Delhi: Framing a painting, with the camera
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What inspires you? Pat comes the reply: “Art.” Fashion photographer Rohit Chawla’s response is reflected in The Inspired Frame, an exhibition that opens today in Delhi.
The show will feature over 30 selected photographs from Chawla’s previous series—Free Da!, Klimt: The Sequel and Tribute To Raja Ravi Varma, a tribute to Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt and Raja Ravi Varma (in that order), for which Chawla reconstructed tableaux and compositions to present life-like experiences of the seminal artists’ paintings. The show also draws from a previous Chawla series that was inspired by miniature portraits done during the British Raj.
Chawla was clear that he wanted to stay true to the painter’s vision. “I started on this journey four-five years ago. I wanted to refocus attention on these great artists. And I must admit it wasn’t easy at all,” he says.
Every detail mattered. “Take the Ravi Varma series, for instance. Designer Tarun (Tahiliani), who was looking after the clothes, did extensive research. If the sari was 9m in the painting, he made a 9m sari; if the tanpura was 6ft long, we created a 6ft one,” says Chawla, adding: “A painter can paint, but I didn’t have the luxury of a brush. The jewels had to be created, the garments had to be created; a painting has a woman sitting on a marble, so that marble seat had to be created.” He was assisted by master-craftsman Manoranjan Mukherjee, who created the props, the accessories and the iconic sets.
The challenge was bigger when it came to Austrian symbolist painter Klimt. “He’s all about excess and layering, which is the opposite of my minimalistic, graphic style of work. I did it as an exercise to see whether I could do it. And boy, what a challenge it was. For recreating The Kiss, we made thousands of paper flowers. In the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (I), I virtually had to put (actor) Chitrangda (Singh) inside her Plaster of Paris dress. Klimt’s garments cannot be made, they have to be sculpted,” says the lensman, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday.
For the Kahlo series, Chawla made the artist’s self-portraits his own by blending her Mexican sartorial style with Indian prints with the help of designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. “I asked him to improvise and create a colourful, harmonious mix. From the choice of clothes, jewellery and hairstyles, we worked on everything,” he says.
The miniature series features writer-hotelier Aman Nath, puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee, Tahiliani and the late Francis Wacziarg, co-founder of Neemrana hotels—“all slipped into the ‘king for a day’ feeling in the lavish costumes by Tahiliani himself”.
Each image, he says, “took a certain discipline, technical finesse. I didn’t use any Photoshop. It’s all a labour of love.”The Inspired Frame will be on view from 10-18March, 11am-7pm, at Bikaner House, Pandara Road. Limited-edition prints are available for sale. Prices start from Rs1.5 lakh. The exhibition will travel to Mumbai in April and Bengaluru in May. For details, visit here