Indeterminate

October 20, 2012

The space between the progressive and regressive, the modern and the ancient are the subjects of Bharat Sikka’s debutant fine art photography show on at the C&L gallery in Colaba. This is an interesting counterpoint to his otherwise well known fashion, commercial photography. There is no doubt that Sikka has a fine eye and technique, his images  here are shot in urban areas where there is large scale development but as most know in this country there is very little finish, conduits, and debris, unpainted new structures and piles of rubble left un cleared all sit around some how becoming the rhinoceros  in the visual ointment.

 

The images are almost without any colour and they are not monochromatic, they come from an unsaturated, smoggy, archipelago that could be a gulag. These are mostly urban landscapes of stadia, power plant sites, fly-overs and movie studios. There are two images that are particularly interesting, most for where the camera has been positioned. There is some precision to the symmetry where parallel lines meet at a vanishing point, forming a triangulation that is beguiling. The other image is shot from the outskirts of a power plant grid, a patch of red earth looks suspiciously, beautifully out of  place. This is not about a decisive moment but a decisive place that is remarkably familiar. There are people but most are unrecognisable, there is life, but just barely, leaving only the vestiges of a lit bulb or an errant street light. A skeletal tree drops onto a playground that seems joyless. 

 

Bharat Sikkas images have been part of a widely travelled show, many of his images are familiar. While one has waited expectantly for a show that would have taken indian photography to another level, a young observer’s comment sort of summarises the exhibition well, underwhelming. Andreas Gursky , Stephen Shore,  Hiroshi Sugimoto and other conceptual fine art photographers like Gregory Crewdson have done this sort of work some time ago. Many indian photographers are exploring this unglamorous urban space but that is telling in its own way.

Is The Space in Between Love and Hate, Indifference?

15/3/08

The Photograph : Painted, Posed and of the moment, an exhibition currently on at the NGMA is perhaps the most significant piece of photography to manifest itself all in one place. The exhibition is wonderfully curated with not a single image being out of place or superfluous. In that sense if you want to ‘trip’ as in a Pablo Barthomew, come prepared with comfortable shoes and at least 3 hours to spare. You cannot or should not rush through this show. In many ways, the exhibition on at the NGMA will be a harbinger of things to come, all bode well for photography and the arts.

The photographs are arranged in a very finite order at every ‘etage’ of the gallery. On the ground floor as you enter, you will be messmerised by images that have messmerised us for many years now, that have in some ways etched themselves into the collective unconscious. All the photographs on this floor have been seen before, but when you stand in front of an original Henri Cartier Bresson bromide, its like meeting an old friend, an aristocrat, and a god. Everything that can be said about Bresson has been said so it would be completely dangerous to tread this territory, however there are magnificent texts by artists, sociologists, historians, musicians, editors, photographers, writers and theatre personalities among others who give the viewer another insight via language where at times the silence of the still image could speak more eloquently.

Kobo Abe in one of those placards says that a Bresson image –  is not a window into space rather into Time. That sentiment could be parsed differently, most of Bresson’s images exceed the Einsteinian restrictions of space/time, they move into a zone of timelessness, The geography and specificity of that Title – Mexico 1934 become redundant. Ferdinando Scianca speaks of another image of a veiled woman with child – Mexico 1934, he celebrates the ‘lack of sentimentality or the picturesque’ in that image and is spared of the ‘blackmail of rhetoric’. He says pithily, that the image was ‘taken in Mexico but devoid of mexicanisation’. This might well be a lesson to all those photographers who trump the ethnic. Andre Pieyne  writes about what he calls the ‘love spiders’ the image of two lesbian women revealing tastefully just enough without being salacious. The issue of photographer as voyeur does crop up repeatedly, Eduardo Arroyo notes that the humorous photograph of two men in Brussels 1932, ‘one peeping through a hole at reality that is concealed from us and the other in a bowler hat looking around suspiciously at being observed’, reminds us that we, the per-viewer of the camera’s view are all in the picture. The notion of photograph as premonition is revealed by  Leonardo Sciasia with the famous image Sevilla, Spain 1933, the children depicted seem to be ‘playing with war, a war they do not yet know’.

Interestingly Bresson gave up photography for 15 years till his death, his decisive finger was sketching instead. No doubt Bresson would be one of the most vivisected photographers that ever lived, his work will be scanned for psychological, social, anthropological and aesthetic nuances, its best to sum him up with one sentence, Cartier Bresson is not a photographer, he is a Photography(sic)

Pablo Batholomew who we knew and loved from the junior world press days and with sporadic visual interventions, was perhaps significant by his absence. You got the feeling that he was lost and unable to find a new way of telling old stories. The second floor digs through his archive and in all those years of sex drugs and rock and roll reveal what he found worthy of imaging, this is a sort of confession, laying open his private diary. There are some matter of fact photos of a lavatory 1975, bed sheets, Carmen’s house, Bathroom shelf and a college dining room that speak of honesty and non pretentiousness that invade most of our modern ways of seeing. The fungus on his self portrait negatives are in some ways as telling. The Jawa motorcycle and the rounded cornered Allwyn refrigerator are visual semiotics of an era.

