The Curator #9

Over the last many issues of this series we have discussed the curation of collections from museums, galleries which mainly included paintings, sculptures, contemporary art forms, etc. We have not focused exclusively on the art of photography. But how many of us see photography as art? If we look at the conventional histories of art, including nationalist or mainstream histories of art which is manifested mainly in museum displays, don’t give photography its due space in terms of its importance and aesthetic relevance. Raghu Rai, Dayanita Singh, Pablo Bartholomew or Prabuddha Dasgupta are not our household names. There is an injustice in this ignoring and it is time to dispel such erasures.

Photography is one of the most popular and accessible media of our times. Outside museums, galleries and in its print forms, it is now manly accessed through screens. The arrival of mobile cameras has democratized this form like never before. But what are the reasons why photography always had a marginal presence in the domain of high art. One important reason could be this mass production of images and its consumption. An image can be reproduced as many times we want to. There is no concept of original in photography. All products are a copy. Hence it lacks an exclusivity. Why would someone acquire an artwork which is easily reproducible and accessed by a larger community? Connoisseurship feeds on rarity, not on profuseness. Other reasons for its marginalization as an art form is also due to the fundamental nature of photography. It is seen as an objective medium which can document reality as it is. Hence it lacks the “fictional” elements of art. But this was challenged by the later developments. Surrealists, Dadaists and other modern artists have used photography to create fictional works. We also forget that the photographs which we see are also composed and authored. It is the outcome of the choices made by the photographer which include how the image is composed, how it may be cropped, edited, or otherwise altered after it is taken, the point-of-view deployed and inevitably impact how we receive and understand images. The subjects in photographs, many times are also posed, rather being candid. These aspects related to the creation of a photograph gives it an artistic touch.

Today in Art1sts’s “The Curator” series let us look at an important exhibition curated by Devika Daulet-Singh titled “Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

The Curator #9

Curator : Devika Daulet-Singh

Exhibition: Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, 2011. 

Devika Daulet-Singh established PHOTOINK in 2001 as a photo agency and publication design studio, based in New Delhi. In 2008 PHOTOINK expanded into a gallery to exhibit contemporary Indian photography and international photographers. Her engagement with the world of photography has been as an editor, curator and publisher of photo books.

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Devika Daulet-Singh with Raghu Rai. Courtesy: Lpvshow

Devika was the associate curator for the Indian presentations at the 2007 Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival and the 2007 Photoquai Biennale in France. She was the Project Director for The Photograph: Painted, Posed and of the Moment, which included 8 exhibitions, held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2008). She co-curated The Self and The Other ­– Portraiture in Contemporary Indian Photography for the Palau de la Virreina, Escort woman in Turkey Barcelona and Museo Artium, Vitoria in Spain (2009). In 2011, she curated a group exhibition, Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

Daulet-Singh’s exhibition “Photographing the Street” was an attempt in foregrounding the shared history of these countries despite its separation as distinct countries in the modern era. Even though the relationships might have strained, culturally there is something which unites them all. Singh identified streets and street life as an important trope to connect these countries and establish the shared nature of it. “Despite the many differences in the eight countries,” writes Devika Daulet-Singh in her curatorial note, “there are narratives that overlap, intermingle and are reminiscent of our shared histories.”

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Horsemen in Hisarak village, Balkh province, Afghanistan, 2004. Courtesy: Livemint

All the 117 photos were taken from the existing archives of the photographers. “Street photography could explore the shared histories and bridge some of the differences between these countries. It had the potential to transcend the conflicts of the times and present conditions of civil society as it progressed and evolved across these countries,” says Daulet-Singh.

The exhibition was able to use photography to bring together this shared nature of these countries brilliantly. These curatorial exercises are usually done by using premodern art, or modern or contemporary mediums with a heavy reliance on paintings and sculpture. Singh was able to break that monotony and give it a new twist. These are not pictures that will make it to National Geographic, they are not picturesque. Many of them do have an atmospheric quality, because they are so evocative,” says Daulet-Singh.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

 

 

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