Art exhibition: Seeing people, culture, moods through outsiders' eyes

  • Poulomi Banerjee, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2015 15:12 IST

In the early years of the 20th century, writer James Joyce fled his native Ireland, to spend his life in self-imposed exile, writing about the country's capital city of Dublin in vivid detail. I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete, he said, that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed out of my book. There's something to be said about distance. It might or might not make hearts grow fonder, but it does give the viewer a more complete understanding of Joyce's vision than could be had from close quarters.

A group of men in conversation outside a shop in old Delhi captured by Alan Rubin. (HT Photos/ Sanjeev Verma)

Trace(s), an ongoing exhibition of the works of Franco-Russian photographer Ioulia Chvetsova, French photographer Marie Langlest and Alan Rubin from the United States at the Alliance Francaise, captures India from the perspective of an outsider. Holi, Muharram, a bench in fog-wrapped Hauz Khas, wall art in Kerala and the streets of Old Delhi are all seen through that prism. They are a fresh entry-point to already-familiar experiences.

Another Old Delhi frame by Alan Rubin. Even on the go, the women present an image of sensuality and quiet grace

Here, there is no celebratory joy on the faces of the men captured amidst a burst of colour rather, the extreme concentration of those preparing for a task in hand. For an outsider, the photograph is not of a festival. To me, the men looked like soldiers preparing for war, says Ioulia, who has been working in India for the past four years.

Ioulia Chvetsova's Tambourine captures men playing Holi in Nandgaon near Mathura

The energy Ioulia found in festivals, took Rubin to the streets of old Delhi. I have always been interested in people and culture and old Delhi drew me with its history and energy, he says of his black and white images. Humour, exhaustion, stress, happiness, coy smiles, his lens capture a panorama of emotions on the faces of his subjects: Women, traders, rickshawpullers the usual Old Delhi populace. Then there are the frames from beyond India the world outside captured from within a window in Budapest, a man sleeping in Indonesia, a machine outside a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. For Marie who has put these up, the images are like keepsakes in a drawer. When I look at them, they tell me a story. But I want viewers to find their own stories in the images, she says.

Babushka by Ioulia Chvetsova. The word means 'grandma' in Russian. The image is a portrait of Chvetsova's mother

Together, the works of the three artists, are in equal measure, testimonies and memories of years spent moving among people, places and cultures, capturing life as it changed daily and stirring up in viewers, remembrances of things past.

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