On fear of loss and photography.

A few years ago, I came across this quote - 'If you want to know what a person fears losing, watch what they photograph.' 
It did not make sense to me at that point but its meaning, or what I derive from it,  slowly dawned over the years - as my exposure to great artists broadened and I finally learnt the art of the metaphors & analogies. 

Just yesterday, I stumbled upon this prose by Hervé Guibert - 

"By taking your photograph, I can attach myself to you, make you a part of my life, assimilate you. And you can't do anything about it."
This sentence reminds me of Nan Goldin's description of her work, 'The Ballad of Sexual Dependancy', as a 'visual diary.' Chronicling one's life in photographs is in a way, an escape mechanism to cope up with the fear of loss. I'd like to believe that Nan Goldin was excessively documenting her life because of her fear of loss of relationships. (Elyssa Goodman sums up Nan Goldin's work in this beautiful article.) Henri Cartier Bresson obsessed over the streets because of his fear of loss of the fleeting moment, and in so, time. 
Having spent my formative years hiding behind a veil, evading confrontation of feelings and physical expression of thoughts and emotions, art to me, like to any other artist, is a mode of communication. To me, it only makes sense that I photograph the people I photograph a lot because of my fear of loss - of people and communication/connection.
It takes a great deal to share work that is personal but a greater deal to create it. 


The plateau and the plains,
a Victorian beauty's pain,
Spilled hot cocoa. 

All that is taught at art school,
but can you really see? 

They don’t see the world as we do, Patti
— Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids

In Other Words; Jhumpa Lahiri

I’ve often been reprimanded for having a deep rooted complex arising from the sense of not belonging to a particular region and not speaking in a native way. In other words - feeling inferior about my accent. It took me a long time to make peace and be comfortable in my own shoes in foreign lands.

Jhumpa Lahiri expressed her inferiority in various metaphors spanning over two hundred pages in the book, 'In Other Words', and won the Pulitzer Prize for it.

Now, I don’t hate this book. My relation with this book is exactly how she describes it - ambivalent. I love it for the rich yet simple language, the comprehensible analogies, and the engaging chapters. I dislike it because of the constant melancholic tone of self-doubt that crawls over all the chapters and into the reader. 

I learned Tamil, a local Indian language, by browsing through dictionaries, noting down words,  talking to local people and conversing in broken words until I was able to sort of breeze through without being a complete outsider. I could understand Jhumpa’s struggle in learning Italian. Her love for the language resonates with mine. I could relate to the beautiful prose about identity, nativity and the struggle to fit in a place that is foreign. Wit and sharpness are indeed lost when one tries to express in a language that is different from what one thinks in. (I think in Telugu, I talk to myself in English. It's a weird combination)
But Jhumpa, clouded with analogies that describe her attempts at trying to fit in, forgot the joy in doing so.

In Other Words is an author’s relationship with a language that is entirely foreign, a struggle to embrace something that doesn’t want to belong to you. It’s a pioneering effort at which she has incredibly succeeded in putting into words the darker side of it. It’s too honest to spell joy.

But, damn it. I wish I had written this

'This Place' - Brooklyn Museum

On 4th April 2016, Israel tore down seven Palestinian homes in 24 hours.

5000 miles away among the exhibit rooms at the Brooklyn Museum is a feedback note that reads:

"What themes do you see in the photographs?"

"Precious moments."

The disparity perfectly sums up the experience of viewing, 'This Place', an exhibit now showing at the Brooklyn Museum. 'This Place' is a collaborative project of 12 internationally acclaimed photographers who set out in 2009 to document the conflict areas of Israel and the West Bank. Spanning across three rooms, with a collection of over 600 photographs, 'This Place' is a beautifully curated exhibit that gives us a glimpse of Israel's humanity and peace amidst all the chaos - the 'precious moments'.

Started as an initiative by Frédéric Brenner, a French photographer, this project invited Rosalind Solomon, Jungjin Lee, Jeff Wall, Fazal Sheikh, Martin Kollar, Nick Wapplington, Wendy Ewald, Gilles Peress, Thomas Struth, Joseph Kodelka and Stephen Shore to document Israel, each with their own approach. It resulted in a unique body of work, diverse and contradictory, ironic and beautiful. The exhibit, located on the fourth floor of the museum, greets you with the familiarity of Jeff Wall's work. A life-size image of olive pickers in Israel adorns the entrance, almost to the danger of allowing misconceptions. What seemingly starts off as a banal and tedious representation of a divided land spreads out to intimate portraits and monumental landscapes addressing displacement, identity and environment. While Frédéric Brenner's work on people is a heartwarming representation of the familial bond, Nick Wapplington's work contrasts it with deadpan portraits of Jewish families that evoke empathy. Rosalind Solomon's intimate portraits embrace one's curiosity in the personal lives of varied subjects, probably the reason they are hung together in an alcove - to give the viewer a sense of welcoming. The intimacy continues with Wendy Ewalds spread of images made by sixth graders, students at a Military Academy, employees of a digital agency and many others. Ewald acted as the facilitator, providing cameras to let them create the images. The outcome is a deeper insight into the manifolds of the society with a multilayered perspective.

The heterogeneity of the portraiture is defeated by the landscape imagery of Jungjin Lee, Fazal Sheikh, Thomas Struth, Joseph Kodelka and the rest. To a person with negligible knowledge, Sheikh's aerial landscapes and Lee's black and white landscapes can seem to be artworks. These images unaided with text are in reality a representation of massacre and eradication. One can feel like walking in the zone while looking at Joseph Kodelka's beautiful installation of a 24-image accordion fold book that was made especially for the museum. Gilles Peress provides the viewer with a day in the life of approach through his contact sheets. These sheets, that depict the perils of life in Westbank, ironically look musical - each frame ending on an unfinished note and the next frame picking up from where it has been left behind. Thomas Struth's work of an urban landscape set next to a village scene is tactfully juxtaposed with Stephen Shore's work of magnificent landscapes that are barren yet grandeur.

Underneath all the havoc in Israel, are humans who lead an ordinary life in a conflict zone and crave for peace. 'This Place' reminds us of the peace that exists and the peace that is sought.