Son of Kishore Parekh, India’s pioneering photojournalist, Swapan Parekh, 42, studied at the International Center for Photography in New York, went on to win the prestigious World Press Photo Award in 1994 and has been on their jury three times since. But he doesn’t like to rest on his laurels. Between Me&I is his first solo show since he began taking pictures 25 years ago and one look at the photos tells you that he is taking a risk—a big one.
We are standing in Delhi’s Photoink gallery and everything, except for the bare concrete floor, is spotlessly white—the walls, the ceiling, and the frames and borders of the 40 10inx15in colour prints of his photos that hang in a line, extending across three walls. The care that has gone into displaying them appears at odds with the images themselves—seemingly random shots taken with an obvious disregard for classical ideas of subject and composition.
No ordinary world: Two untitled photos from the exhibit; (left) Swapan Parekh. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
For one thing, only parts of most elements remain in the frames—door, wall, fish tank, man and pigeon have been cut off at arbitrary angles. Nor does there seem to be much regard for aesthetics—the colour tones, like those of family snaps taken with a point-and-shoot camera, reinforce the quotidian and nondescript aspect of the images. Is the point of Swapan Parekh’s photos then that there is no point to them?
“This is as honest as it gets,” he says about the photos, all shot and processed digitally over the last three to four years. “This is me, naked.”
Parekh studied both photojournalism and documentary photography in New York, but sees himself primarily as a practitioner of the latter genre. He is recognized for introducing elements of documentary photography in advertising, such as The Times of India campaign that was launched on the 50th anniversary of independence around the theme of India’s unity in diversity.
Taken as he went about his daily life—at home, on vacation with family, at a friend’s place or even at his mother’s funeral (just two months ago)—these images are a window, albeit a very tangential and oblique one, into his daily life and the everyday spaces he inhabits.
Perhaps the studied disregard for convention is a bait to make us linger. And we don’t have to linger for too long before we see that he is on to something. A girl’s face wells up from among stacked tables and we see new alignments of planes and lines; the misty silhouette of a walking figure behind the smoked glass pane morphs into a fish, like the ones in the adjoining fish tank.
Parekh points out details in his images which link up less obviously with each other—the leaves with the blades of fans or a statue and a talking man in similar postures. These fortuitous connections “lift the image to the next level”, he says.
What is more apparent is that many photos work at more than one level and nearly all give a fresh take on the familiar—sure signs of good art. “Some might not be able to digest it,” he says, and wryly recalls how a mentor of his found them “pleasantly irritating”. You know he is happy with the compliment. Twenty-four of the images are on sale at Rs80,000 per limited-edition print.
Between Me&I will be on view at Photoink, MGF Hyundai Building, Jhandewalan, New Delhi until 20 November.