Framing the living traditions
They say old is gold, it can never be replaced. Well, they were right because when you look at the works of five young photographers who were selected under the aegis of Neel Dongre Awards/Grants for Excellence in Photography, you realise that indeed, there are some incredulous skills still present in our country – be it the person behind the camera or the person facing one.
With a passion that's untethered, it seems these photographers are ready to do whatever it takes to give due credit to the fading art of India.
The photographs in the exhibition "Framing the living traditions" at India International Center, reminds us of the arduous work that goes behind making even a simple piece of cloth: the art of 'Chanderi silk' wrought by its weavers on handlooms at their homes. Working day and night for that perfect smooth texture of the 'chanderi' silk fabric and at the end of the day getting Rs 100-150 for a saree that is sold for thousands in the market is a reason this intricate art is dying in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Bharat Tiwari has not just captured the techniques that goes behind making this fabric but also the artists' gleaming eyes looking at the camera with a hope that there might be a future for them.
With utmost accuracy, the photographers have managed to capture what is remained of these obsolete art forms, maybe for the last time, for the people to reminisce. Another distressing display is the analogue photograph, overshadowed by the era of digital camera and processes. As a tribute to the old techniques, Vikas Gupta has showcased the old processes of analogue photography and the studio: the dark room, CMYK and RGB filters used by artists to turn negatives into colourful photographs, twin-lens camera, Afghan box camera used to make instant passport size photographs and not just the physical elements but also the people who documented important developments in an era with no smartphones or digital camera. In the words of the photographer, "These people belonged to an era which had great regard for photography as an art but nobody recognised them as artists. But these days, there is no creativity in digital photography. You won't see anyone working on the negatives with pencil to make a picture appealing now." This photo series shows the irretrievable art of photography when photographs were made and not just clicked.
It is not just the art of making 'chanderi silk' fabric that's fading away with time and technology, there is a more obsolete craft form of Lucknow which once had more than 3000 artisans but now the number has come down to just 20-25. The art of 'mukaish', wrought by the artisans, the 'badlas', was once a valued craft in which the artisans insert metallic wires of gold and silver into the fabric to create beautiful work of embroidery. Taha Ahmad has not just captured the plight of the 'badlas' with his portraits but also experienced what it's like to twist a wire (that reflects back its shine and damages your eyes) to create a piece of art that is sold for humongous amounts of money.
One can also witness the traditional process of making a Tanpura and silk of Assam from the beginning, the raw materials used, to the end, when the final product is ready. The entire cycle of creating a Tanpura has been accurately captured by Ankit Aggarwal – from scraping the wood to carving it for a perfect shape and texture – it is mesmerising to just have a quick glance at his photographs and understand at once how a Tanpura is made. It is a visual documentation of the farming of the gourds (tumba) in Pandharpur and making of Tanpura in Miraj, Maharastra.
Even more exemplary is the art of creating silk of Assam from collecting silkworms, extracting silk from the cocoons to preparing the silk for soaking in colours. For Mrigank Kulshrestha, the title, 'Fading Whir of the Looms' was apt because with every passing day, the new generation seems to step back from the art of creating this fabric. His photo series shows the struggle that goes behind making this famous piece of fabric.
One thing that is common among all the photographs at this exhibition is: the millennial are not adapting these art forms and even their parents, the master artists, do not want them to continue in this field due to lack of monetary support and the irrefutable role of technology.