Reflecting on our last session that looked at studio photography at the turn of the century, we were able to establish the creation of identity and spaces as generated through symbols and codes. As the camera begins its journey outside of the studio space, our relationship with the camera as functional begins to change – the moments of identity are created by objects in the real world.
Today’s session began to look at the ways in which we create images in the absence of these symbols because the symbols create themselves. Looking at the works of a few 20th century photographers in India, this class looked at the ways in which photographers have addressed the questions of identity and nationhood. Through the works of photographer such as Homai Vyarawalla and Raghu Rai as photo journalists, who were able to capture the moments of power and identity and the negotiation of the two. Their works, which look closely and critically at key figures in Indian history and politics, both Vyarawalla and Rai have been able to draw out of their single frame multiple meanings.
We began to look at the works of Dayanita Singh and Raghu Rai’s other works. Singh, for example talks about the processes of her work being influenced by the raga and musical expression. By creating multiple narratives within a single frame, Singh is able to distill the shifting perspectives. But how does Singh choose to disseminate her work? Singh sees herself as a bookmaker where photographs serve as raw material. This is fascinating because it draws out of the image not just its ability to morph by also to take on new meaning.
Her work Museum of Chance, for example, is an excellent example of this morphing. Using this as a key, we also looked at the works of Jim Verburg, who’s piece O/ Divided/Defined, Weights, Measures, and Emotional Geometry, is a study of shadows and light and their ability to create forms. How do photographers like Verburg and Singh employ a variety of techniques to disseminate their work? How do they make this work accessible? How can we begin to look at our own photographs as expressions of form through emotion?
The students and I watched Flying Inside My Body (directed by: Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas, Sumit Sharma, Ajeeta Showman. Watch the film here: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/1259/Flying-Inside-My-Body). Flying Inside My Body explores how the form of the body can become a powerful physical language to express dissent over societal norms and conventions. The film is a journey with veteran photographer Sunil Gupta, who has used his art to challenge the stereotypes that define one’s body, sexuality and identity. Gupta has spent over 20 years compiling the first photographic chronicle of the gay community in India, while at the same time, exploring his own relationship with his country of origin. The film’s lyrical style marries still photography with moving images and text, to unfold an intensely personal narrative that questions the deeply ingrained prejudices that we all carry within ourselves. But Gupta also straddles notions of identity, sexuality and the representation of the body through his work. We spent some time talking about the ways in which this film was made, the use of the written and the spoken word, of archival footage, and still and moving images. And it is through these multiple forms that the students and I were able to look at the multiple ways in which we receive and perceive art works.
Here is the presentation we used in class. You may use these images as inspiration for your own work.