Nature intrudes into cultural space through photographs

Nature intrudes into cultural space through photographs

Live animals, shot in zoos and natural habitats, are inserted into the architectural sites by Karen Knorr who fuses high-resolution digital images with analogue photography.
Drawing attention to the unabridged gap between nature and culture, the animals roam freely in human territory. They challenge man's supremacy while encroaching into the domain of the museum and other cultural sanctuaries which resolutely forbids their entry.
The boundaries of the real are challenged by this hybrid. The spectator's vision may become troubled by the incongruity of the animals photographed together.

Knorr's photographic series 'Transmigrations' ('Fables' and 'India Song') is currently being promoted at various cities in India by Tasveer Arts, an organisation committed to promote photography as an art form.

"I love both animals and culture. They are both in profound conflict in the developing world with its tearing down of heritage buildings, blowing up and defacing of temples, mosques and architecture to make way for progress," Knorr, a professor of photography in the University of Creative Arts at Surrey, told PTI from UK.

The lensman's work considers men's space ('mardana') and women's space ('zanana') in Mughal and Rajput palace architecture, havelis and mausoleums through large format digital photography.

In one such photograph, the white egret bird, a feminine figure, walks through the Durbar, a traditionally male preserve, asserting her independence and freedom from stifling patriarchal authority.

Her repertoire shows the incommensurable distance between two worlds - raw nature on the one hand and on the other the cultural site which allows nature entry only in the form of a representation.

Although peaceful, the mischievous intrusion of the animals dilutes the "sanctity" of the exclusive, and often elitist, institution.

After her first "life-changing" visit to Rajasthan in 2008, Knorr kept coming back to the country to explore pre-British architectural heritage permeated by India's Mughal past in northern India.

"I think my work refers to a rich visuality to be found in European Baroque as much as in the layering of colour and detail in the Indian miniature painting which is familiar and strange at the same time," she says.Knorr celebrates the rich visual culture, the foundation myths and stories of northern India, focusing on Rajasthan and using sacred and secular sites to consider caste, femininity and its relationship to the animal world.
Interiors are painstakingly photographed with a large format Sinar P3 analogue camera and scanned to very high resolution.

Animals photographed in sanctuaries, zoos and cities inhabit palaces, mausoleums and holy sites, interrogating Indian cultural heritage and rigid hierarchies.

Cranes, zebus, langurs, tigers and elephants mutate from princely pets to avatars of past feminine historic characters, blurring boundaries between reality and illusion and reinventing the Panchatantra for the 21st century.

This genre of mixing nature and culture was developed in Western painting in the 17th century by painters such as Desportes, Oudry and Hondecoeter.