Time travel through lensman Sebastian Cortes's exploration of Sidhpur

Sidhpur used to be the centre of commerce, but with the passage of time, not much is left of its glorious past. We time travel through American lensman Sebastian Cortés's visual exploration of the small town in Gujarat.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2015 18:16 IST
Arundhati Chatterjee
Arundhati Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
sebastian cortes,sebastian cortes exhibition,sidhpur

One may find shooting the daily humdrum of routine life rather monotonous. But American photographer Sebastian Cortés finds an indispensable source of inspiration in the acts of everyday life.

Unembellished frames featuring a woman staring into space, a lady paying obeisance, and a man cycling across the street are part of his new show, Sidhpur: Time Present Time Past, which can also be termed as a visual study of the town's Islamic Bohra community.

Back in the 17th and 18th century, the community of the region was involved in trading activities of commodities ranging from grocery and garments to shoes and furnitures. It was only after the British invasion that the commerce of the region suffered.


Abbas Vagh House 1

So how did Cortés chance upon the nondescript town in Gujarat?

"A prominent member of the Bohra community suggested me to visit the town. I have always been attracted to places that have, for some reason, fallen off the map. Sidhpur emanates an atmosphere you find in abandoned mining towns in America that once were of great commercial importance. It has a fascinating layering of visual, architectural and symbolic elements that seem to linger in its homes like so many ghosts," says the lensman.

As part of his exploration, Cortes visited the area thrice, and during one of his visits, even stayed as a guest at one of the houses for 20 days. Talking about the "slow and languid approach" to documenting the mundane- yet-remarkable life, the photographer says, "The acceptance of my presence is an essential part of my work. I need to blend in with the routine of their life to generate unique moments. During my stay, I felt like a privileged guest. My mission was respected, admired and never feared."


Looking out Saifuddin Vagh House

Cortés's photography project is a commentary on the architectural influences seen in the area, and speaks volumes of the town's opulent history. In most of the photographs, though the subject on the foreground may be lackluster, the backdrop gives us a glimpse of a lavish yesterday. The lensman observes, "The lifestyle of the community now in Sidhpur is different from the one during its glory days. The architecture is an amalgamation of many different styles ranging from early Victorian to quintessential havelis. The interior of each house is a statement of how far and wide the owner has travelled."

Ask him to pick his favourites, and he reluctantly says that photography is a complex process, which involves the "other" (audience), and he considers his project a series of two-dimensional statements that belong to him as well as the viewer. However, he adds, "The photographing of the women in my images was the most interesting process as it all happened organically and required minimal artifice."

First Published: Mar 18, 2015 15:06 IST