Street realities

Street realities

Street realities

street photography: see! shoot! showcase!Kashish and Maansi ParianiMaansi Pariani (Pub)2012, 1000

News photography has always been condemned by puritans of art photography and visual art, who have looked at news-photographic images with disdain, stating them to be “mere documentation of objects” and not an exploration of multiple, intertwined realities per se. Most critics refuse to accept that visual art — especially art photography — channelises a sort of creativity that blends into the uncertain quantum world, where social, cultural and political realms billow out breathing spaces.
The artist, while having no control over these spaces, becomes a medium through which the ‘manifested moment’ gets cordoned off in a frame. If one accepts this premise of visual art, then, one also has to accept that news photography, though a reproduction of events, is an aesthetic import of images, which beams out interpretations of social, cultural and political realities in a particular space-time continuum.
Mukesh Parpiani, before curating works at Piramal Gallery and heading Centre of Photography As Art at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) for over 40 years, lugged huge camera bags strapped on his shoulders on the streets of Mumbai as a news photographer for various newspapers. The book Street Photography ‘See! Shoot! Showcase!’ is not a mere collection of assorted photographs captured during the course of his work; it is a work of a lensmen who firmly believes in the transposition of images roiling in the deeper recesses of the inner mind to still films, by gleaning and positing reality from the outside world.
Parpiani’s sojourn in photography has been a long one. As a news photographer, unlike practitioners of other photography genres, he had an opportunity to experiment with all its forms. The book, at first glance, may seem to be a guide for photographers harbouring a morbid fascination for slumming and clicking heartbeats, quivering in the slush and sludge that snakes through streets saturated with sky-rises. Here, ‘street’ is a metaphor for life. The images roil with anger arising out of the emptiness of people walking silently like wounded ghosts with a void future, morphing into tentacles called streets.
Unlike present-day news photographers, Parpiani and his contemporary matured with age, when editors, for the first time, started accepting the importance of images in newspapers. In the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, news photography was mostly confined to political portraits and political events. But the ‘70s saw the domain releasing itself from the shackles of establishment view, learning to fly with wings unclipped instead. From late ‘70s to early ’90s, news photography blossomed, emerging as a powerful and parallel journalistic tool, even challenging the conventional print journalist many a times.
This was the time when the streets became emotional skeletal frames. They provided props for news photographers trying to get beneath the veneer of the artifice, glossing over beleaguered people crocheting a meaningful life in the dysfunctional, dislocated dreams, which they held in a museum without walls. It is in this psycho-geographical mapping that street photography emerged as a fertile ground for exploration of anonymous narratives, harshly etched out on wrinkles, scars and tattoos, which bore the stamp of subverting deprivation and violence — both overt and covert.
The collection, typical of a news photographer’s work, depicts fast-paced tension of working under deadlines. However, these frames deftly and wryly capture the optimism-laced cynical graffiti pulsating through the streets. Thus, we have frames of the city’s underbelly depicting the freakish nature of city life where Brahmachari, the Wind God-Hanuman’s calendar gaily flaps in the breeze along with a poster of a semi-nude model with bedroom eyes.
Like most street photography, the subjects here have casual anonymity. What sets them apart is not their angry demeanour but the glint of quirky humour with expressions emoting tenderness and hope in face of adversity. The atmosphere is strained and it is left to the viewer to sift out meanings from blurred boundaries dividing reality and simulated hyperreality.
The venture is ambitious in that it grapples with both form and content in the world of images; taking the viewer/reader through incomprehensible lanes. With practical instructions, it also introduces basic art theories just enough to kindle interest in the philosophy of images. The book, without prattling on cameras, is an open-eyed journal overflowing with a conviction that images and ideas go hand-in-hand and the selection of images juxtaposed with words, quietly tell the reader that the city’s streets still radiate a humane heart.

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