S.Paul's sophisticated simplicity
At Wonderwall in the India Art Fair were two stunning black and white photographs which together offer a succinct summary of a narrative arc, which unfolds just inside. The hand behind the shutter belongs to the legendary S. Paul who passed away last year.
Fascinating is Camels with their Master 1995 archival print on paper. It reflects how naturally and lucidly Paul captured images that had within a hint of history as well as a stamp of socio-cultural ferment when he shot images, that chronicled the sights he would see on his epoch-making journeys anywhere in India – this one being on the roads in Rajasthan.
aul was always inspired by the presence of nomads, everyday citizens that he saw on the streets — what marks this image is that it is candid and captivating, it makes for a beautiful, narrative of naturality.
The second photograph, taken in Delhi, 'The Resting Family 1995' captures the humility of a family – the little boy (the picture of innocence), the father, the mother – all looking straight into the aperture without a hint of self-consciousness gives us an idea of the sense of comfort that the photographer Paul was able to instill in his subjects when he captured them.
The posture of both the male and female subjects is full of candour; while the male has his legs lifted on the long seat, the female is the picture of feminine grace in her printed sari in reverie in a sideways pose.
Of course, both camels, as well as street scenes, are subjects that have been so extensively photographed their depiction might border on cliché if not for the fact that Paul had a clear-eyed, pristine idea of imagery and subject composition to render them almost otherworldly.
Both images speak to us about life, the crystalline imagery captures the fine-boned anatomical details of the camels and also the sensation that the viewer has stumbled into scenes of absolute delight.
his gentle push-and-pull between strangeness and the familiar pervades the two images; and is the thematic tenet that holds the viewer aligned with time and space. The expressive eyes of all three humans in both images ink the truth that it is simplicity and traditional materials that root the moment in the composite characters of what is distinct as well as proportional in a sense of comfort and camaraderie between the photographer and his subjects. The beauty of these two works is that they define S. Paul as a giant who could give us images that would stand beyond time – as they defined the truth and clarity of a clearly filtered moment that could capture and live through an Indian imagination long after they were captured.