|Through a lens, by a mirror, The Parsis (1977-2013)|
Gallery walk at NGMA: An aesthetic sojourn with Ketaki Sheth and Sooni Taraporevala
Director Rajeev Lochan’s invitation on Gmail spoke about the power of a photograph. Here were 2 black and white photographs that had a thousand possibilities of commentary. Ketaki Sheth’s ‘A Certain Grace’ and Sooni Taraporevala’s ‘Parsis’ offered a million bouquets of thoughts to this middle class critic.
Forget the inauguration, I told myself, I wanted to be there at the Gallery Walks, to listen to these two starling women about the magic of their works and unravel the heart of their work which stands out and apart in its very being of a period of history.
For a beginning Ketaki Sheth had no clue who I was and it was a good way to begin a question. The underlying tenor of pathos seemed to thread her collection which was hung with great delicacy by Devika Daulat Singh, who has changed the face of photography in Delhi.
The NGMA in its original design spatialties has this maze like magnificence which I have always loved, and Ketaki’s works done in the austere square format seemed to belong there.
In many ways Ketaki is India’s Diane Arbus, and she has worked in her own solitude at her own pace. Here at the walk she was gentle and dignified, willing to let us into her canvas of interior thought. And she moved from image to another-talking about how the Sidi’s were shy and restrained, of how their eyes often did not make direct contact with the camera. In doing so, strangely there is a sense of seeing inside the person, which often reveals a conflict between appearance and identity.
Perhaps intriguing to the point of a tete-e-tete was Ketaki’s elusive and tranquil predicament and her flashback to Raghubir Singh’s role in her life as her mentor. But as she finished the last part of the walk and answered a foolish question with poise I knew that this morning was a moment to cherish. While the rest of the Delhi Photo Festival at the Habitat Centre was more of a bazaar it was clear that photographers can often get obsessed with “the look” of photographs. But Ketaki’s hour long walk exposed us to insights of her experiments with different focal lengths, shooting at different apertures, using natural light, black and white, formats, and so forth. However rather than just experimenting for the aesthetic quality, Ketaki shone the light on using traditional techniques for adding meaning.
The second walk was the chic looking Sooni Taraporewala whose black and white portrait of her grandmother has shaken photographer lovers in Delhi out of their stupor. Sooni has this beautiful evocative Parsi flavoured feminine animation to her stance and while she shared her experiences-she was also in gay abandon trying to create textures in her little anecdotes to convey more meaning, rather than just being merely pedantic.
With a certain girlish air she described accompanying Zubin Mehta to Bombay and how she would dash off across the street to capture a little store front.Portraits and people scapes stare back at you in this colour filled medley.The large walls and high ceilings of the NGMA give an ample grace to these images of Sooni. Perhaps the beauty also lay in the manner in which some images had been blown up to greater proportions while some were created as clusters.Sooni took us through the rooms with an air of festive fervor,but we could also hear the sadness in her voice because the numbers of Parsis are dwindling.The beauty of Sooni’s walk was because she was able to present the tapestry of the past within the ideation of a cultural fabric that was rich and resonant filled it as if she was wanting to show us how to to see the real differences between things.
The success and the panache of this Gallery Walk at the NGMA reflected the truth that having a photographer of high pedigree leading you through their works can show us the difference between flesh and material, the densities of different kinds of things in the armature of people and portraits and events and episodes. The best signature that remained with this critic who attended was that I left with a mapping that was terribly hyped on clarity. That morning two brilliant photographers were able to delve deeper into the ideologies of 'total' works of photography and exemplify an inspiring education through their walks.
And as the torrents of rain washed the kotah sandstone at the NGMA that Sunday it was amply clear why the NGMA stands as a sentinel of artistic excellence in a city that has been hijacked by pretentious galleries that sell anything between what is real and what is fake. And Director Lochan proved that two swallows can a single summer make.
By Uma Nair | THE TIMES OF INDIA | October 02, 2013
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