Dayanita Singh’s Sent a Letter moves away from the arrogance of the limited edition archival print to a more engaging, human, quiet, understated, accordion series of books that you can posses when you leave the gallery, these are small jewels of private communication, all the images are in a square format and contact size. there is an intimacy, beauty and stillness to them. She shares space with Nony Singh her mother whose need to archive the family is beautifully depicted. The portraits are exquisite.

On the fourth floor is Umrao Singh Sher- Gil whos many self portraits and gorgeous little sepia contact prints speak of His Misery, His Manuscripts and narcissism. The autochrome back-lit images of family are stunningly beautiful.

The only other colour photographs ironically are the ones that predate colour photography, they belong to the Alkazi collection, there are the familiar colonial Deen Dayal type images but more interesting are the hand tinted photos which a decade later sometimes, gave the original, black and white photographs, a new context and added a layer of the aesthetic of a different decade. The exhibit is under lit not surprisingly, the pigments and dyes would be prone to fading. There are astonishing images that could be an inspiration to a whole generation of contemporary photographers and artists alike, but the jewel in the crown is a hand coloured Daguerrotype, you register a double take and in its mirrored image across two hundred years you can get a glimpse of yourself.

The Doppler Effect

March 19, 2010

8/2/07

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.

16/11/06


Photography is certainly coming of age and art in India, in recent weeks there has been a spate of high caliber fine art shows, Dress Circle, a black and white photo essay on at the Jehangir Nicholson gallery adds to the list.

Shahid Dattawala explores Delhi Cinema houses where two-dimensional hoardings seem prophetic of the three-dimensional real world around them, becoming animated themselves in the process. A fallen cut-out of Ajay Devgan in Lonely Stars is aware of the presence of the intruding lens while Urmilla tries to cuddle up to him, the irony and truth are not lost.  A busty torso from one poster, voyeurs into Jism setting up their own competitive, jealous conversation. On a rolling shutter a job opportunity poster solicits – Wanted Women with pleasing personality, all ambiguity of what that might constitute is diminished with the midriff bearing, navel showing nach girl in the adjoining hoarding, the recruiting agency might never have anticipated such a slew of raunchy applicants. Purdah Ladies step past Bikini Island but this kind of image has been seen and done before, Steve McCurry / Pamela Singh Bordes did their own ‘me too’, colour/bw women in burkha marching past the shiv sena tiger hoardings at churchgate. Juxtapositions offer a quick and immediate, hole-in-one irony, the photographer has to locate a catchy poster (not too uncommon with C grade cinema houses showing A or XX rated films) and then lie is ambush till the ‘appropriate’ quarry falls between his cross hairs. This is not to take away from the exquisite quality, beautifully composed, full toned, rich black and white, archival injets.

Interspersed are graphic architectural images of seedy, decrepit, art deco in low esteem cinema houses, the three print sizes too break the visual geometry creating interest and makes use of the gallery space intelligently. The show is well curated and tight, with not a single loose or careless image.

Shahid moves away from the crowded, does not show the predictable, instead chooses off hours, intermission, holidays or after shows, most of the images are devoid of recognizable humans, they are mostly put through the meat grinder of camera obscura, they appear with their backs to the camera or as ghostly blurs being preyed upon by Bhoot.

10/5/08


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.

Indeterminate

March 19, 2010

28/2/08

The space between the progressive and regressive, the modern and the ancient are the subjects of Bharat Sikka’s debutant fine art photography show on at the C&L gallery in Colaba. This is an interesting counterpoint to his otherwise well known fashion, commercial photography. There is no doubt that Sikka has a fine eye and technique, his images  here are shot in urban areas where there is large scale development but as most know in this country there is very little finish, conduits, and debris, unpainted new structures and piles of rubble left un cleared all sit around some how becoming the rhinoceros  in the visual ointment.

The images are almost without any colour and they are not monochromatic, they come from an unsaturated, smoggy, archipelago that could be a gulag. These are mostly urban landscapes of stadia, power plant sites, fly-overs and movie studios. There are two images that are particularly interesting, most for where the camera has been positioned. There is some precision to the symmetry where parallel lines meet at a vanishing point, forming a triangulation that is beguiling. The other image is shot from the outskirts of a power plant grid, a patch of red earth looks suspiciously, beautifully out of  place. This is not about a decisive moment but a decisive place that is remarkably familiar. There are people but most are unrecognisable, there is life, but just barely, leaving only the vestiges of a lit bulb or an errant street light. A skeletal tree drops onto a playground that seems joyless.

Bharat Sikkas images have been part of a widely travelled show, many of his images are familiar. While one has waited expectantly for a show that would have taken indian photography to another level, a young observer’s comment sort of summarises the exhibition well, underwhelming. Andreas Gursky, Hiroshi Sugimoto and other conceptual fine art photographers like Gregory Crewdson have done this sort of work some time ago. Many indian photographers are exploring this unglamorous urban space but that is telling in its own way. Is The Space in Between Love and Hate, Indifference?