A Proposition For Departure

So what do I say now… The work has been ten years in the making and another few, to come to be as it stands today within the walls of Experimenter. Along the way I have had my bouts of delight and despair and even as I write this I’m not quite sure if I feel torn or excited or frustrated or ecstatic. What I feel right now may be all of that, and in its entirety I can’t describe it better than just being in a warp of confusion. I am aware that this show, being my first, may put forward a position that may allow for a start of a conversation between you and I, and by writing here I do not wish to narrow the scope of your experience with my work, instead I hope to open up possibilities of an extension of that engagement should you allow me to do so.

The last fifteen years have been joyfully miserable as I have consistently struggled to stitch together a path for myself that may seem more linear the farther you step away. It has been about exploring my relationship with the world as well as challenging the construct of the medium with which I work, as much as I can, and for that I have needed to engage with my immediate surroundings just as I have needed to question the world outside. While in their individual capacities my works in general may contrast starkly from one another, it is in the back and forth shift between the position of the individual (myself) and the world within which that individual exists, that the thread that ties together all these works, hangs. Keeping that in mind I have consciously chosen Sweet Life as the entry point of this conversation with you, because it was along this stretched out moment of time that I had started to develop a specific method that continues to carry most of my work today. 

Sweet Life is a composite timeline of two works, Life is Elsewhere & Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!!, both performed in two separate states of being. When I first started working on Life is Elsewhere, I did not have any inkling of the form it would finally come to exist in, as it did at the show at Experimenter. What was important to me then, was to rebound off my world at home to be able to push the limits of the world outside and in doing so also push the limits of the medium as much as possible. A yearning for freedom from being confined at home, had translated into a yearning to break out of the limits of photography that I was aware of, more out of catharsis than anything else. The years of Life is Elsewhere were fraught with experiments in the kind of photography that I had employed at the time. I would develop my rolls of film in all kinds of solutions and temperatures, put together cameras and lenses made out of cardboard and so on, try to break the film after developing it to manipulate the image into its after self, I’d do all of that to try as much as I could to pull away from a sanitized idea of ‘perfection’ that most of us unfortunately get conditioned into photography with. A kind of a ‘broken photography’ became the motivation for me to carry on. However my experimentation with my process at that time remained limited only to challenging the materiality of the medium and nothing beyond.  Having moved on quite a distance since then, now when I look back, I find the work within Life is Elsewhere as being a kind of an escapist work and I sense a sort of derogation in my view of it. But that may not be a fair self-assessment of a twenty something year old me who at the time did what he could to feel like he existed. I had not come into photography out of choice but out of need to be able to survive as I tried to cope with my mother’s illness. As I take this passage of time into context, I am able to acknowledge that Life is Elsewhere is an important chapter in my life because of the questions it threw up, some of which I managed to find the answers to and others to which I still remain clueless.

At that time, perhaps in my own naivety, a beautiful naivety that I lost somewhere along the way, the question of honesty stopped me. It wasn’t the kind of honesty that photography has forever been burdened with: that unrealistic expectation of being representative of some sort of truth that for some inexplicable reason we continue to mark photography with, instead, ‘honesty’ that mattered to me at the time was one where my work felt aligned with the intent with which I made it. It was about having a position from where I could take responsibility for my work. Life is Elsewhere was intended to be a journal but towards the end of it, I had begun to realize that I recognized how to make photographs to perform a particular act and to invoke in the viewer a desired reaction. If that was the case, then was I starting to perform for the camera as well? Was I unconsciously or even consciously trying to use a certain kind of photography to protect myself from points of vulnerability? In that case was my work ever real? You see… For someone who had to teach himself everything from scratch and more importantly for someone who had barely found his feet in this world in general, there could be nothing worse than an onset of doubt whose depths seem to swallow him in its flow.  

Around then I had started to work with children and I was charmed by the way they moved with the camera: Carefree, raw, and unconscious of the baggage that came with being a photographer. Awkwardly unabashed in the physicality of their movement with the camera and approach to whatever and whoever they photographed, it made me realize the stiffness in the formality, or more precisely, in the consciousness of my own process. Today this very idea of the physicality of movement turns to an important push in my approach. It helps me to slow or fasten the pace of the material I create for my work, I can now willingly be more aggressive or tender or even indifferent in the way I photograph. How I weave in and out elements like pace, distance, time, pitch and intensity in my work matters to me over the starting point of form, even if the use of the latter is at times indispensible for me to achieve my objective, whatever that may be. It is this malleability of photography, not only in my perception of it as a viewer but also in my usage of it as a creator, that forms the skeleton upon which the flesh of my work is laid. Back then it had started to become clear that I had to unlearn everything I knew and in fact I had to let go of being a photographer altogether and the acceptance of that initiated the beginning of the work Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! I couldn’t be surer that, the distance that existed between myself and my home, my mother and Elsa, all of whom I had photographed at the time of Life is Elsewhere, now needed to be removed or at least reduced. Think of it as a scab on your knee that you keep picking on. You keep peeling off different layers of brown, then pink and then ultimately it starts to turns more and more red and beautiful with the peeling of each layer. It can be painful along the way but it's also a bit obsessive. Hitting that sweet spot of red is what I needed to do.

