When in doubt take two steps closer.

Bibliography:

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

LIght Fantastic

Man and his Symbols – Joseph Campbell

Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida – Death of the Author – Elements of Semiology

Susan Sontag – On Photography

Geoff Dyer – On going Moment

Bresson – The decisive moment

photography – philosophy – Will and Aerial Durant –  Slavoj Zizek

Purism – Teilhard de Chardin – Man’s search for meaning, Le Melieu Divin

Malcolm Gladwell – 10000 hour rule

Bombay – Mumbai

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.


Is art an emotional experience or a rational one? Can art be both? Isn’t it mysterious that we go to school and by that definition are ‘taught’ to think, no one sends us to school to feel, we just do. Can our thinking influence our feelings? It probably does, which is why it perhaps is imperative to question the very notion of schooled thought. Ken Robinson states dramatically that schooling, the way we know it in modernity, exists to strip mine thinking/doing, to perform industrial tasks, in other words, to conform, but simultaneously we are growing out of creativity rather than into it.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

You would not want your brain to be operated upon by an unschooled surgeon, or for that matter the plane to be flown by an untrained pilot. But we might want to begin questioning the schooled artist, musician and dancer, writer, poet or philosopher.

The problem is that we all agreed and made a pact  with Descartes, and assumed that our very existence is a function of thinking, homo sapiens and all that rubbish. ‘I think therefore I am’ is a neat but purulent thought. Rather a more enabling vision is ‘I dont think therefore I am’, and in that association is implicit going beyond thinking, to feeling. I think therefore I am, might distinguish us from the animal world, though dont have this conversation with a dog lover, but feeling therefore I am, might want to associate us with the sacred or divine.

The senses and intuition, that wonderfully indescribably quotient, that hovers and approximates between the senses, are nature’s way of providing inputs for learning, growth and fulfilling ones true potential. Societal pressure and the politics of the state make ‘schooling’ not learning mandatory, make teaching not educating implicit, make medi-care not health; and security not safety an issue. (Ivan Illich – De-schooling of society)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIqLX1VsWI4

A German curator today mentioned that an indian artist she interviewed in Delhi told her something she found meaningful, that while in art school in Scotland he had to learn to be Indian in his aesthetic, and when he returned to india, he had to unlearn that. Is it possible that while abroad he had to learn to be Indian but back in the environment he had simply to Be? Invariably the environment itself will dictate your nationality and your mythologies. Aren’t we all aware of, with some irritation, the recent NRI with an accent. The environment is not necessarily a geo-political state, it could be a state of being and like Rupert Brooke, in the Patriot, let where ever he is buried be forever England.

In addition is the new rubric of the cultural theorist, the academic, the intellectual who attempts at ‘making sense’ out of chaos, drawing vectors across the art firmament to establish equations, inscribing, intention, influence,  interpretation and meaning. First came the professionals then came the professors, that might seem quite in order till you discover that the professionals are influenced heavily by the professors, the conundrum continues.

There is a new buzz in art, its called Conceptual, which in other words means, I can think, I can write,  I feel, I can read, I am literate, I have a great fucking idea, but I cant draw, sculpt, paint or dance or install or photograph to save my life, so my catalogue will be art, but what you pay Rs 10 million for I cant be bothered with. Put this rubbish canvass or shit on your wall or in your estate; close your eyes and have total recall of all the spell binding associated gyan  that enticed  you to shell out that sort of lucre, and intellectualize your pleasure. Its  masturbation, and fittingly you have to shut your eyes when you cum.

Its a bit like nouvelle cuisine, its all hyped to be the new IT. So when you go to this swish (read subdued lighting) restobar, and fork out enormous sums of money for a little bit of twig and drizzle over a microscopic bit of salmon or mouse, and you come out of that place late at night totally hungry and too embarrassed to say so, you raid the fridge and devour yesterdays left overs. In the morning though you will boast of this fine dining place you visited. Its a status thing. (Thosrtein Veblen described it ascerbically well in The Theory of the Leisure Class)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWbUU9CUcf4&feature=related

Its the emperor’s new clothes scenario where the marketing tails wag the dog. Now everything is art, you have simply to will it.

James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a young man, has some interesting things to say about art and its callings, he sees a messianic role for art.

If Art is the manifestation of Being, that gerund, that present continuous, conjugation of To Be, it sort of then summarises existence and identity. Who am I, where do I come from, and where am I going are as Transcendental as creation itself. That one sits at the computer in 38 degree heat with a deciduous pipal tree shimmering back lit in Mumbai and chatting simultaneously to 10 different people in different time zones and weather conditions makes one as Global as in the days of snail mail when one licked stamps and sent them off to 10 international pen pals. No different than when you can have streaming video pouring in at broadband speeds from different sources. Its only convenient now, not global at all.

How and who looks at Art, might best be examined at who and how we look at spirituality, science, literature, medicine, music, architecture, agriculture and language itself. It might be appropriate when entering someone’s home to take off our shoes, for who knows we could be treading on the sacred.

It is about Being and Nothingness eventually.