Meet the photographer who is recreating iconic paintings with Indian celebrities
Over the last seven years, contemporary photographer Rohit Chawla (50) has been recreating intricate compositions by artists to highlight their legacy. In Chawla’s photographs, Raja Ravi Varma’s iconic mythological artwork, Hamsa Damyanti, is recreated in painstaking detail, with entrepreneur Kalyani Saha Chawla posing as the princess. A photograph of Mexican feminist artist Frida Kahlo sitting on a white bench in New York is recreated with actor Lisa Haydon. Similarly, Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, known for the vibrant colours and textures, is recreated with Chitrangada Singh as the model.
Apart from works by these artists, there are also select recreated miniatures from the East India Company period (17th to 18th century).“I am inspired by these artists’ works and wanted to recreate their paintings within the idiom of photography,” says Chawla.
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This week, around 30 of these images will be on display at Akara gallery, Colaba, as part of the exhibition — The Inspired Frame. The images are sourced from various collections by Chawla — Tribute to Raja Ravi Verma (2000 onwards), Free Da! (2014 onwards) and Klimt — The Sequel (2013 onwards). Most of the images were part of commissioned projects that Chawla did for magazines or hospitality/aviation brands.
An incredible amount of detailing was required to recreate the paintings, which meant that the projects were researched and worked on for years. Chawla collaborated with fashion designers Tarun Tahiliani and Sabhyasachi Mukherjee for costumes, and craftsman Manoranjan Mukherjee for accessories and sets. “We didn’t use any Photoshop for the images. We created everything from scratch — clothes, sets, jewellery — and ensured that the images and elements are true to the style of the artist,” says Chawla.
Chawla, who has previously worked as a creative director in advertising and for magazines, says the choice of casting celebrities as models was an easy one, as these are his friends. “I looked for a resemblance to the characters in the paintings/photos while casting them. So, Chitrangada Singh’s angular face was perfect to portray Adele Bloch-Bauer. Similarly, for a particular image of Frida, I found that actor Neha Dhupia looked exactly like her,” he adds.
Recreating some of the images presented a challenge for Chawla. For one thing, he was imitating the original painting and had to make the images one-dimentional. Some of the artworks were also complex, leading Chawla to improvise.
“Klimt’s images feature complicated and layered prints. We ended up making plaster of paris Egyptian motifs that we stuck to Chitrangada’s clothes,” says Chawla.
The recreation of artworks/photographs is becoming fairly common — a trend that Chawla attributes to the need for photographers to stand out. “Everyone is now shooting using cell phones and applying filters. Perhaps that has now led fine art photographers to focus on stylised images,” he says.
The Inspired Frame is organised in collaboration with Tasveer and is on from April 1 to 22
At Akara Art, BK Boman Behram Marg, Apollo Bandar, Colaba