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Two ways of looking at India

An ongoing exhibition showcases images of everyday India seen through the perspectives of an Indian and an American photographer

art and culture Updated: Jan 07, 2017 13:03 IST
Supriya Sharma
Photography exhibition

American artist Kathryn Myers’s lens portrays the charms of the mundane.(Photo courtesy: Kathryn Myers)

A professor and a painter, Kathryn Myers first met photographer Dinesh Khanna in Varanasi five years ago while working on a series of video interviews with contemporary Indian artists. Last December, they decided to exhibit their work together to share their unique ways of looking at a common muse — India.

‘Reciprocation’ has been curated with photographs from ongoing projects of the two. The photos are a study in contrast — Khanna’s bright snapshots versus Myers’s muted frames.

“I have always thought of colour as my language,” says Khanna. The photos from his ‘Colour Instinct’ project reflect this. In one of the close-ups, a devotee is seen praying at a Delhi dargah, her henna-coloured palms raised upwards, her head bowed and covered with a deep purple net dupatta. In another, a woman stands at the threshold of her house, the neon-yellow and green of her sari set against the blue of the wall. Khanna’s favourite: a pink ghagra-choli-clad woman from Madhya Pradesh who is throwing her head back and laughing and has lifted her veil to let the camera capture her exuberance.

“Whether it is religion, food or clothes,” says Khanna, “colour plays an important part in our lives. Urban India is beginning to forget its colourful instincts. You won’t encounter this instinctive use of colour in the big cities where we think this is not the way modernity looks.” Khanna’s Varanasi project is also a burst of colour. Here he portrays “everydayness in its exoticness”. Clay cups of the local delicacy, malaiyo (flavoured milk froth), sit in concentric circles in one picture. Blue and red boats — a common sight at the ghats — are lined up together in another.

(L) Bhagoriya festival in Nivali, Madhya Pradesh; a sink at a dhaba in Jharkhand ((L) Dinesh Khanna; Kathryn Myers)
“To my mind, it represents the cycle of life. You go to the ghats to pray, to bathe but that is also where bodies are burnt,” says the photographer of Varanasi. (Dinesh Khanna)

Varanasi was also the inspiration for Myers’s Complementary series in which she captures forms and objects juxtaposed in hues of muted pink and green. “It started with a picture taken in Varanasi which had a pink sari hanging on a clothesline with green in the background,” she says. “It got me thinking about the connection between the two colours.”

While the colours are understated, the shapes in her compositions are geometric. Square green lockers sit beneath a pink wall; pink and green garbage bags are piled on each other forming rows of loopy circles; the windows of two houses in Goa do not line up and are painted differently. “I love how these bright colours, pink and green, over the years have become worn like old friends,” Myers says.

A woman stands outside her house in Dehradun, the brilliant yellow-green of her sari set against the blue wall. Myers’s colours are restrained – square green lockers sit beneath a pink wall. ((L) Dinesh Khanna; Kathryn Myers)

Images that depict worn-down surfaces such as that of the sink at a roadside dhaba in Jharkhand represent the passage of time for Myers.

“You can see layers and layers of time and history in the peel paint,”she says. Interestingly, there are hardly any people in Myers’s photographs. Even when they do appear, they go about their day’s work, mostly ignoring the camera. US-based Myers, who visits India often, says that was by design.

“Being a foreigner makes me more sensitive about photographing people. You don’t want to exoticise people or be a voyeur,” she says. It is also the way Myers likes to explore spaces. “If you have a figure in a space, the viewer responds to that narrative. But if it is empty space, you will place yourself in it.”

“I have always thought of colour as my language,” says Khanna. In this picture, taken at the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi, a devotee is seen praying, her henna-coloured palms raised upwards, her head bowed and covered with a deep purple net dupatta. (Dinesh Khanna)

What: Reciprocation: Photographs by Dinesh Khanna and Kathryn Myers

When: Till January 11, 11am to 7pm

Where: Art and Aesthetic, F 213 / A, 1st floor, Old MB Road, Lado Sarai, New Delhi. Nearest metro station: Saket

Contact: 011-41587277, 8860251837