Let's talk pictures
His photographs narrate tales of everyday adventures and convey thoughts that are hard to put forth in words. Ranjan Das Gupta talks to award-winning
When asked as to how he developed an interest in photography, he smiled and answered, “As a child, I was given my first box camera. I learned my first photography lessons at home. I would assist my father in the darkroom. This is one medium wherein you can be a one man band. You are the director, cameraman, producer, scriptwriter and editor all rolled into one. And in those days, you could photograph, process and print everything yourself, making the medium compact and self-sufficient. And especially, since there was a dark room at home, everything was easily accessible.”
Love at first sight
Speaking at length about his love for the medium, the ace photographer elaborates, “I still use film camera both in 35 mm and medium formats. However, I also work with digital as and when needed. Moving on from the box camera, I took up photography as a hobby class in school. I first started using the Russian Zorki cameras and the East German Exacta, before graduating to other German Leicas range-finder focusing cameras, and then to the Japanese Pentex Spotmatics and the Nikon cameras. At present, I use the Leicas and the newer version of Nikon film cameras and the latest Nikon digital ones.”
His exhibitions have been huge successes and have received lot of critical acclaim. Pablo continues sipping his coffee and taking the winter sportingly in his stride, “My first solo exhibition was in 1979, and featured works that captured the marginal, fringe worlds in which I lived. Incidentally, it was held at Art Heritage, New Delhi, which is where The Calcutta Diaries is currently being exhibited. In Mumbai, my first solo was at Jehangir Art Gallery in 1980. In July 2007, I showed Outside In: A Tale of Three Cities, which is a visual diary of my teenage work, at Les Rencontres d’Arles in France. This show travelled to the National Museum in New Delhi in January 2008, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai, March 2008, and to Bodhi Berlin in March 2009, in conjunction with the Berlinale. I still remember, when Outside In was showed at Bodhi Art, New York, in 2008, I was just around the corner from a show of my father’s work, which was at Sepia International in New York. More recently, in February 2010, I organised a showing of my father’s work, A Critic’s Eye, alongside my Outside In series at the Harrington Street Art Centre, and in September 2011, at Fishbar Gallery in London. The second body of work from my archives, titled Chronicles of a Past Life: Bombay in the 70s and 80s, was shown at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, 2011, and in 2012 at PHOTOINK, New Delhi.”
The idea of Calcutta Diaries inspired him in an interesting manner. He pauses and then says with confidence, “Calcutta was the first major city I encountered as a child, when I used to visit my grandmother during summer holidays. However, it was only when I returned in my early 20s that I felt I could re-engage better with my Bengali side, and understand and catch up with a very quiet, silent family history. Some of this, I was able to record. I think I am now in the process of contextualising some of it, by showing it together, like the grandmother series, or the Chinese community in Tangra, or the film studio, and being on the sets of Satyajit Ray’s productions. I had already touched on my Calcutta experiences in Outside In, but perhaps it felt that through The Calcutta Diaries I could bring some of my work on that city together more effectively.”
When asked about the contents of the subject and the reason for taking the photographs in black and white, Pablo explains, “There are four parts in this show, loosely divided between my photographs of my grandmother, the Grandmother series, followed by photographs of urban landscape and people on the street, a section on Satyajit Ray, and the film studios at Tollygunje, and the Calcutta Chinese Community in Tangra, which mainly worked with leather. They are in black and white because they are from my archive from the 70s and 80s when colour was not an accessible medium. However, I enjoyed shooting B&W photographs because I could shoot, process and print these on my own.
Expressing his excitement about Calcutta Diaries, Pablo confesses, “The response to the show has been great so far. It is not just about the photographs, but also about how I have displayed the work. The frames and the specific way I show and design my shows and hang my exhibits.” He does think highly about his seniors, contemporaries and juniors. Pablo says, “Raghu Rai is great. He is, and has been, a very important photographer in the contemporary scene. There is a whole new breed of younger photographers emerging, but they all need to prove themselves over years, if not decades.”
Speaking about his next subject and idea of exhibition, he says , “I am still working with my archive, and once I finish with it, then I will get onto other things, which I don’t want to discuss in detail at present. But, let’s say, there are things that I have been shooting and continue to do so. To give you a hint, it is the work around the Indian Emigre series that I have been photographing for the last 20 years in America, France, Mauritius, UK, and there are still a few countries that I need to work in. This is open ended, as it all depends on the funds that I can find to continue this project.” Surely, Pablo speaks a thousand words with his camera focused. The way he has used black and white as a medium for Calcutta Diaries shows that monochrome still has a distinct edge over colour.