A quartet set out on a quest. A spiritual quest. One, an atheist another a bedouin and the other two torchbearers of faith. The four chose one common platform - a photo exhibition - to share their inner voices.
Sanjay Nanda is more of an onlooker and less of a participant when it comes to rituals and religion. The brochure meant for press consumption states in a matter-of-fact tone about him - His exploration of faith is from the point of view of an outsider - a non-believer. A graphic designer by profession this almost-50 (didn't give me his exact age) has an unflinching faith in atheism. His private ditty seems to lie in culling unpretentious images from his milieu and floating them in space, unaffectedly. He is perhaps an outsider who doesn't impose his opinions on those around him. He seems to believe in the dictum "let's agree to disagree."
He says he can't help clicking if he has a camera in his hand. What struck me as odd and interesting at the same time was that he is almost nonchalant when it comes to his approach, his method. He is clinical to put it succinctly. While clicking he is only interested in the colours and contours of the subject.
From Left to Right: Udit Kulshrestha, Kabeer Lal, Sanjay Nanda and Ravi Dhingra
I've embedded two images, to foreground and reinforce the photographer's belief. 'My Cultural Identity' is as universal to Hinduism as any other symbol but it is stark and devoid of pretence. The group unanimously agrees that this one image is one of their favourites. In another one 'Soaked in Colour' you can almost spot Sanjay Nanda clicking away without immersing or flowing with the throng.
Almost as a conscious polarization there's Kabeer Lal's work. "No matter which path is chosen, the experience of the seeker and the believer is the same. My images offer a glimpse of the transcendence, silence, and awe I witnessed as I moved between the masjids of Old Delhi, the steps of Haridwar and the ghats of Varanasi," says Kabeer.
There is a conscious element of positivity ingrained in Kabeer Lal's art, and this defines in essence the driving force in his creative space spilling over perhaps from his personal space. "I am not one to go for subjects that pull you down so I'm essentially an optimist. I like to work on themes that bring in a glimpse of something bigger than the image and the concept itself," says Kabeer.
I couldn't take my eyes off 'Immersed'. There's such profundity and peace in it. The old woman was sitting with her eyes closed, like that for good 45 odd minutes, Kabeer told me. And that touched a chord with the artist. Where else would that come from if not faith? Another one that I chose to embed is from an Old Delhi mosque. The image is of a devotee who was either a latecomer or early for the next namaaz and Kabeer made me notice the symmetry. You can paint something like that, but capturing that photograph without manipulating the subject is something else.
My Cultural Identity by Sanjay Nanda
Unfortunately I could not meet Udit Kulshrestha the day I visited the gallery. I was told that the exhibition was his brainchild. So upon reaching him later on the phone it was good to put a voice to all those images I had seen.
He told me that he had been working personally on faith, on Hinduism particularly and that he captures culture and also strongly believes that culture affects local religion and rituals. "The idea really was to showcase how different people view faith and how 4 photographers will interpret the whole thing," said Kulshrestha.
Diyas for The Lord by Udit Kulshrestha
At 34 he seems to have sorted some things for sure. Currently he is working on a book project wherein he is looking at different aspects of Hinduism - redemption, renunciation, sin. "When I started out I was an atheist, I don't know if I still am but I do believe that there are forces beyond logic of signs. The journey has calmed me down. I had certain questions I was seeking answers to. I think I have found a lot of peace," says the photographer.
Udit sounded like somebody whose quest is still on - as a photographer all four are on a perennial quest - to find his faith and arrive at one final conclusion. His 'Nandi' with its arresting eyes and 'Diyas for the Lord' are purely transcendental.
Left to Right: Mosque by Kabeer Lal; The Breeze by Ravi Dhingra
Ravi Dhingra in his poised, unperturbed manner told me: "Good photography is bringing out the details out of the mundane, the normal, ordinary objects. Making things look extraordinary in pictures is what a good photograph is all about. And that is what we are trying to do here."
Look at 'The Breeze', the image of a floating red curtain (with everything else in black and white), it indeed takes a moment to either capture something like this or miss it. Ravi told me that he almost did miss it. The childlike joy was writ large on his face as he shared this anecdote with me. From Ravi's comfort and ease with his universe around him I got a sense that there is a private belief that this photographer nurtures with a smile.
From Left to Right: Soaked in colour by Sanjay Nanda; Nandi by Udit Kulshrestha
I have embedded two more images from Ravi's repertoire - notice how the incense burning becomes a wild explosion of colours. Seeing these images I can almost feel the aroma of the incense stick around me. Ravi does manage to make mundane interesting via his art.
Burning Incense by Ravi Dhingra
An almost similar age group, mindsets that are perhaps at subtle variance and journeys taken separately is how I see this offering. The juxtaposition works as it brings out the blatancy, the humdrum and the beauty of faith. The exhibition is still on, if you visit, do share you opinion by posting a comment.
Place: Indipix Galley
Dates: March 9th to April 4th, 2012
Time: 10am - 6pm
Location: B2/1, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi