Spaces that are safe
Spaces of fear…
Black or white…maybe just grey!!
The simplicity of the method which brought out the subtleties of the process excited me. The device was as simple as winding the knob and pressing a button. It was quick and easy to convince people in the local community to handle the camera and experiment with the process of capturing visuals of things/ people they felt safe/ fear with/ without.
Met Ana on the 20th of Jan at Infinitea with Vera and Carolina when they met the Srishti students to discuss ‘ideas for Venue 2’. The concept of capturing ‘my public memories’ reminded me of an installation I had worked on in college the previous semester. The process left me with many many questions and I could not put it into an appropriate point of view. And in some way this brought closure to some of those doubts.
After two cups of Koshys filter coffees two days after a previous meet, Ana give me three cameras. One for myself and the other two I had the choice to give them to anyone I wanted to.
I chose to work around an area I was most familiar with, Kodihalli. A stretch of, say a kilometer en route to my house from the Airport road quite beside the very grand Leela Galleria.
Most of the people on this street have seen me dodge my way through the three-way (sometimes even four way) traffic of cows, fruit vendors, double parked cars, meat stalls hounded by hungry dogs with drooling jaws and over-flowing drains. The hustle and bustle of the street can intimidate a newcomer. For me, it is a place that I strangely feel very safe in; even to walk home at 11pm. Often greeted with an expected smile or an occasional stop to have nonsensical conversations about the filthy roads has kept me occupied during my many visits to the mallu (Malayalee) tea stalls and bakeries. Sometimes I feel even the cows give me a nod when I pass by.
I attempted to talk to a couple of them about the disposable camera project and tried to see how many of them would break the barrier of just surface conversations and allow me to take a sneak peek into their private spaces. I found most of them instantaneously getting curious and questioned me in depth about the concept and what I would do with the pictures. Many were excited about getting free developed pictures of family members and extended relatives and friends. But most of them backed out once I suggested that they take the camera and bring it back for me to develop it. I realized that most of the women were not sure if their husbands would approve of this; although they were very excited about clicking pictures of themselves and sticking to the brief I gave them.
Chintamaniaayi, an old vegetable seller who sits outside a temple, said her three sons might break it and was scared they would ruin the process if she took the camera home. (She also mentioned in passing that they would be drunk and their wives might not like an old lady showing off with a gadget). She did click a few pictures while I was talking to her…gave it back to me after 5 shots. And the men were reluctant, they said I could follow them and click pictures but they weren’t comfortable of taking it back with them. Feared it might disturb their business. I took the cameras home.
My little eight year old neighbor, Muddhamma, was very excited about the gadget. She learned to use the camera in just 5 minutes. Muddhamma stays in a tiny make-shift house in a vacant site beside my house. Her mother is a construction worker, who works all day at the upcoming plush flat across the road and her father works as a coolie (manual labour) for scrap-collectors. I’ve had several conversations with her on random things. She was quite curious about the process and was eager to play with this new toy that she had never explored before. The twisting and winding of the role, the sound of the click interested her more than actually focusing on an image. She told me I was to see for myself in the images what her story was… She is keen on seeing her pictures and I wish to soon give her a print of the roll. (Will post her reactions too)
I gave the second camera to my grandmom, she agreed but was too scared of using an unknown gadget (she fears the every bit of technology except the TV remote…very much required to shift her Tamil channels, Sun TV to Jaya TV). The reason I picked her was because I felt it was an important process for her as she never steps out the house. She fears everything that is the ‘outside’; she has mastered her daily routine and refuses any alterations. And I found that quite interesting. I am amazed at how she has found her ‘comfort’ and ‘safe’ blanket. Not wanting to alter it any way possible, she was documenting this herself…and stepping out in some way.
The third camera was for me…the process was exciting. Handling a camera wasn’t new, using a disposable camera was. Just as any other camera you would say. But I feel these days with the digitized SLRs, we have gotten so used to predicting the visual and manipulating the subject. Not that I do not enjoy that process, of course I do. These disposable cameras were definitely a challenge in the sense of not being sure of the result. And just the simplicity of the technique got me curious.
The brief was to ‘see through your eyes’ and visually document the things/ spaces/ people that make you ‘feel’ safe/ fear. I found the immediate connect working with the nuances of ‘emotions’ and it came pretty naturally. I did notice that there is a queer sense of ‘how’ a picture ‘must’ look and ‘what’ it ‘must’ include. Breaking these ‘constructed’ conventions was yet another highlight of this experiment that I wish to further explore and understand.
Another thing that I was glad with was the fact that Ana made it very clear from start about the representation of the works, the anonymity of the visuals during display. No names just credits for all the participants. Calling it a collective work and emphasizing the model of equal collaborators, organic as the project itself. We had roughly a week to experiment with the disposable cameras. After which it was time for ‘the’ presentation of ‘the’ works. To me the project was more of a ‘process-driven cum experiential and very personal’, so I was wondered how she would choose some and omit the others for the presentation. But then again it was a collective work of art!!
Exhibition at One Shanthi on 28th Jan
Ana managed to develop all the rolls at G.K Vale on MG road,
Red, pink, yellow..flowers
A clear sky with a kite caught between lines.
Poses of a woman against a bright shiny pink backdrop
Her wavy curls rushing through shoulders.
A coffee cup…half full or half empty?
Next image…a broken cup.
Images of a demigod
Thrown and hiding behind a fence.
A school bus
And that was what it was….a collective work of art. No justifications required! Narratives from the participants spoke volumes of their journeys through their daily routine. Fear and safety perceived in ways that one chooses to interpret them in. The perceptions that one takes from these images are as personal to the viewer as to the photographer. The concepts and ideas might merge in the visual journey. But that is something I feel only the visual can tell.