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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 39, Dated 01 Oct 2011

    The New Intimate

    The question is not, why a Delhi Photo Festival? It is, why not before? Gaurav Jain previews the excitement of India’s first international photo festival

    Sudharak Olwe (with Zarina & Parvez Khan), 45, India
    Ambika Jeero Nepali was sold to a Mumbai brothel at 15. She fell in love with Parvez, who became her client, and was diagnosed HIV+. Olwe used his press credentials to help them run away and shot them from the brothel’s threshold into their new life in the city. In 2003, he witnessed their wedding as Ambika became Zarina Khan. Parvez learnt the trade from Olwe and is now a Page 3 photographer, even as the couple struggle with their being HIV+

    DOES INDIA really need an international photo festival? Does Dilli?

    Photo: Martin Bogren

    The inaugural Delhi Photo Festival (DPF) will be held from 15-28 October at the India Habitat Centre (IHC). An initiative of Nazar Foundation and the IHC, its centrepiece will be about 35 Indian and 39 international photo portfolios from about two dozen countries exhibited in print or digital form. There will also be portfolio review opportunities, workshops like how to put your portfolio online in an hour, vintages like Kanu Gandhi’s portraits of the Mahatma, street photography from the SAARC nations, gallery walks, student works and, of course, the usual formats of presentations, panel discussions, talks, conversations between, and seminars involving many eminences of South Asian photography such as Shahidul Alam, Prabuddha Dasgupta, Pablo Bartholomew, Raghu Rai, Ketaki Sheth, Swapan Parekh and Ram Rahman. There’ll also be the young brigade like Sohrab Hura, Vidura Jang Bahadur and Nitin Upadhye. All of this is being organised by the photographer / - curator trio of Prashant Panjiar, Dinesh Khanna and Alka Pande. Entry will be free for everyone.

    SO WHY an international photo festival? From Tokyo Photo to Angkor Photo Festival, from Rome’s Fotografia to Dhaka’s Chobi Mela, these events generate great cultural heat in their host cities. Even though photography is still mostly practised in India as a craft rather than an art, there have arisen many practitioners who are now working on private projects on their own steam. They job mostly without aid from collectives, image agencies or grants. Art galleries remain a small lot and the print media is less inclined to giving space to photo commentaries. In such a scenario, a festival ventilates our genre conceptions like journalism and product imagery. In the absence of cultural institutions doing their jobs, it provides space for building a community, viewing otherwise-unavailable work and finding new viewers. More than anything, it lets the ardent talk to each other.

    ‘Our serious photographers are often lost in India, given the lack of any real movement,’ says Prashant Panjiar

    “There was no convincing answer to why there hasn’t been such an Indian festival, except that people didn’t try it,” says co-organiser and photographer Prashant Panjiar. “There has been no photo movement in India because we were always too concerned with our jobs. Besides that, the older generation of Indian photographers and many of my contemporaries were, by and large, ungenerous people. I don’t know why. Maybe they were insecure in their work or their jobs. They never want to do anything larger for photography, and they’ve mentored people in their own self-image. Nobody wants to give up anything here. This festival was borne out of the next generation after us. We might start it but we might be on the sidelines by the next time. Also, today no talented young photographer wants to go into journalism because it’s become backward while other things have grown. But there’s also a growing recognition of photography and a growing population of floating photographers — they may or may not be good, they may be imitators, but they’re serious and independent. And these people are finding themselves lost. Unlike Bangladesh [and its Chobi Mela], India has no real movement in photography. There’s talent but nothing else. This festival is coming at a time when it’s possible to fill this need and sustain it. Dinesh [Khanna] and I are taking all our goodwill as mentors, as photographers, as people who’ve not rubbed others the wrong way, and,” he adds with a smile, “as people who are not that great photographers that others feel threatened [by us].”


