Stark images of rural and urban India

Stark images of rural and urban India
FAMILIAR FACE: A picture from Thomas Meyer’s exhibition Exile in Calcutta
This time the focus shifts to the fascinating world of photography, focusing on the work of photographers, both from India and abroad. India’s Jyoti Bhatt, a trained fine artist is better known for prize-winning photos of rural India and some of the most lyrical and endearing images are currently featured at Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery, in collaboration with Tasveer, a forum solely involved with photography. The exhibition which is on between April 19 and May 14 offers us 48 images that resulted from Bhatt’s travels through rural India between 1967 and 1995. The photos cover the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar and offer rural India at its best through images that many of us are familiar with. Actively engaged with photography since the mid-60s, Bhatt’s images ‘constitute an important chapter in the history of photography in India, demonstrating great artistic sensibility, creativity and a unique understanding of traditional cultures’.

We now move on to an exhibition that is perhaps the exact opposite of Jyoti Bhatt’s work. The just concluded Exile in Calcutta, was the work of Thomas Meyer from Berlin, organised by the Goethe Institute and Max Mueller Bhavan at Kolkata’s Seagull Foundation for the Arts. Meyer’s images may be considered the exact opposite of Bhatt’s with their stark and disturbing images of urban India. Meyer was invited to research and photograph the division of the state of Bengal and the images that he created reflect the present in stark reality of those who migrated to India. In these 23 portraits, ‘the individuals talk of their homes, old and new ... making their way in a new environment’.

Meyer has been quoted as having said that his “subjects” — people who had been forced to leave their hearth and home in Bangladesh ... even those who had made good here, did not feel at home ... felt nostalgic about the home they had left behind”. His images cover a wide spectrum of subjects, a cycle-rickshaw-puller, a dancer, a priest, an image maker at Kumartuli, a maid in her kitchen, a writer in his study, a poultry butcher in New Market, a sex worker and others just as pertinent to the urban hub that is Kolkata.

We end with the fascinating work of New Zealander Simon Mark, which opened at the Art Heritage Gallery in New Delhi on April 29 and will be on show till May 17. Photography buffs and abstract art enthusiasts should make it a point to take a look at Mark’s work which offers images that remind us of jigsaw puzzles and may easily be categorised as abstract paintings. While photography in its usual usage is used to photograph live events and objects, Mark’s camera creates abstract out of the real.

Simon Mark is a post graduate in fine art from Massey University in Wellington, where he works as a researcher. A Phd in cultural diplomacy from the University of Auckland, Simon who has lived in India over the period 2001 to 2004, has exhibited his work in New Zealand, Nepal and India. About his work it has been said that ‘his images mesh the languages of formalist abstraction in art with the idiosyncratic particularities of place’. Mark himself says, “An artist is someone who notices things, these images are a record of things I notice. The aim is for each image to incorporate varying parts of aesthetic appeal, mystery and originality (essential in a world overrun with images)”. How true.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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