Tryst with photography

Through lens

Shivani Dass’ tryst with photography began as a child when she came across a Leica camera in her grandfather’s cupboard and insisted that she be shown how to use it.

Captured: Shivani Dass with her photographs.

Years later, she picked up this same camera and began capturing her surroundings through its lenses.

She has since come a long way in pursuit of the art and premiered her solo exhibition ‘Violet Dreams’ on August 25 at Alliance Française.

In ‘Violet Dreams’ Shivani has captured the many facets of Sufism – a philosophy she is deeply invested in and fascinated by.

“I have always been intrigued by Sufism and its mystical ways. I wanted to provide a visual language to the quest for this path and this is what I have attempted through this exhibition,” said the 28-year‐old.

Shivani travelled extensively for seven months to nine Sufi shrines across the country. These included Khwaja Moinuddin Chisthi’s Dargah in Ajmer, Dargah Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan in Bangalore, Yousufain Sharifain in Hyderabad, Nagore Dargah in Tamil Nadu, Makhdoom Ali Mahimi’s Dargah in Mumbai, Mira Datar’s Dargah in Gujarat and the Delhi dargahs of Hazrat Nizamuddin, Matka Pir and Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed.

The 28 photographs that were part of the exhibition were not postcard images of the Dargahs Shivani visited, instead, they are philosophical musings on the many moods of the believers and ignored corners of Sufi shrines.

“There was so much going on in each place that I visited, especially, in Mira Datar’s Dargah in Gujarat where possessed people are healed. But I didn’t want to capture the obvious imagery of suffering and joy. I wanted to look at the in-between pauses when nothing really is happening, yet a great deal is happening,” said Shivani.

Each photograph has a story attached to it, which Shivani only hinted at.
Like the opening image of a girl whose face is turned away from the camera. She is one of three sisters admitted to Mira Datar’s Dargah.

She kept banging her head on the wall as her father sat outside complaining about the loss of their only son, who died in the Bhopal gas tragedy, leaving him alone to bear the burden of his three daughters.

Objectively the frame just shows the girl, her averted face and the word kacheri (courtroom) written on one of the walls. Subjectively, there’s a certain texture and a mood that was captured that allows you to experience the unspoken frustration in the girl’s hidden eyes.

Shivani learnt photography from Munish Khanna and Bikash Dass from Delhi School of Photography and under Iqbal K. Mohammed at the Light and Life Academy in Ooty. Belonging to the illustrious Shriram family – her great grandmother Sumitra Charat Ram founded cultural institutions such as Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and Kamani in New Delhi.

Shivani’s other passion is music, she is an ace djembe player and she also enjoys Salsa, “I love rhythm and harmony and find joy in mediums dependent on it, be it photography, music or dance,” she says.

Comments (+)