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.

The Dream Collector

October 26, 2012

A long time ago in 1979 I got really lucky. In those years you were more likely to get serendipitous when browsing the book stands near Flora Fountain. There were some genuine beauties you could buy easily on a collegian’s pocket money, that is if you saved up instead of the wada pavs and movies. I was obsessed with books and still am but it gets harder each year with the devaluation of the rupee and printing costs and things going through the roof. Also work is getting slicker and more finished, wonderful print values and superlative form but don’t you get the feeling that ‘content’ is sorely lacking. Everything looks like a mass make over. So Arthur Tress comes across even today as enriched uranium.


His early book called The Dream Collector is a documentary, social commentary and artistic rendition of the subliminal, the unconscious, the REM and the John Fowles of the visual world.



The most wonderful part about Tress and all subsequent work that he has produced is his effortlessness. The Dream Collector is all about children enacting their fantasies, making real the virtual, making surreal the obscure.


Tress goes (because ‘went’ is so past tense and ‘done’) about recording on a tape machine, children’s dreams, believing that dreams are telling us about ourselves, that they are an indicator of what we are concealing, putting aside, not dealing with, in other words dreams are playing out for us a script for action to be taken, the past, present and future becoming one homogenous continuum.


Arthur Tress ‘renders several dominant themes in his photographs, the child’s expression of fear combined with intuitive curiosity his hands reaching, exploring shape and texture; and the emergence from darkness and light’.  He gets on amazingly well with children which may account for the ease with which they can relate to him. He has a child like quality that they intuitively understand as genuine.


The foreword talks about the easy conversational, non threatening style that Arthur Tress has that children trust, that he takes them seriously must throw them off. He is never disparaging or dismissive or patronising. He shows them respect and in return they give him a dream for his collection. He then plays the dream back for them and initiates an enactment in a setting and backdrop that will lend itself to the mood and the sentiment. Then he waits patiently for that flash of inspiration when the child does something spontaneous and beguiling and then he knows he’s collected the rare species in a jam jar.


The photographs are rich in photographic skill and temperament.  The images are disturbing in large part due to the illusion becoming tonal and bromide.  Like Fowles it is unnerving to see dreams like butterflies in a display case impaled on a pin. The ambience is largely desolate and lonely.  There are monsters looming out of children’s heads. He employs the diptych in many frame, the top half revealing one reality, the lower half another. If one becomes introspective which is what the book is ultimately seeking, you begin to see yourself as a child might see you, it can be ugly and cause you to stop, think and feel. Each image is a surprise as dreams are generally. Each dream is visually explicit and in black and white. The dreams connect literary to the audio which is connected to the smell to the texture and the sensation, the emotion and the intellect. What dreams are saying are seldom the obvious.


Tress is a versatile photographer a couple of his other books are available with homoerotic overtones and generally the macabre. His exhibition called Fantastic Voyage ran at the Piramal gallery for photography in 1995 and was a treat to behold, there was humour and exquisitely crafted prints. Tress is not as well known as he should be. But look out for his work which is loaded always with surprise and adventure.

Ex Libris

October 23, 2012

You do not  review Ralph Gibson but let him let you into his view and re spect. The word itself means re-view, to re-examine.

If you have the good fortune to meet Ralph Gibson you will know immediately that you are meeting a creative mind, an arrogant, intellectual man and you will come back entertained and enlightened. Here is Ralph Gibson on Ralph Gibson.

‘Context is everything, take the Venus de Milo, a beautiful nude, but if I were to say, there is still no cure for cancer, you would look at it differently.’

‘A missionary threw head shots of himself before he landed on an island, he then landed and the tribe promptly ate him. Either they thought he was throwing them the menu or they had difficulty reading the photograph. I’m interested in how different cultures see.’

‘I went to Egypt, I went up the Nile one man and came down the Nile another.’

….   man ….   woman, rest room symbols, and it is replicated again and again on the dummies in the show room. That forms recur is no mistake. A culture is a sum total of its shapes. Photographers have to see shapes.  I believe that there is a primal set of shapes, organic shapes are continuous, shapes of people, leaves, a smile considerably extend our boundaries, penetrate as an atom, go deep down to come up with a homunculus.  We are seeing human, am I seeing English?’

Ralph Gibson loves books and his latest called Ex Libris, is a book about  books.  He visited several Libraries, saw the Polyglot Bible in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. His fascination for words and what they mean and what feelings they evoke is only secondary to the way they look. Typography is the pre cursor of photography and its use is tactical. The filigree of Gothic and the rectangularity of Hebrew is for him a ‘departure point’. He is fascinated with shapes. He would do the diptych put two images together, a hand holding a gun, and a woman at the side of another picture, he called the picture the Perfect Future.


Much of the book Ex Libris is about placement of two images that are unrelated which when put alongside seem to carry on a spirited argument sometimes or a resplendent laidback smoke. The images themselves form part of the Generative System Theory where to start with there may be a painting, then a poster of the painting and then a photograph of the poster of the painting, each time the meaning changes.

He likes the idea of being incredibly arbitrary of where to put the focus, out of focus, or in focus, just to see where it will take him. On the other hand it would seem contrary that he will stick with one lens and shoot everything at a 3 foot distance till he has understood the language of that particular lens. If he signs a print he takes total responsibility for everything. No happy accidents in the background, he takes all the credit or all the blame. His morality is entirely reflected in his work, not in the amount of money he puts in the ‘poor box’ in church.

He decided early on that his life-time tool would be a Leica and he goes on to say that more great photographs have been made with a Leica and a 50mm lens than any other camera. He says that camera handling is crucial to the process, that it should be second nature and that if you shoot 10 rolls a day for the next 4 months you will automatically become a better photographer. He practices to stay warmed up, just moves film through his camera and if he doesn’t he fears he may lose his camera handling skills.

