11 October 2013

Jaldi Five: My Top Picks from the Delhi Photo Festival's print exhibitions

Today is the last day of the Delhi Photo Festival. Here's the full list of the outdoor displays at the India Habitat Centre -- on view until this evening

And below is my list of five photographers whose work you shouldn't miss when you go: 

Dina Oganova (DIKARKA)
b. 1987, Georgia
I am Georgia

Oganova's magnificent black and white images display a superb painterly eye for gesture. A girl clasps a pole and looks dreamily into the distance, a man brings his hand up almost to his mouth as he laughs out loud, a woman places her palm wearily to her forehead. Many of the photographs contain children. My favourite is probably the one of the pre-teen girls in a courtyard, a world divided into the performers and the watchers -- and even behind the watchers, in the darkness of the building, a girl seemingly shielding her eyes from the dazzle of those who would perform. There are the boys stepping away from us in a curving line, their arms folded behind their backs, offering the sensation of skipping lightly even as they move in formation. But not all the children here are at play. The little boy who writes studiously at his breakfast table seems to be blessed by all the powers of sustenance: there are eggs on the table, a stream of sunshine to bathe them and him, and a woman's hand placed upon his head in a gesture that exudes maternal care.

Tamas Dezso
b. 1978, Hungary
(2011 – Ongoing)

Dezso is Hungarian, but his pictures here are of a neighbouring country, Romania, where he chooses to document the process of decay -- not just of the old world, but of the new,  what he calls the "monuments of formerly enforced modernisation". A man stands outside his creaky looking house, where a mound of soil has been lying for so long that it has sprouted a veritable harvest of mushrooms. A sky full of birds in mid-flight is eerily mirrored by trash scattered across a vast, snowy expanse of ground below. The works are a sort of study in white: the brilliant white of fresh snow, the bleached-out white of a winter sky, the dirty whites of collapsing rubble, the creamy white of wild grass that has returned to claim a land once dominated by industrial-looking silos now empty and rusting.

Maika Elan / MoST Artists
b. 1986, Vietnam
The Pink Choice

Elan's striking series of intimate portraits of homosexual couples in Vietnam has the explicit intention of establishing homosexual love as equal to heterosexual love in the eyes of potentially heterosexist viewers. An older man reaches out out to lovingly sponge his partner's back in the bathroom; a couple frolic in a grassy lake; another pair are seen in their balcony, standing in their underwear and looking down at the city below. People sleep and wake up together, rib each other, watch TV, laugh, mope... the point is a simple enough one: gay couples don't live particularly different lives from straight couples. But in contrast to the everydayness of their content, the images are often dramatically lit, full of highlights and shadows, saturated with colour. 

Rajiv Kumar
b. 1975, India

Taken at the southern tip of Rameshwaram Island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu and very close to Sri Lanka, these photographs -- although not very big in size -- reveal their chosen landscape in all its elemental grandeur. Stretching away in every direction, as far as the eye can see, is sea and sand and sky. The human form against this backdrop feels oddly out of place, homeless, un-cushioned from the impact of nature. It feels entirely appropriate the crows in the image loom large in the foreground and a van full of people is a tiny speck in the background. It is only after I google Dhanushkodi that I discover this line on wikipedia: "The Dhanushkodi railway line running from Pamban Station was destroyed in the 1964 cyclone and a passenger train with over 100 passengers drowned in the sea."

Giacomo Brunelli
b. 1977, Italy
The Animals

Brunelli refers to his work rather prosaically as "animal-focused street photography". But this is some of the most numinous work on show at the DPF this year. The photographer describes his technique as tending to "push [his] camera lens to its closest point of focus, forcing a fight or flight reaction out of the animal". This sounds not-very-nice, but somehow the photographs do not point to aggressive confrontation or fear. There is one dog in close-up, mid-snarl, ineffectual and angry on the other side of a wire mesh. But the image has a kind of pure, concentrated emotion that seems to me to make up for that (probably unpleasant) moment in the dog's life. All the pictures are arresting, often because of their profound attentiveness to form. There's the stunning horse in a field at sunrise, looking like it would have bolted if the camera came any closer.

Brunelli is particularly inspired by birds, creating images with widely different moods. A peacock's head in gorgeous, precise silhouette; a gull in Venice, poised delicately yet rather stolidly on two splayed legs, looking a bit like a comic paunchy policeman, while a gondola swings jauntily by behind. The most ethereal -- almost romantic -- image here is another bird, wings flutter, its brightly-lit feathers in movement creating a sensation of unfolding layers, an effect echoed by a line of pillars unfolding behind it. 

No comments: