Ad man and playwright Rahul DaCunha was in Egypt a week before the revolution broke, looking at the country through his Canon EOS 7D. To him, Egypt will forever be the face of an old woman, poverty and preoccupation etched in her wrinkles. “It’s an Egypt which will never come back,” he says.
Commercial photographer Varun Gupta moves from industrial complexes to the blank canvas of Ladakh with Travelling Lens, the shutterbug tour group he leads on workshops. “I love this democratization of photography,” he says. His last exhibition, In Search of Solitude, was curated by Chennai’s Apparao Galleries in Delhi in November.
Mumbai-based Turkish consul general Ahmet Yoruk is in search of a third building for his geometric trilogy—Three Cycles and Man on a Phone. “I am a cityscaper. I find my moments quickly,” shrugs the mild-mannered Yoruk. His wife Seniz, drawn more to landscapes, can spend hours composing a shot. “It is like meditation for me,” she says. She trained in Saudi Arabia 18 years ago, when Yoruk was on a diplomatic mission. He has been taught by her.
Right art-itude: (right) Australian director Baz Luhrman shoots People’s Choice artist Vincent Fantauzzo as he whizzes past a haveli at Nawalgarh during a motorbike tour of Rajasthan; and Rahul DaCunha captures a pensive old lady in a market in Egypt, a week before the revolution. Photos: Courtesy Gallery Le Sutra
Their photographs are a composite study of cultures. “As diplomats, this (Mumbai) is our home. We are not tourists, yet we are not exactly residents. It makes for a unique perspective,” she says. The couple have held an exhibition, sold several prints to south Mumbai’s elite, and hope to bring out a book some day.
The vanity exhibition is everywhere these days. In this genius-meets-genius world, where’s the distinction between good art and misguided self-importance? Pravina Mecklai, gallerist at Jamaat gallery, Mumbai, points out the image of Chhath Puja by a little-known photographer, Shailendra Kumar, sourced from an exhibition curated by artist Subodh Gupta. It holds its own in her hall, among masters. “An unnamed artist sometimes stops the clock more than an established one,” she quips.
Where established art galleries won’t open their doors to such “nonsensical” knocking, nouveau art venues do. Mumbai’s quaint Tea House was the venue for adventure travellers Odati in May; Kitab House, Mumbai, hosted the ubiquitous Batras’ (of Dr Batra’s clinics) annual holiday; and Le Sutra, the art hotel, Mumbai, chose to launch with film-maker Baz Luhrmann’s photographs. Cub photographers flock to smaller restaurants. The Matthieu Foss Gallery, Mumbai, vows to focus on photography, and the Tasveer foundation in Bangalore offers avenues for recognition. Larger galleries claim they “are open to works being submitted”, but won’t commit to anything more.
Kanchi Mehta, creative director of Gallery BMB, curated a recent exhibit of vintage photographs, When it was Bombay. They weren’t shot as works of art in the early 1990s; today they are considered just that. Who is to say today’s musings won’t be tomorrow’s art?
Man on the Phone is the second in the trilogy on Mumbai by Turkey’s consul general Ahmet Yoruk; the frozen Cildir lake in Turkey captured by Seniz Yoruk. Photos: Courtesy Gallery Le Sutra
Mehta is cautious about whom she will endorse in this field. “Anyone with a point-and-shoot can’t become an artist. Photographs sell for millions the world over. It’s serious art and there is no art without technique. A large part of art is how the print is developed; whether it’s layered, touched up, colour, depth, texture,” says Mehra, but admits, “There may be the possibility of the untutored genius somewhere out there.”
Take ace lensman Ashok Salian, for instance. Known for his old-style use of slides and layering, Salian has been mentoring five-year-olds with point-and-shoots, with brilliant results.
What makes a great photograph then? “Nobody knows,” he says simply. Salian admits even curated works, frighteningly, lack technique. “Galleries are not open to photography.
“Curators here are not photographers—they approach photographs as they would paintings. There is so much intellectual talk behind photographs that an image ceases to stand on its own.” Salian insists: “If you want to be taken seriously as a photographer, you must know your technicals. Today’s lot is a lazy lot; they don’t want to know because they don’t have to know.”
DaCunha couldn’t agree more. “I invested in the best camera to justify my lack of technique,” he admits. Yet he couldn’t be more serious about his art. It’s been two years since he went anywhere—even down the road—without his camera. “There are three stages of being a photographer,” he says. “The first is the ‘Facebook’ shot. Then you add angle. The third, when you add depth, texture, is when you begin to tell the story; and no amount of technique can compensate for a lack of story.”
Salian strongly recommends photography as the ideal travelling companion. “It is meditative and lonely, but beautiful.” High-end cameras are everywhere, but the secret of the perfect image is still in the eye that wields it.
He says: “Teach people to see. Many will tell you they like a photograph, but few can tell you why they like it. Knowing why is the difference between a random photographer and a good one.”