October 22, 2007

A Tight Frame

It was outside the Jahangir Art Gallery that we saw the poster advertising form and re-form, a photography exhibition at the Piramal Gallery in the NCPA complex adjoining Marine Drive, not far from the Air India building.

I paused, rewound ten years, and wondered if it was the same Joginder Singh, the slightly built Sikh lad holding forth on nature and environment while transparencies played out on the wall behind him to an eclectic audience gathered in the gallery at D’Souza Towers in the heart of Panjim for the opening of his first photography exhibition.

When I reminded him yesterday of the Jute frames he had used for his nature photographs back then, Joginder Singh laughed out loud and said, “That’s all I could afford then.” However I suspect it might have had more to do with his inclination towards nature conservation if his theme then was anything to go by, nature patterns close-up. I distinctly remember him telling the audience gathered in the basement gallery that day of an incident in a train where his fellow passengers were chucking their plastic tea cups from the window, littering the tracks in the countryside and the argument it triggered thereafter.

The talk had taken a passionate turn then while his photo slides projected instant stories on the wall behind him. In between he had made mention of Panchkula. I hadn’t heard of Panchkula until then. A news item in the Indian Express soon after reported the trapping of a leopard in Panchkula. I can still summon to my mind the picture of the leopard trapped in a cage. For reasons I cannot quite fathom I came to associate Joginder with Panchkula, Panchkula with the leopard, and the leopard with Chandigarh - a chain of associations that even if not true to their pairings served to file away the memory of that event to the back of my mind. Goa did not afford many opportunities for viewing photography efforts. Moreover it is surprising how passing time stitches fragments of remembered moments into no logical sequence even as it reminds one of the contiguity threading the seemingly random fragments together into a disparate whole.

“Ten years is a long time,’’ Joginder Singh says as we take a round of the gallery. I nod and say, “Yes, it sure is a long time.’’ He hasn’t changed much physically except for his beard. Now he wears it long. I tell him that he talks more freely now. He smiles.

I turn my attention to his exhibits. Each image cuts a distinct identity. I would suppose it is a natural outcome of zeroing in to a form’s architectural essence where lines emerge before running on to a larger interplay of intersecting contexts. Joginder has captured the essence cleanly.

Joginder Singh is a 70’s child. He trained as an Architect before practicing as one in Delhi at the Laurie Baker Building Centre in the mid-nineties before moving to Goa to work with Dean D’ Cruz for a year. “I loved doing the Laurie Baker kind of Architecture. Baker has been an inspiration, an ideal and everything. So when I moved to Goa to work with Dean who was doing similar work but for a different clientele, it involved a different expression but used similar (Laurie Baker's) ideology."

Looking at his photographs uniquely display light as the recurring theme, at times highlighting forms, other times pushing them to the background, I reflect on his use of the term ideology with context to the Laurie Baker style of Architecture and wonder how deeply might such an approach influence his photography as in narrowing his focus to a distinct thread while ‘blanking’ out the tapestry it is a part of. Would it for instance enforce a continuity of thought as an underlying thread stringing together visually disparate elements of what are essentially distinct structures but which when stripped off their larger contexts appear to belong together.

Pictures of Jantar Mantar (Delhi and Jaipur), the Padmanabhapuram Palace and a Ladakh monastery will sit together not merely as distinct eras but equally strongly as distinct emotions, each evoking in its form a completeness that cannot be mistaken for one another. However if you were to zoom into each of the three and settle on an emerging curve or a line form in the structure, the elements now stripped of their eventual contexts lose their larger identities as a Jantar Mantar, a Buddhist monastery or a Padmanabhapuram Palace and stand on their own in unison as if derived from a common architecture.

Elements combine to give a monument its identity and vice versa. To make a structural element stand on its own even when stripped of its overall context is a challenge to a photographer, even more so when exhibited in a series. There is a danger of sameness negating the very mood it seeks to create. However Joginder Singh has ‘harnessed’ light well to break the monotony and it is his use of light in delineating contrasts in his photographs, essentially minimalist in nature, that brings life to the series, casting original forms in a new light, a re-form as Jogi likes to call them.

A lady tourist who’s been going through the exhibits in silence steps up to Joginder and congratulates him on his work, her eyes lighting up. The colours appeal for sure but rendering forms stripped to their bare essentials can make for riveting viewing if cast in an eclectic play of light, where shadows play out in consonance with solid elements.

