Photo Essay | Like a prayer

Works of quiet, stunning eloquence chronicle the family Durga Puja in Amadpur, a village in West Bengal
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First Published: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 08 20 PM IST
The morning after the idol’s immersion, village boys find the skeleton on the waterbed to preserve for use the next year. Artists sculpt over this skeleton year after year. Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri.
The morning after the idol’s immersion, village boys find the skeleton on the waterbed to preserve for use the next year. Artists sculpt over this skeleton year after year. Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri.
Updated: Sun, Oct 14 2012. 09 47 PM IST
Photographer Chirodeep Chau-dhuri was 16 when he first visited Amadpur, his ancestral village in West Bengal, during Durga Puja. He was a probashi (non-resident Bengali) youth living in Mumbai and his connection to the place did not extend beyond the food, fun, rituals and momentary family camaraderie that Durga Puja entailed. Used, however, to the community puja in a city, the intimate family puja stayed in his mind.
A few years later, he decided to visit again. “It was a time when I was getting closer to my family. I wanted to know my family better,” Chaudhuri, now 40, says.
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A Village in Bengal—Photographs And an Essay: Picador India, 140 pages, Rs 2,499.
He has been part of the family celebrations in Amadpur for 14 years now and has been photographing the family and the village all this while.
His book A Village in Bengal: Photographs And an Essay, has photographs from this journey—encapsulating the place and the milieu with quiet eloquence.
His photographs do not speak of a journey of self-discovery. They are not overt social comment. The book is, at one level, a simple and unpretentious chronicling of a village and its facets. Private family moments are juxtaposed with the village’s rickety stillness.
What’s striking is the photographer’s process—rigorous and deliberately crafted. “After a few years, I developed a kind of a storyboard. I had an Excel sheet of the shots I had to take and I knew how they would work together as a continuum in the book,” Chaudhuri explains. He says he wanted to avoid pettiness and nostalgia. “I was clear that no shot in the book will be there just for an aesthetic purpose,” he says.

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      He took many opinions before deciding to include a haunting frame of a man swimming, his body almost merging with the reflection of the clouds in the water. It is a serendipitous shot, a photographer’s dream, and Chaudhuri’s expert eye captures it most evocatively. But, he says, “My purpose was never to show how rural life had evolved. The idea was not to show off or shoot too much.”
      While he narrates the process of a traditional family puja, he captures the quietude inherent in the comfort of a “home”. In all his previous works, as the photography editor at TimeOut, and projects revolving around life in Mumbai, Chaudhuri has been a simple and elegant, but layered, chronicler of urban life. In A Village in Bengal, we see his best. The idea of “home” and family camaraderie lend it universality, and his aesthetic intensifies the moments.
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      First Published: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 08 20 PM IST
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