The high, salmon-pink walls of the Hawa Mahal frame a photograph of a young man, standing on a grey cliff, looking out to the placid sea. Part of the series El Bahr, created by photographer Marco Barbon, it blurs the line between physical travel and a metaphorical journey of the mind to “an intimate space, that of memory, love, sorrow, hope”. Barbon photographed the backs of people facing the sea. “You cannot see their faces; it is clear, however, their clothes, the details of their outfits. You cannot see their eyes, but they are glued to the horizon which precedes, absorbed by the marine scope,” he wrote in an introduction to El Bahr. Photographs from the series can be seen at the ongoing JaipurPhoto, an international travel photography exhibition which is showcasing 19 site-specific installations at iconic heritage venues such as the Hawa Mahal, Jawahar Kala Kendra, Albert Hall Museum and City Palace.
There are several significant series on display, such as Julien Lombardi’s Playground, which probes the idea of mass tourism, Art For Cyborgs by Antonio Perez Rio, about the issues of perception in a digital era, and Flurina Rothenberger’s I Love To Dress Like I Am Coming From Somewhere And I Have A Place To Go, which attempts to show a picture of everyday life in Africa. However, it is through series like El Bahr, which creates conversations about inward journeys, leaps of imagination and themes of memory and loss, that the multifaceted notion of travel is really explored. It allows the viewer to not just passively engage with the photograph, but to guess, question and probe the thoughts in the subject’s mind; and then, perhaps taking a thread from these thoughts, embark either on a physical journey or a personal, metaphorical one of their own.
Yet another work, which looks at the blurring of lines between reality and fiction, is Paulo Simão’s Goodbye Pyongyang, a visual chronicle of an imaginary vacation to the capital of North Korea. “This challenge to photography’s previous aspirations to objectivity, this offering of an illusion of reality that looks at the world from a fictional standpoint, is precisely one of the key issues that Simão addresses,” wrote artist-curator Angela Ferreira about the series.
Memory and loss form the fulcrum of Priya Kambli’s Kitchen Gods and Pablo Bartholomew’s Memento Mori. When you first look at Bartholomew’s images, they seem more like abstract paintings than photographs. Only when you go closer do you realize that these are re-photographed digital prints of his 1985-commissioned photos for the National Geographic of 15,000 workers in Bangladesh who worked close to the mouth of the Feni river. When he went looking for the slides again in 2014, he found they had been destroyed by termites and moisture. While salvaging the material, he realized that the destruction wrought by time had changed the form, colour and shape of the image to create a new object of beauty. It showcases not just his past travels, but also the journey of an image through time.
Images for all the series have been printed in large formats, with the size of the prints—never less than 2m on each side—serving to match the scale of the venue. What this has also done is alter the way we perceive and react to photographs. “The ubiquity of the photographic images that characterize our times has the risk of anesthetizing us,” says Lola Mac Dougall-Padgaonkar, artistic director, JaipurPhoto. Bombarded with images, we end up overlooking photographs which should be looked at twice “because of the wealth of meaning they carry”, she says.
Exhibiting in the open air and in big formats allows the images to take the public by surprise. “The expectations change and one is able to approach art photography with more attention and naturalness. Who expects to see a contemporary photography exhibition in Jaipur’s main station?” she asks.
JaipurPhoto is on till 5 March, at the Albert Hall Museum, Hawa Mahal, Jawahar Kala Kendra and City Palace, Jaipur. For details, visit www.jaipurphoto.in