    • OCEAN
      Martin Bogren, 44, Sweden
      A group of men leave their dry Rajasthan on a long journey of bumpy potholes till they finally reach the Indian Ocean. Bogren captures the first time they touched the sea

      Raghu Rai, 69, India
      Two landscapes merge in Rai’s series: a group of villagers and a painting of an urban house. “The moment you put up a backdrop, everything else around it comes to a standstill as everyone wants to watch what’s going on,” says Rai

    • ‘FLEX, FEROZE!’
      Aparna Jayakumar, 27, India
      On a winter evening in Mumbai, the Parsi community comes together for the Annual Zoroastrian Power-Lifting and Bodybuilding Championship. The spectacle includes an over - whelmed audience, contestants with well-sculpted bodies and an innate irony of the community’s ‘decline’

      Sanjeev Saith, 53, India
      Saith shot this series of his parents with a cellphone his brother left with him. This is all that he has shot in the recent past. His mother would wish his father at bedtime, “Happy goodnight”

      Abhijit Nandi, 34, India
      When a lonely existence became deathlike, Nandi locked himself in a mirrorless room and captured his solitude with his camera. Each deconstruction and reconstruction brings out an aspect of his psyche, doubts, love, vulnerability, loneliness, passion and anger

      Amit Sheokand, 28, India
      Amygdalae are almond-shaped nuclei in the brain that process our emotional reactions. Sheokand uses blank, discarded negatives to create abstract images that reflect myriad emotions

      Kannagi Khanna, 22, India
      There is a reason why Gulbhaitekra, a small slum area in Ahmedabad, is called Hollywood for almost four decades now. Khanna found these women to have a glamour that can give western starlets fair competition. Here, Laxmi poses next to Keira Knightley

      Sameer Tawde, 33, India
      Cooking. Cleaning the house. Combing. In this series, Tawde captures some extraordinary moods from his mother’s daily life, a son studying the characteristics of a mother, a wife and a friend

      Bharat Choudhary, 31, India
      This series explores the emotional struggles of young Muslims in the West post 9/11. Here, community members leave the East London Mosque after Eid prayers on 16 November 2010

      Sonal Kantaria, 33, Great Britain
      Kantaria explores the stories of girls who are rescued from the brothels of Mumbai and Pune, to be reoriented into society or sometimes helped to return home

      Amit Madheshiya, 29, India
      In an era of 3D shows, Madheshiya captured the travelling tent cinemas in rural Maharashtra. Over three years, he was fascinated by each audience member’s own unique association with the projections

      Kurt Hoerbst, 39, Austria
      Hoerbst set up a daylight studio of bamboo and clay in Rudrapur in Bangladesh in 2008, where he offered his services for portraits. A glass roof and light fabrics on the sides contrasted with the wall and clay earth


    THE DPF print exhibits were selected on the theme of Affinity — emphasising kinships and the movement of the inward gaze. Panjiar says the most interesting contemporary work worldwide is in this area, and the DPF presents a clutch of personal projects and diaries around the self or family or friends. Subjects range from travelling cinemas to Parsi bodybuilders to chawls to parents to children to adoption to an eloping sex worker to American-Pakistanis after 9/11 to a few abstract visions. The festival is not so much trying to propagate its theme as it’s encouraging Indian photographers to look ever more inward in their work. “To bring back images from far away is valuable,” says Panjiar, “especially in a country as fragmented as India. But it’s also important to look at other techniques. The more reflective way is more valid now since physical realities are known. Just to show the physical aspect of poverty doesn’t work anymore — you need emotion. Otherwise the mind is dulled, already bombarded.”

    The festival is not so much trying to propagate its theme as it is encouraging photographers to look more inward

    Come October, what the DPF will bombard us with is the giant wave of work that’s happening in India. It bears repeating: there is some great work happening here. Some of our silent practitioners are self-wrought artists, some are commercial freelancers and many remain press photographers who work on a private project outside their editors’ crustily imagined assignments. Few are being published or shown in the country, and whatever else it'll be, the DPF will finally let us see what some of our most talented image catchers have been up to while we were not looking.

    Gaurav Jain is Literary Editor, Tehelka.
    [email protected]

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 39, Dated 01 Oct 2011



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