Fabien Charuau’s first photography exhibition The Great Unwashed (2010), which was displayed at the now shut Matthieu Foss Gallery in Mumbai, showed men from mofussil India. Charuau sought to examine the pejorative title given to the masses by focusing on the grace and sensuality of the body, capturing men in natural poses.
A year later, his next show examined the voyeuristic nature of the street photographer’s gaze. Send Some Candids was a set of nine photographs taken from a catalogue of 1,000 “candid shots” of women collected from Indian pornographic websites. These photographs had been taken with inexpensive handsets, zooming in on women on the street, rooftop, kitchen, and bedroom, and capturing their bodies. The exhibition offered a comment on how digital photography aids the sexualized and violent voyeurism that women encounter.
But Charuau was simultaneously intrigued by the forum discussions on picture composition and lighting that these photographs inspired. A few advised using software to provide effects: Some made the women look like acid-attack victims; others put a blank box on the face, harking, it seemed to Charuau, to John Baldessari’s practice of anti-portraiture, in which he cut out portions of a photograph to draw a viewer’s attention to them.
“Send Some Candids was a turning point in my practice. I stopped doing street photography, and taking photographs without the consent of my subject. Also, I didn’t see the point of creating new photographs any more. Photographers are redundant, because so many photographs are being created every day. The way we use and understand images has changed—the image is disconnected from the photographer,” says Charuau. It’s the era of the omnipotent digital photograph.
A Thousand Kisses Deep, his new show, at the Chatterjee & Lal gallery in Mumbai, marks his transition from photographer to visual artist.
It has an eponymously named series of prints on canvas. There are also two video installations: Being Seen Trying consists of footage of worshippers in temples, extracted from virtual darshans and overlaid with video- mapping software; the second is a video of images from Send Some Candids, shown on a mobile phone.
The prints do away with the subject altogether, and depict the beautiful symmetry of the tiniest element that goes into making a photograph: the pixel.
Using an algorithm that he hit upon when he learnt Processing, a programming language built for the visual arts, Charuau sought to present the relationship between pixels in a photograph, both monochromatic and colour.
When he applied this algorithm to a photo, the pixels began to spread into patterns he couldn’t predict. He refers to this as the energy of the pixels. “My way of doing this was completely jugaad (an innovative fix). I had no control over the outcome. All I knew was that the energy of the pixels was different in different photographs. For instance, in a monochromatic photo, the energy would be less than the pixels in a colour photograph.”
The images that Charuau worked with were taken from Facebook and Instagram, of couples kissing at political rallies such as the Kiss of Love held in Kochi in October, and the LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, Pride marches. These photos were meant for public consumption. “All the photos looked the same—of couples kissing. It was sweet, but had nothing interesting to single out. So, I started looking at the photos as information.”
The result—a set of prints on canvas—distil the essence of the photograph and evoke a response as a piece of abstract art might.
For Charuau himself, this exhibition seems to be another turning point.
A Thousand Kisses Deep is on till 26 September, 11am-7pm (Tuesday-Saturday), at Chatterjee & Lal gallery, Colaba, Mumbai. The works are priced from Rs.45,000 to Rs.3.75 lakh