Talking of forms Joginder says, “Basically it is a process of elimination. Boiling it down to essentials where as a photographer and an architect you’re communicating the form, and you’re seeing that communication happen when things are falling into the frame.” He pauses before continuing. “It is not an analytical or logical manner, not based on any rationale but it’s just that things have fallen in place, visual synchrony I would say.” And sweeping his hand to take in the breath of his exhibits in the hall, he says of them, “Lot of these images are symmetrical.”

Joginder’s graduation from Nature photography to Architectural photography happened with his switch from being a full time architect to ‘wanting to pursue photography as a medium.’ He said, “I was thoroughly enthused with photography even while I was studying Architecture and practicing it. So I realized I could not do justice to photography if I continued as an Architect. I had to choose one.”

After returning to Delhi from Goa in 1998 he left for Himachal Pradesh for two years to help design 24 primary schools across three districts for the District primary Education Program. It was there that he began photographing architecture as a part of the project to help document the architectural heritage of those villages. “It was important to ensure that our designs did not stick out like sore thumbs. We did resource mapping of materials and resources in the village and designed accordingly.”

Joginder’s team once sourced a landslide near the site for rocks to use in construction. “In lower areas we did a bamboo and ferro-cement combination,” he recalls. “For two years I worked intensively on that project. My involvement in the third year reduced but I continued to contribute remotely to the project for a year after returning to Delhi.”

Then he shuttled between Delhi and Trivandrum in Kerala ‘to study Laurie Baker’s work in original’. He attributes his interest in Laurie Baker’s work to a trip he undertook to Kerala with the students of the Goa College of Architecture where he was teaching photography as an elective subject while working with Dean D’Cruz, a Goan Architect. “Until then whatever I knew of Baker’s work was from reading books. So with a little money, a camera and some film rolls I made for Trivandrum and started shooting Baker’s work.”

The Kerala connection bore fruit with the release of the book Glimpses of Architecture in Kerala – Temples and Palaces by Rupa & Co. in 2006. Flipping through its pages I’m struck by his use of light to highlight the temple and palace architecture of Kerala, a heritage so distinct from that of other Indian states as to be striking. Standing there I can only imagine the experience the project must've afforded him, footloose in the beauteous coastal landscape. Ramu Katakam wrote the book while Joginder Singh executed the photography to illustrate the book, a visual treat. It is priced at Rs. 995.

Talking of light and form he says, “Working on commissioned projects where I have to shoot the project in its totality I have to wait for the light, because form has been designed. Form is basically what? It’s an enclosure yaar, right? If you have an entrance to it, you’ve got light into the form or it’s all around the form. It’s eating out something from space and interacting with light. So, light is there and you need to capture that, y’know.”

Then turning to face the wall behind him he points out to one of his exhibits, “If you look at that second picture on the wall from that corner, that was shot on a day when we went to Jantar Mantar and it was extremely cloudy. There was no Sun. If you’re attuned to light then you know that when you’re shooting a picture, somewhere, subconsciously, (though you) might not define it unless you talk about it, you’re trying to capture a certain essence and then you’ve to wait for that certain light to bring that essence out, so whether it's that tight a frame, or that wide or a panorama . . . . .” then he trails off. Some things cannot always be expressed, they've to be understood. I nod.

It’s nearing seven in the evening. Two gallery attendants in white walk in, preparing to close it for the day. As Joginder prepares to put things in 'closing' order he tells me of a play he is scheduled to attend at one of the theatres in the complex later that evening. Just then he gets a call on his cell from a friend. “One wicket down,” he tells the friend at the other end, his voice rising excitedly to the pitch of his hand weaving the air. I smile to myself and wait for him to finish gathering his things on the table by the gallery entrance and reflect on how some idioms need no explaining. Then I open the door and we walk down the steps and into the cool evening air. His cell rings again, and as he speaks with someone else we turn the corner. I wave out to him and he waves back even as speaks into the receiver before the night swallows him on his way to the theatre.

Joginder Singh’s Photography Exhibition form and re-form is on at the Piramal Gallery, NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai until the 28th of October, 2007.


kenju said...

Anil, he is quite the master of light and shadow. HIs work is excellent!

mark said...

excellent tutorial here Anil.

chiefbiscuit said...

