Sublime chaos of cities through lens

Three women art photographers capture different moods

The aim of the trio is to tackle society that is broken at many levels

A work of one of the women art photographers

Three women with distinct identities from different generations but obsessed with the fractals of the psychological shards lurking in the psychic corners of changing urban map of India presented their differing perspectives through art photography. Using lens as a palette they have been traipsing across the non-western cities trying to engage with the dizzy flux of a hell-trap of a chaos of restless times.

The photographers or as they call themselves art photographers-- Mala Mukerjee, Smita Barooah Sanyal and Chandan Dubey-- recently exhibited their work titled “Sublime Chaos of Cities” depicting their critical insight into the cities which are splitting up from within.

The photos put up at Piramal Art Gallery of National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, do not portray the famous or the well-known, instead they revolve around the unnamed spaces and unidentified human beings in morning, noon and night going about in their lives searching for a spaces between bewilderment and distraction.

The photos splashed in a bowl of light are of children, streets, beauty parlours, hoardings, and people talking in a street corner, houses with blinded windows, religious rituals; but all of them, despite different perspectives a subtle thread of a human
compassion and attempts to come to terms with the social forces ties them beautifully.

The trio, refusing to classify their works as “documentation of psychological spaces,” is univocal in their aim: “The aim is to tackle  society that is broken at many levels.” And the images on display do arouse a feeling of concern and many a time disgust in a
landscape of havoc and ruin with people just living for the day.

Though most photographers usually follow the rules laid down by naturalistic school, Mukerjee, Sanyal and Dubey have tried to go beyond that. Transcending the boundaries laid down by naturalism, the collections come out more like photo essays, rather than mere depiction of a situation.

Mukerjee’s subjects are unpretentious where intimate connections softly emerge as magical accidents through sensitive compositions of life which was once lived. Watching her work is like finding a condensation of a past while entering an old, empty house-street where the dust slowly swirls in a breeze bathed in a rhythm of lightless calm.

The viewer enters one’s own past life lurking in the deep corners of mind with a gasp of realisation that one is seeing the past because the camera has spotted that “buried past”. Mukerjee from Kolkata, a city respecting its past while heralding modernity, in her photo “The Birds,” catches the fading serenity among architecturally nightmarish high-rise apartments through winged creatures flying away from a constant rumbling of white noise of a caged world.

Mukerjee’s photos reflect graceful contemplation of intimate glimpses of life. Without getting overtly political, her subjects ranging from fatigued workers to children to lower middle class workplace, her photos tries to depict the existence of gentle humanism in the lives of ordinary people.

Her photo “Clothesline,” depicting the world of “dhobi” (washer-men) gently nudges and winks at the corporatised society obsessed not with ‘want but with plenty.’

Unlike Mukerjee whose works have a soft luxurious subtlety of human warmth, former journalist-turned-art photographer Chandan Dubey’s vision gravitate towards telling the tale of a void in the stomach or the inconsolable dirge that makes up the every-day city life.

Dubey does not shy away from shadow and darkness peering from behind the veneers of a society that reduces people to mere phantoms of themselves. Her work digs out the spiritual narcosis, exploitation and alienation searing into lives along with the
expanding industrial areas and ghettos.

The subjects are haunted and spits of shadows. Dubey like a cosmologist in the wasteland with a microscope forces the viewer to look at the dying and the dead whether it is in Hong Kong or children making “manja” (glass-meshed thread used in kite-flying) in an Indian slum.

Dubey’s sensitivity towards the fragmentation in  society and psyche finds its vision in dark shadowed reflections in shattered mirrors printed in low contrast and tonal scales.

The details in inky-black engages the viewer not only with the exploitation of people who do not exist for those who have risen above it but also with  society’s obsession on “being unique,” and breeding duplication in the process.

The clash of different worlds in her photos depicts the sad lyrical contradiction of human activity and faiths. The textured photographs: “Entropy,” and “Deconsecrate,” stresses in the point of the refusal of the collective unconscious psyche, to wither away or drown.

While Mukerjee and Dubey tackle the “world beyond understanding,” through interplay of
subjects, Sanyal, does it through static abstractions. Sanyal’s work border on the mystery of lives being played beyond the veils.

Like Mukerjee and Dubey, even Sanyal focuses on the ordinary places and the psychological forces that simmer in these spots. Her photos crackle with a
libidinous energy, like in “The chaos outside.” The well-composed photograph may easily be transposed into an object painting. But unlike a static world which object painting presents, Sanyal invites the viewer into the inner world of a house refusing to let its window guard down for outside “daemonic forces” to enter in and disturb the life-energies inside.

Her photo “Jodhpur Blues,” borders on mystical interplay of light. The house, a common sight in down-town is bathed in a blue-flame exuding the same mystery of the human drama that is being played inside the rooms. There is a sense of isolation and loneliness, and the atmosphere is brooding but the every-day human drama and interaction continues, away from the outside world.

Sanyal’s depiction of outside world is that of a world of a voyeur of atrocious acts; a world of lies without a theses.  “Parking in Philadelphia” is a case in point. Even though most of her abstract photos incline towards a world trying to come to terms with an uncertain future, the photos project the blindness of an urban society with a gloss of contrived beauty and in the process spawning a roiling psyche.

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