April 23, 2012

Jehangir Terrace Gallery For Photography And Visual Art, Mumbai

“Don’t search for the tiger. The tiger will find you,” Kakubhai Kothari told me, and for good measure repeated it so I would remember it to be an absolute like Newton’s Laws of Motion. “Don’t search for the tiger. The tiger will find you.”

He kept his eyes on visitors to his photo exhibition on Cultural Heritage, Nature & Wildlife at the newly opened Terrace Gallery in the Jehangir Art Gallery dedicated to Photography and Visual Arts, in part owing to the generous munificence of the man himself, Kakubhai.

The Terrace Gallery dedicated to Photography & Visual Arts opened early this April, a welcome addition to Mumbai galleries increasingly recognising photography as an art form though nowhere in the number needed to do justice to its practitioners. It took a long time coming to Jehangir, likely driven in part by increasing queries by photographers for gallery space to display their photography.

“The tiger will find you, don’t search,” Kakubhai repeated, his eyes on visitors stepping into the narrow but long exhibition space located on the terrace of the Jehangir Art Gallery, eyes lighting up in recognition on spotting familiar faces as they stepped toward him to exchange pleasantries.

I nodded, reminded of all those long treks where I had to be satisfied with hundreds of tiger pug marks, signs that boded well at the time, but ended without sightings of the striped cat.

He left me in no doubt, not that I was under any illusion after having trekked in wildlife sanctuaries over the years that tiger sightings are not so much a matter of chance as they’re revelations granted by tigers to hopeful pilgrims making their way along jungle trails, holding their breath atop elephants crashing through the undergrowth, the mahout nudging them toward waterholes known to be frequented by tigers. Even so there’s little certainty the striped beast will grant the eager beavers an audience.

If they do, it’s either because they couldn’t care less, or because they’re looking for some entertainment themselves, probably joking in tiger lingo and passing comments on corporate rats come looking for jungle cats.

To picture the scene, I did not have to stretch my imagination any further than the wall adjoining the entrance to the Jehangir Art Gallery. Straining in the evening breeze across the road from the David Sassoon Library in Kala Ghoda, a life sized photograph hung from the terrace of the art gallery, showing three tigers, sheltered by a bush and cooling themselves in a shrinking waterhole, looking up at visitors perched atop an elephant, fiddling with their cameras for that 'once in a lifetime shot' to bandy about back home.

Passers-by paused by the photograph on their way past the Jehangir Art Gallery to see the tigers see the visitors see the tigers.

Others who followed the newly installed sign board outside Samovar, the gallery café, found themselves taking the stairs to the terrace and welcomed by photographs mounted along the parapet. Large photographs of Ganapati processions, sculptures, and ornamented wells among others, the Cultural Heritage part of Kakubhai's exhibits.

At first I wondered if this was it, disappointed on seeing photographs of Indian cultural landmarks mounted in the open, exposed to elements though a warm late afternoon light suffused the pictures and lent them a glow in keeping with the gentle environs of South Bombay.

I thought, surely, Jehangir Art Gallery could’ve done a better job than find a home for photography under  open skies. A roof would’ve helped secure them better, and appropriate light to accentuate their imagery would’ve done them justice.

Just as I was about to turn and take the stairs down I saw a few visitors emerge from a door at the corner of the terrace overlooking the open space behind the gallery. Curious, I stepped in and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a sleek gallery space that ran the length of one side of the wall, large enough to allow for two rows of visitors take in photographs displayed on opposing walls. a Visitor's Book was kept at the corner by the door. 

The lights brought alive the tigers in almost every emotion imaginable.

It was there I met Kakubhai Kothari.    

“Tadoba is a better place than Jim Corbett to sight tigers at this time of the year,” he said. “But if you’re not fixated on tigers then Jim Corbett is a great place to explore other forms of wildlife. There’s much to see there.”

He also suggested Pench, and Nagzira wildlife sanctuaries for tiger sightings.

Of the tiger photographs on display, Kakubhai had shot some in the Tadoba Wildlife Sanctuary, a tiger haven I had visited many, many years ago, trekking in its jungles for five days in the company of fellow wildlife enthusiasts from Bombay, Pune, Nagpur, and Nashik among others. Each day we would start out at the break of dawn and return nearly eleven hours later, on foot all through the day.

This was neat I thought. K was grinning from ear to ear, having first noticed the opening of the Terrace Gallery for Photography on a poster displayed outside. S, and G were riveted by the tiger show on parade.

Photographers eyeing the prominent locale Jehangir Art Gallery occupies in Fort will be relieved enough to hope that the waiting period for gallery space that ranges anywhere between 5-7 years, with photography playing second fiddle to paintings and sculptures until now, will shorten considerably now that it has opened a dedicated space for photography.

Kakubhai’s photo exhibition ended today.



Daisy said...

What a wonderful place and it's great that it will showcase photography. I like the tiger picture. It's really lovely.

Riot Kitty said...

I always admire the courage of wildlife photographers. I'd be afraid of getting mauled.

Is it common in bigger cities in India for things to be in English?

Anil P said...

Daisy: The new section for photography is actually small, but neat, and is a welcome addition to the gallery.

Many of the Tiger pictures on display were striking.

Riot Kitty: They're a hardy breed, not so much from facing 'dangers' in the wild, but more from having to adapt to diverse, and often hard circumstances in order to pull off some great photography.

Animals will rarely maul, will prefer to keep away unless surprised, or hungry, or intruded upon when with their young.

Moreover, the availability of powerful telephoto lenses will ensure there's a 'safe' space between the wildlife photographer and the animal.

In certain bigger Indian cities you'll find a mix of English and the local language. In some cities language agitators, in order to mark their territory, have made it incumbent on commercial establishments to display in the vernacular language.

Niranjana (Brown Paper) said...

Love the tiger quote. Very spoon boy from The Matrix.

Anil P said...

Niranjana: From the Matrix? Lost you on that. Haven't seen the movie.

niranjana said...

Oh, you should see it! For the cultural landmark quotient, if nothing else.

Anil P said...

Niranjana: Sure, I will.

Indian Bazaars said...

It's wonderful to have a Photography gallery at Jehangir. Would love to visit next time in Bombay. Here, in Bangalore, there's Tasveer - that promotes Contemporary photography. This is a link to : http://www.tasveerarts.com/ It seems the environment for photography is really changing.

Anil P said...

Indian Bazaars: It was long overdue. Still, there's very little space for photography in Mumbai. So any space by anyone for exhibiting photography is always welcome.

Tasveer Arts too exhibits regularly in Bombay, seen several of their exhibitions though I'm not very impressed by their choice of contemporary photography as of now.