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Alone, together

Chronicling the routine during the lockdown has had Mumbai-based photographer Rema Chaudhary revisit the usual through new eyes while also renewing ties in the wake of this challenging situation, writes Shilpi Madan
Last Updated : 01 May 2021, 19:15 IST
Last Updated : 01 May 2021, 19:15 IST

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Solitude, for me, is about self-discovery. My home is my cocoon and nourishes me. This is one of the reasons why I have been enjoying my time alone so much,” confesses Mumbai-based photographer Rema Chaudhary whose visual narrative titled ‘Alone, Together’ chronicles her experience when the world went into a complete lockdown. A recluse by choice, Rema found herself longing for human connection during this time — a craving that compelled her to connect with her ex and eventually transformed into a series of 300 screenshots centred around their daily lives, in isolation.

What prompted her to reshape her take on elective solitude? “All of us have taken the freedom of interaction for granted and our right to embrace a friend. But the pandemic disrupted that in ways we never thought were possible. Ordinarily, I would have relished a quiet day at home, but now left with no choice, I have been stripped of that delight. Choosing me time and forced isolation may lead to the same physical state but they are not the same at all. The walls suddenly felt higher, and closer,” she ruminates, delving into the making of her journey through the successive lockdowns.

There is magic in the mundane, as we re-visit the usual through new eyes in the wake of this challenging situation worldwide. “Initially I never imagined that these screenshots would culminate into an exhibition,” she says. Of her reconnection with her former partner, Rema believes that there was an undeniable sense of familiarity.

“Our daily calls offered a welcome dose of sanity in a strange new reality. At first, we’d simply check in on each other every day. Eventually, our calls evolved into more watching and less talking. With the glut of screen time, we had become protagonists of our own reality TV show. Having our need for human connection met virtually, we felt freed of our anxiety to look for it physically. There is something very delicate and graceful about the way we move through our mundane routines without us even noticing it, and so, we started noticing it. At first, we would just share screenshots we liked with each other. A few months down the line when I realised we were building an archive of sorts, I asked him to share them all with me. Collecting them into folders and printing tiny versions of them, I put them up on my wall. As I was sequencing them, the narrative revealed itself and I decided to put them in a book,” she reveals, having used her iPhone 12, iPhone 8, and Macbook Pro to put together the lockdown chronicle, sifted from 458 visuals taken over a period of six months.

The compulsory confinement has brought in different changes for different people at different levels.

For some, it has been a productivity challenge, for others a state of welcome niksen… “I think I was serially productive for the first few months of the lockdown,” shares Rema. “It was all about acquiring new skills specifically in the area of bookmaking. I started making my own paper and experimenting with binding and printing techniques. We limit ourselves to a certain medium or flow of production but acquiring new skills equips us with this bodily knowledge that only comes with tactile experience. I felt stuck for months before the lockdown but making books every day really rewired how I look at my practice. What started as an exercise to make one photo book evolved into making books to understand myself better.”

What has been her biggest learning? “We are social creatures and want to be seen as most vulnerable and unfiltered,” confesses Rema. “I think my biggest learning has been to not take myself too seriously. People like putting you in boxes because it is comfortable for them and you start to internalise that box as a result. Breaking out of that has been just so liberating.”

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Published 01 May 2021, 19:10 IST

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