Picture Perfect

A host of festivals, exhibitions and technology is giving photography its rightful place in mainstream art, says Poonam Goel

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Imagine the impact, then, of an image that has been created using thousands of photographs? At the 9th edition of India Art Fair in New Delhi, French artist Jean-François Rauzier’s photograph titled Babel was an instant crowd-puller. Belonging to the “hyper-photography” genre, where thousands of small high-resolution images are stitched together to form one cohesive picture, Rauzier’s work was one among many sold at the fair this year. Several other galleries showcasing photographs at the event were also elated that the buyer interest in photography has seen an upswing over the past few years.

Says Ajay Rajgharia, director of the Wonderwall gallery in New Delhi, “We have been exhibiting at the India Art Fair since the very beginning, but 2017 has been the best in terms of sales. The increasing number of photography-based events in the last few years has not only garnered more recognition for the medium but also increased the choices for the customer.” Bert van Zetten, director of Villa del Arte Galleries in Barcelona, representing Rauzier’s works, also admits that photographs have an instant appeal to new buyers.

While private galleries like Tasveer (Bengaluru), Photoink (New Delhi) and Wonderwall have been promoting photography for a long time, it’s only now that the medium has begun to claim its rightful place in the main- stream art discourse. In the last two years alone, several festivals have been organised that have taken photography out of the confines of the gallery and into the public domain. JaipurPhoto, Habitat Photosphere, Pondy Photo Fest, Goa International Photo Fest and Shillong International Photo Fest are among the biggest names and the list is only growing.

The first edition of Habitat Photosphere was hosted by India Habitat Centre, New Delhi last year. It focused on the theme of sustainability and included interactive workshops, photography awards and theme-based exhibitions. Alka Pande, artistic director, Photosphere, says, “Photography in India was earlier used mainly for either documentation or reportage, while in the West, it had already carved a niche for itself. There was no commercial value attached to photography in India till some private galleries began to promote it. But what large-scale public arts festivals such as Photosphere have achieved is to create an immediate connect with the audience. Also, more cohesive programming and curated exhibitions around photography by galleries have aided this growth.”

What has also helped is the availability of new technology. The second edition of JaipurPhoto, held in February this year, included large-format prints adapted to the exceptional architecture of the venues, which included Jawahar Kala Kendra, Albert Hall Museum and, new to this year’s festival, the City Palace. As Lola Mac Dougall, artistic director of JaipurPhoto, puts it, “Photography occupies a privileged position because technology can be used to enlarge photographs and fit them to a required scale and venue. This creates a surprise element for the viewer.” She mentions that Marco Barbon’s work at Hawa Mahal in Jaipur was one of the most clicked pictures at the event.

When it comes to photographs, the viewer today is not only the audience but also the creator. Armed with smartphones and digital technology, photography has become part of everyday life. Says photographer Parthiv Shah, whose photographs on MF Husain are part of an ongoing show titled Stretched Terrains at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, “We are exposed to so much photography around us that we have become its consumers.”

Interestingly, mainstream artists like Vivan Sundaram, Sheba Chhachhi, Shweta Bhattad and Anindita Dutta have increasingly begun to use photography to document performance art, the latter also gaining popularity among the fine arts. “Galleries and buyers get exposed to photography through these well-known artists and therefore take it more seriously,” adds Shah. For instance, one widely admired work at the India Art Fair was by Nepalese artist Sanjeev Maharjan, presented by the Nepal Art Council. Documenting a performance linking farmers to their land, Maharjan’s work could easily bridge the divide between a painting and a photograph.

Photography as a medium also lends itself to varied techniques. You can create photograms, inkjet prints, pigment prints, digital prints, hand-painted images and more. This variety is what made art gallery Tarq’s debut at the India Art Fair a success. Tarq in Mumbai showcased Waswo X Waswo’s hand-coloured digital prints at the Focus Photography Festival in the city. Says Hena Kapadia, director, Tarq: “The Indian art market is aware of the importance of photography, and the community of photographers, collectors and gallerists is working hard to support and nurture the medium.”

The author is an art enthusiast and the views expressed in this article are her own

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