Exquisite - both the photography and the review. Once again in your characteristic style: an attractive patience and the creation and allowance of space and time for the reader to savour the impressions you paint with words.

Anil P said...

Kenju: Yeah, he sure has an eye for lights and shadows.

Mark: Thanks :)

Chiefbiscuit: Thank you. I'd rather time moved slow, always :)

backpakker said...

Another facet to your personality , Anil... your insight into art is amazing . I dont know which is more fascinating- his work or your review of his work...

dharmabum said...

wow! how insightful anil...this post was quite revealed quite a lot - specially the thought that how shallow my eyes are when it comes to appreciating art :)

thanks you.

ajay said...

Great anil!
I too remember Joginder Singh's presentation. Hey it was 10 years ago! whushhhh. Time flies man.
Great review. You can be a good art critic.

Cuckoo said...

Another brilliant post Anil. J singh's presentation was good.

And what an insight !

bluemountainmama said...

i think i was just telling someone the other day, that it makes me feel old when i can measure time in decades.. :)

your review and joginder's photography epitomize the phrase, 'putting things in a new light'..... amazing photography, really it is art... and an incredibly insightful review from you

Anil P said...

Backpakker: Thank you, the comment made my day :)

Dharmabum: Try some photography yourself and you'll find your eye tuning in to the nuances, and it's fun. Thanks.

Ajay: Thanks. Time sure flies quick, more so when we're not 'watching' it :)

Cuckoo: Thank you :)

Bluemountainmama: Thanks. Joginder sure has an eye for light. Yup, a decade seems a long time, but I wonder if it really is :)

The Hermit of Wandering Thoughts said...

That was beautifullyu written and his insights into Photography are very helpful to a self taught amateur like myself.

Great Blog.. I hope you won't mind my backtracking this post on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I like your line...Moreover it is surprising how passing time stitches fragments of remembered moments into no logical sequence even as it reminds one of the contiguity threading the seemingly random fragments together into a disparate whole....

How strange and how true..

Nice write-up. Nice pics.Will try and catch the exhibition.

Anil P said...

The Hermit: Thanks. Sure, backtrack it.

Anon: Thank you. Fragments tend to remind even more strongly of the whole even more than when they made up the whole.

Sure, try the exhibition.

Kusum said...

Excellent work on Light and Shadow. Thanks for sharing with such well written article.

indicaspecies said...

You have this unique way of captivating the reader's attention till the end.

His skill is as good as your own - he, with his paintings; and you, with your choice of words to describe it.

Excellent post.

Anil P said...

Kusum: Thanks. It's a pleasure.

Indicaspecies: Thanks for the interest in the photography, and the blog post, most gratifying to know that the write-up impacts.

He has got the photographs to linger. That's where they succeed. In getting close-up there's a danger of losing the viewer in the picture details, so simplicity helps.

designflute said...

joginder Singh's photography and your post both are very inteesting!

ddrips said...

wow, I love to hear more of his thought on form light space and structure/architecture ... very interesting.

by the way want to ask this about your very long post ... does not blogger has a limit of how long you can type into a post??? I seems to have problem posting such long post.


Anil P said...

Designflute: Thanks.

Ddrips: Thank you. Try doing it up in Word before copy-pasting it into Blogger.

Merisi said...

Thank you for this insightful and reflective report of meeting a great artist. Fascinating photography. I put the book on my "To see" list.

david mcmahon said...

Great post, Anil. A Vienna-based blogger told me about it, so I had to check it out.

I know the Jehangir Art Gallery well as I used to travel to Bombay on work very often.

I am Indian-born and bred, but I have lived in Australia for 20 years and as you'll see on my blog, I dabble in photography, writing and blogging.



Anil P said...

Merisi: Thank you. Architecture makes for fascinating photography, specially interiors, more so wooden interiors.

David: Thanks, David. I'll be checking your blog.

vineeta said...

I'm so glad I came back to your blog. And saw this post. Its a pleasure to read someone who clearly likes writing and writing about something he likes. I'm especially thankful to you for showcasing his pictures which speak for themselves. Brilliant work. I must see if I can lay my hands on that book. Thanx a ton!

Anil P said...

Vineeta: Thanks, it's a pleasure indeed.

I like the book for its pictures, though I haven't come around to reading it yet.