Close encounters

Different strokes

Close encounters

Known as a masterpiece of magical realism, Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad / 1967) won him a Nobel Prize in 1982. Set in an imaginary town, Macondo, the novel placed its protagonists in a unique landscape. “It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.”

Reviewing the novel for The New York Times (March 8, 1970), Robert Kiely (professor of English at Harvard) wrote: “Macondo oozes, reeks and burns even when it is most tantalising and entertaining…Its inhabitants do suffer, grow old and die, but in their own way… When it gets hot in Macondo, it gets so hot that men and beasts go mad and birds attack houses. A long spell of rain is remembered to have lasted, not weeks, but four years, 11 months and two days. When a plague hits the region, it is no ordinary killer but an ‘insomnia plague’, which gradually causes people to forget everything including the names and uses of the most commonplace objects.”

Márquez (nicknamed Gabo) passed away in Mexico city on April 17, 2014 aged 87. “No writer in the world has had a comparable impact in the past half-century,” eulogised well known novelist Salman Rushdie, even as he insisted that Márquez’s stories were about real people, and not fairy tales. “Macondo exists; that is its magic... Márquez was a journalist and never lost sight of the facts. He was a dreamer who believed in the truth of dreams.”

A photo tribute
Among the multitude of readers who came under the spell of Márquez’s writings was Italian photographer Fausto Giaccone (born 1943/ Tuscany) whose celebrated photo-book is titled Macondo: The World of Gabriel García Márquez.

It all began in 1971 when Giaccone, serving the military, happened to read (among others) One Hundred Years of Solitude mainly to kill boredom! Unsurprisingly, he was instantly taken in by the literary force of the novel. In 1987, on a photojournalistic assignment to Colombia, he discovered a world that immediately reminded him of Márquez’s novel and its characters. In later years, several reportages took him often to Columbia. But it was only after 2002, after reading Márquez’s autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, that he started thinking seriously about the project which led to the photo-book. “I wanted it to be a completely new kind of work. I did not want to just make a coffee table book about Gabo’s Colombia. I wanted to make a book with me, and my vision of photography.”

Giaccone made three trips in 2006, 2009 and 2010 to Colombia to research and produce the photo-book. In the process, he completely changed the way he took pictures — giving up the 35 mm cameras, and opting for a Rolleiflex twin lens reflex analog, medium format camera. While he travelled and took pictures, he voraciously read all of Márquez’s novels, biography and autobiography. He also observed ‘a consortium of cultures’ in the Caribbean coast, where the people were poor but dignified. For his project, he decided on a visual language which was close to historical and classical photography. “In the beginning, I started to capture the places that reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude. As I went on, everything I saw reminded me of One Hundred Years... and now all the pictures from the book remind me of the novel.”

Giaccone’s brilliant exploration of Columbian culture and life comes through in his ‘Macondo’ pictures. Many of the characters and landscapes seem to spring out directly from Marquez’s novel into his photo frames. The moments captured are not blatantly dramatic but subtle, evocative and thoughtful. Far from resembling a travel diary, Giaccone’s photobook is a channel of discovery where memory, metaphor, as well as the mundane get delightfully entrenched. 

Sensorium unveiled
Photo-buffs who wish to take a peek at Marquez’s invented world as seen through the eyes of a sensitive artist can head to Goa where Giaccone’s pictures are exhibited as part of ‘Sensorium’ festival currently on in the precincts of the Sunaparanta Goa Centre of the Arts, Panjim. The beauty and visual experience of Giaccone’s pictures get further enhanced, thanks to the effective display which includes extracts from the novel.

Sensorium, as the organisers explain, is an attempt to find an intersection between literature, fine art, photography, architecture, cinema and history. Curated by photographer Prashant Panjiar and photographer-author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, the first edition of the festival features several eye-catching exhibits, besides Giaccone’s pictures. 

Sohrab Hura’s poignant series Life is Everywhere, shot over several years (2006 to 2012), is a journal of photos, letters and notes arising out of the artist’s observation and coming to terms with his mother’s prolonged sickness (paranoid schizophrenia). Also, shot over an extended period (1989 to 2005), Farrokh Chothia’s series of photographs is a tribute to his favourite Jazz musicians. It is a different kind of collective tribute by photographers Subrata Biswas, Adil Hasan and Sudeep Sen who get inspired by the poetry of the Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet-political thinker, Octavio Paz.

Also on display are works by Sooni Taraporevala (From Screenplay To Screen: Salaam Bombay!); Regina Maria Anzenberger (visual narratives with handmade books); Gopika Chowfla (reconstructing the body through a multimedia installation); and Dayanita Singh (Offset, a series of pictures linked to well-known published books). One also gets to see a small selection of photo-archivist Anusha Yadav’s award-winning India Memory Project, an online photo-narrative-based archive of personal histories of men and women of different generations.

As Jesus Clavero-Rodriguez, curator of Photo-poetry: Octavio Paz in India, puts it: “Poetry creates images with the words and photography writes poems or stories with the images.” It is nice to see different strands of the word and the visual coming together harmoniously at Sensorium.  The festival, which began on December 5, 2014, will conclude on February 5, 2015. 

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