Blurring the boundaries: Exploring India through French lens

The ongoing Convergence Photo Exhibition in Delhi showcase works of French, as well as Indian photographers, who travelled the country decades ago.
Convergence Photo Exhibition is being held in Delhi at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, on till June 30.
Convergence Photo Exhibition is being held in Delhi at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, on till June 30.
Published on May 20, 2022 06:55 PM IST
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ByShruti Das

From serene banks of the Ganges to pensive faces of daily wage earners — photographs capturing the myriad moods of India, its people, history and landscape find its place in Convergence Photo Exhibition, being held at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. But what sets this ongoing exhibition in Delhi apart is that it’s not just the Indian artists whose photographs will be on display. Works by notable French photographers, who travelled and lived in our country from the mid-19th century to the 1970s, will also be the main focus at this showcase, which is on till June 30.

The event, a part of Bonjour India, will have works of Marc Riboud (a celebrated French photojournalist who travelled all around Asia in the ’50s), Louis Rousselet (who came to India in the mid-19th century), among others and European artists, such as Denis Brihat, Paul Almasy, Michel Semeniako — all of whom took exploratory trips to India from the 1950s onwards until 1970s. Among Indian artists, works of Sawai Maharaja Ram Singh II, Darogha Abbas Ali, Lala Deen Dayal, Homai Vyarawalla, Ketaki Sheth will be displayed at the exhibition.

A photograph by Marc Riboud from 1956 Calcutta.
A photograph by Marc Riboud from 1956 Calcutta.

Some of the iconic works of Riboud, such as Scene at the Ghat, taken on the banks of the Ganges in Kolkata show people calmly standing in water or swimming, as a large ship passes by in the backdrop. Another taken on the outskirts of Mumbai shows two people engaged in an intense discussion. His portraits of legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray are also being showcased at the exhibition. His images combine poetic appeal, realism and lyricism.

Talking about how Riboud’s work was brought in India especially for the exhibition, curator Rahaab Allana says, “While travelling in France, I saw a phenomenal exhibition of Riboud’s at the Musée Guimet (museum in Paris). But they had only five or seven prints of photos showcasing India, so I wondered whether there’s more. I made an appointment with the curator there of the Riboud collection, Laurence Madeline. I asked her what material do you have of Indian photography? She showed me the content, and then I saw hundreds of prints — images that he (Riboud) had shot, but had never been printed. Then I found interesting photos and images he had taken. Here, in this exhibition, we have photos capturing the separation of Punjab and Haryana in the ’60s, and the resistance that was happening at that point in time. Because of the recent revolt by farmers from Punjab in the Capital, I was interested in the history of that state. All of these became triggers for me to look deeper into the collection of Marc Riboud.”

A photograph by Marc Riboud from 1971.
A photograph by Marc Riboud from 1971.

A passionate photographer himself, Emmanuel Lenain, the ambassador of France to India, said, “Convergence showcases India as never seen before, through the perspectives of French and Indian photographers of past eras. French journalists, artists, photographers, and travellers who were fascinated by India have explored the country since the 1850s, chronicling their impressions of this great land. These carefully preserved French and Indian records, which have become precious artefacts, have now been brought to India for the first time. Looking at them transports you to those moments in history.”

Some of the photographs here are not of well-known artists, but their work is worth being exhibited to the world, believes Laurence Madeline, head of the photographic collection of Musée Guimet. She says, “Thanks to this kind of exhibition, we will know better the photographers who aren’t well-known; and we will perhaps be able to put a name to them and will not just term ‘unknown photographers’.” Another interesting aspect, as focused by Christine Barthe, curator, head of the photographic collection at the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, is how the audience will have the chance to visit some of the original prints, which isn’t really easy to get. “There is something special about original material. In photography, people often see prints that are reproduced [from the original print]; but it’s (photograph) also an object — which has its own quality of colour, density, etc. Thus, I hope it will be a good experience for the public.”

The event is crucial for fostering ties between India and France. Talking about what else the exhibition wants to convey through their works, Allana says, “First, there should be freedom to show material that is different from mainstream. Second, when you are thinking of [art] collections, geographical boundaries very much disappear. You think about different Indian collections in France, and French collections in India [when you visit the exhibition]. This makes you wonder whether everything that was being told to us, that we [as countries] are separate, is not necessarily true. Such collaborations make us feel closer than we are.”

(Convergence Photo Exhibition is being held at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and is on till June 30)

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Saturday, June 25, 2022