It feels a little weird to be regurgitating all of these thoughts and questions that I have grappled with in excitement over the years, each time brimming with a newfound surety of my position only to feel stupid about them later, and I can only imagine the embarrassment with which I might look upon what I write here to you today, once I have grown up a little more. But for now I feel certain that this ongoing act of destruction and rebuilding has embedded itself deep into the foundation of my process that allows me to move forward even if not obviously linearly.  Today these continuous points of departures allow for me, possibilities not only within photography but also outside of it. To be constantly repeating myself by way of language or questions would only feel mechanical and conditioned and if my objective isn’t to reach a particular state of being mechanical, then no justification of
that monotonous act of repetition will bring me back from the dead – Perhaps this very act of destroying and rebuilding can’t itself be repetitive; at least predictably - We live in a time today where the world around us and with it, all that we have a stake in, is in a constant and vigorous flux and so my point of contact with that world at any time also cannot be one that is static. If I may borrow from the history of photography, and my own, these words: The maximum, that is what has always interested me by Josef Koudelka had been extremely precious to me when I had just about started photographing. I had then thought of it to be a reference to an abstract but fixed benchmark of what ‘good’ photography was meant to be and those words at the time had encouraged me to better the way I made my photographs. As time has passed, those words continue to remain important, but I would now like to believe that for Josef, that maximum was never meant to be stuck in any specific singularity and that in fact maybe he has never meant to reach his last and final maximum, at all. Maybe he had also destroyed himself repeatedly having reached interim maximums to be able to go forward. Maybe I have no clue at all, of what I’m talking about.

I made the book Life is Elsewhere in 2015. It was the last of several drafts over many years.  What started out as strictly a book of photographs, now also brought into its pages, letters and notes from several points of time. The flow of the book was channeled keeping the structure and flow of music and cinema in mind. There are three movements within the book: Home, The Outside World, Home again. The idea was to tie together a circle inside the pages. The book later went on to becoming a starting point for the video Sweet Life. I love this space between the still and the moving. From here I can either move closer to still, especially in its narrative (or non-narrative) or I can seep completely into the moving. It is out of this half-moving form, that the second book Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! will eventually be born. The two books represent two parallel time lines where I wanted to revisit a constant space: home, in two separate states of being. In the video form however, I wanted the two subsequent time periods to piece together a longer, stretched timeline, one that while may not throw up contrasts within my states of being, might instead allow for the various ups and downs of life around me to come through more visibly at higher frequencies. In a sense the video allows me to step out a little, as an entity within the work.

Having reached the finality of the work Life is Elsewhere with the book, it now only makes sense to me to put out a draft of the book to the audience for the show at Experimenter. The three tube lit walls become one long page with two folds in between; like a work chart for the book that I am to hypothetically, either make in the future or one that I have already made in the past. Choosing to recreate a sort of a rough penultimate draft and not the final book in itself allows part of my workings to remain a stream of consciousness even if the space that I have defined for it is one that is calculated. My mistakes, scratches and some other really big fuckups start to make more sense to me when I stop working the charcoal for a moment and glance quickly at the tear in my T shirt and my dangly slippers whose straps are barely holding on to my feet. In a world that strives towards scary flawlessness, that hole in my T-shirt and my half broken slippers feel comfortingly real. At the sparser, darker end of the gallery is the projection of the video,Sweet Life. As in the print part of the show, inflexion points appear here in the video as well. Close ups of flowers repeat themselves at separate intervals years apart, both being the season’s first blossom in the seasons that they each own, the first in black and white and the other in crimson red, some years apart, both towards the end of the two halves of the video.  The first blossom marks a shift in my mother’s health getting better and the others opens up to the disintegration of Elsa, our dog. The two blossoms become two diagrammatically opposite points on a larger circle, for me. A few notes written by my mother are lit on the wall not far from the projection. These are excerpts from the second book that I am yet to publish. My mother’s writing was important to add, not only to tie in an unpublished form of the work into the show but to also close the projection and in fact the entire show altogether. When I began working on Life is Elsewhere, I had much to say and that release turned into an outpouring. With the passage of time and some closure I needed to step away and I can’t think of a better end to it all than with my mother’s writing.

The book A Proposition For Departure that I have published simultaneously with the show is a blueprint of my experiments with the relationship between images and sound. As a photographer, initially when I would step into a space, looking for the visual, I would do it armored with skepticism to dismiss the familiar and to question the unfamiliar. Sound, at times, being the other entity in that space, invisible and even more so when I was consciously searching for the visual, would turn into a strong undercurrent and it was in this form of invisibility that it would repeatedly catch me with my guard down. I slowly started to bring in sound into the work that I built. Initially it only played the role of a guide, manipulating my relationship to these images that it was leading me to in accordance to its own tone. In time however it started to turn into a body that could exist for itself as well as to collaborate with the image. I had begun, as an experiment, to work with an online synthesizer that helped me scan points within the images and turn the whiter points into higher frequencies of sound at the octaves and in scales that I decided on. The images I scanned, at times, required specific alterations and manipulations to produce the desired flow of sound frequencies. I wanted to try and extract sounds that could reflect a state of being that I had felt at the time of making those images. In the end, eight sound extractions out of eight images that are part of the show, were stitched together to form a three movement sound piece that fills up the gallery space. While the desire to pull away from the visible and tangible starting form of images as we saw and acknowledged them kick started these experiments, it remained important to me that the logic in the final composition created, remained anchored in the core meaning and reason why those images were created in the first place. The eight images were consciously selected, such that if the composition was to be broken up into its individual extractions and then translated back to the form of the starting images that those extractions were made from, and laid out in a sequence similar to the final one that the sounds had been put together in, the movement within this newly derived sequence of retransformed images would be the inverse of the movement that exists within the structure of the book and the show i.e. Life is Elsewhere. This book is nothing but a kind of punctuation within the pair of the other two books that make Sweet Life.

Before building this show, I wanted to condense my thoughts into a manifesto. Luckily, I never managed the time to do so. A manifesto may have implied a position rooted too deeply in confidence, almost dogmatic, but the truth is that everything about me, and my work is soaked in doubt and over the years it is something I have learned to embrace and work with. Now that I have built this show I really wish I could destroy it.

September 2017, Experimenter, Kolkata.