In his book Ich Bin Nacht (I am the Night) he worked by night in Berlin where he believes the night begins. He still functions as a street photographer after having dropped out of Magnum where he started out as a reporter, except now he does not want to report anything. He feels no great compunction to portray the whole Brandenburg gate, the bridge where they exchanged spies, the night is just a point of departure, it abstracts things and gets rid of a lot of information and it is a higher form of information.

‘I studied photography, learnt it, then serving it you become Photography, can you deny that Cartier Bresson is not photography? The photograph is always more intelligent than the photographer. The medium is always larger. We realise that the photographer is not the photograph, nor the radio, music. The photographer speaks through the photograph.’

His mission is that nothing comes between him and his work, he thought it was a sacrifice, to give up on time with the family, now he thinks to have done anything else would have been a sacrifice.

There are lots of reasons for making a photograph. Take a nude, you can work on minimal flatness, or as erotica, or to experience tonality, or to explore north window light in your studio, it is just an excuse to know more about photography. He says I want to make a Photography, all my points of departure make a sub text. His father is a diplomat his mother an eccentric who thought all her relatives were on the walls of Pompeii. He wants to look as far back as he can as a contemporary living today. Jews carry that around in them, they are Antiquity.

‘When I make a book, I show how I think about my work and photographs, no one will know more about my work than I. Photographs are objects that lie suspended between the present and the past. Mao brought the watch to China and forced it to measure Time, better than burning candles. Photographers have gone one better in ending time.’ A book publisher wanted to cut one of his images in half for the cover. “We will double your money” they said, when he objected. “Ok double it” I said, otherwise it will be bad for my work, but no cutting the image in half. That is staying pure, I am not going to cut my nose to spite my face’.

‘How you feel is how you determine reality, the only thing real is how you feel’ ‘So long as you want to say something, photography will be around to record it’

Even if you are not a photographer you get the goose bumps listening to Ralph Gibson, there is an insouciance, a take it or leave it style, a panache for articulation and you are touched by the wisdom.


Jeet Tahil’s introductory essay The Future Infinitives might be suggestive of a more appropriate title to the current, Gauri Gill’s show of photographs, The Americans.

“Almost Americans”, might coalesce a sense of the images, a kind of people lost in transition searching between Bud Light and Khalsa, a movement and an identity.

As you walk into the gallery you are visually assaulted by more images than might be necessary. The walls seem to be papered with photographs that are not too unfamiliar from the ones most of us have of family and friends back in the USA. You would have to crawl on the floor and get a ladder to see, really view, all the images, so in that sense, the way the exhibition has been mounted at Chatterji and Lal’s gallery shoots itself in the foot.

Many of the images are diptychs and within the image sometimes there is another duality, this then becomes too much of a good thing. Some of the images have been cleverly juxtaposed where you dont know where the wall/post/window ends and the new image begins. Sort of reminiscent of the ‘single take’ music videos of the 90s. There is a sense of inside and outside and sometimes that is the only clue that the images are of the sikh community mostly in the USA. The exhibition is hardly representative of the Punjabi community living abroad but rather a small, almost, extended family album. The Buick in the drive way, the maple, elm, the motel, mobile home or the santaclaus in the window are often the only semiotics to indicate that the images are actually shot in America, most of the others almost could have been made in Ludhiana, Noida or Gurgaon.

The images are of a documentary nature, sometimes the document is almost funny this is represented by a cut out of the Taj, with its fake, cloud filled sky backdrop, dwarfed in a crowded street by the tall buildings around. There are predictably almost ‘monsoon’ weddings, and ‘Bend it like Beckam’ visuals.

The most striking photograph is of a young upwardly mobile, Asian couple getting into their separate automobiles, the lack of communication between them is the most telling. The other photos that make  you look twice are the ones with images within them either on the TV or peering out of the photo frames on the residential walls. The diptych of the shivite, tambrams is reflective not only because its shot in the mirror. And what might be the subject of a more interesting social discourse is of small cutouts of women in saris with news paper clippings, of the American Dream becoming the Nightmare, ‘Parul Patel strangulated to death by her 24 year old husband’.

While the west initially was in search of India, it is Ironic that Indians are in search of the west now when it seems almost unfashionable.

Annu ennui

March 19, 2010


Identities and resulting crises are not new to humanity nor is migration. Every single person on the planet except those still on the plains of Kenya is a product of a migration. This brings with it an unsettling and a certain amount of uprootedness.

Columbus, 500 years on, might be at the heart of all this brouhaha yet, with Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s show of photographs indicating to us in India that all those who followed Christopher into the melting pot still cant quite tell who the Indian is. Will the real slim shady please stand up, please stand up?

Some years ago Stephen Kapur reminded us that he was an Apache Indian living in Brighton or Birmingham or something Punjabi sounding like that. Ms. Matthew Malayalee is keen  to indicate that if its a dot, then duh, its indian from curry land and if its a feather, then there is a reservation on your scalp.

The photographs might have been entertaining Cindy Sherman or Pushpamalaesque, in no small measure due to the captions which are deprecating and patronising with their original collonial overbearingness. Ms. Matthew somehow trivialises the issues of background, where she substitutes herself most often into a vintage photograph repudiating the history of the ‘noble savage’. Words like ‘diaspora’, speaking of indians in search of a brighter economic future devalue the jewish experience; and ‘gaze’ and ‘conceptual’ trip too easily off a wanna be intellectuality. Deshi goes mod.

In addition to ABCD  and brown being the new red, this is yet another tale of a legal alien, an indian in new york.

……and Memories of India made with a Holga, (yawn), hi-brow cavorting as anti-brow are good enough to join the millions of other cultists on Flickr.