Abandoned: The Beatles in Rishikesh

Beatles in Rishikesh / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2012
Beatles in Rishikesh / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2012


Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as oneImagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
– John Lenon, lead singer and song writer of Beatles, 1971

The Beatles visited Rishikesh in India, in February, 1968 to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation ( TM ) training session, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Pepped by the  widespread media attention, their stay at the ashram was one of the band’s most productive periods. Their adoption of the Maharishi as their guru is credited by some as changing attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation.

The Beatles had first met the Maharishi in London in August, 1967 and then attended a seminar in Bangor, Wales. Although this seminar in Wales was planned to be a 10-day session, their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and planned to attend his ashram in October, but their trip was rescheduled due to other commitments.

Finally, The Beatles arrived at the ashram in February 1968, along with their partners, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters. They joined the 60 other TM students, including musiciansDonovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and flautist Paul Horn. While there, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison wrote many songs ( Ringo Starr wrote one ), of which eighteen were later recorded for ‘The Beatles ( White Album )’, two for ‘Abbey Road’ and others for solo works.  The trip to India was the last time all four Beatles travelled abroad together.

In the year 2012, I had taken a road trip to Himalayas and on my way back I went to Rishikesh. The off season rains and intense cold didn’t stop my explorations. As a lover of The Beatles, I wanted to visit the ashram in which they had stayed. Going by the knowledge I had of the historical visit, I thought that finding the ashram will be an easy task. Preparing myself for a short walk, I started inquiring people about the ashram, the famous ashram that was visited by the Beatles. To my surprise, not many knew about the ashram and I had to walk more than ten kms, going in rounds to locate the now abandoned ashram… I was shivering in cold when the lone guard of the ashram stopped me from entering. He thought that I was a wanderer looking out for a place to spend the day. Not wanting to enlighten him of my purpose of visit, I bribed him and entered the ashram. My small pocket camera poses no threat to anybody.
The Maharishi’s compound is across from River Ganga, located in the holy “Valley of the Saints” in the foothills of the Himalayas. The ashram was abandoned in the year 1997 and has been under the control of the forest department. The forest undergrowth is what’s left of the original Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram. The remnants of the sprawling ashram buildings, meditation cells and lecture halls could be found, including Maharishi’s own house and the guest house where the Beatles had stayed….

( Continued )

Contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad is noted for his maverick experimental photographic works. Overall, the corpus of Azad’s work can be seen to have a thrust towards an archive of local micro-history at the level of personal memory and in that sense, his works add up to a kind of social anthropology of his land and its people, though not necessarily in the line of tradition of the objective documentary.His works are predominantly autobiographical and expose the areas of politics, culture, contemporary history, gender and eroticism. His works attempts a re-reading of contemporary Indian history – the history in which ordinary people are absent and mainly provided by beautiful images and icons. Using the same tool, photography, that chisels history out of a block of ‘real’ human experiences, Abul makes a parody of it.

Abul Kalam Azad is the visionary behind EtP (Ekalokam Trust for Photography) and serves as the Director of Project 365, the public photo-art project that collectively creates and preserves photographic visuals of the fast vanishing culture, divergent landscape and pluralistic culture of ancient Dravidian society. In this series of memoirs, Abul shares interesting anecdotes and information about his photographs and the people in his photographs.

Miniature ART notebooks_promo images_Leo James (8)
Beatles in Rishikesh / Miniature PHOTO Notebook

Ekalokam collective, a firm set-up to merchandise art in every day life has published a miniature photo-notebook titled ‘the Beatles in Rishikesh’. The Beatles in Rishikesh has been exhibited by Apparao Galleries and United Art Fair II curated by noted photographer and art curator, Ram Rahman.




Malayali sensibility is fettered

Interview with R. Nandakumar,  originally published in the Indian Express (year 2003). R. Nandakumat is an art historian and culture critic. He has taught art history and aesthetics in various Fine Arts colleges and has been Professor and Head of the Department of Visual Arts in Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. Formerly a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, he has currently been a Senior Nehru Fellow at Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi.

As an art historian though visual arts is his home discipline, cultural musicology is another major area of his research interest. His works in both have appeared in important academic journals and they address areas of intercultural concern from the perspective of the sociology of culture.

EtP is continuing this dialogue with Prof. R Nandakumar, which will be published in this blog.


Aspin Wall

What is the state of art criticism in Kerala? Isn’t it ironic that in spite of the vital presence of at least some Malayali artists at the national level, there is no art criticism worth its name here?

It seems to me what you suggest has to do with a particular factor – namely, a relative lack of an enculturation of visual sensibility.

Ever since the onset of the modernist trends in Malayalam, which itself was primarily a literary phenomenon, the Malayali sensibility and faculties of communication have been colonized by a facile verbal parameter and its concomitant; a literate-media sensibility. Everything has to be validated by the authority of jargon. In such a situation verbalization short-circuits, the specificity of aesthetic experience came by offering itself as a surrogate. It ultimately results in the absence of an art-critical discourse rooted in an articulate relation between the structure of visual meaning and pictorial representation.

What is the art criticism for you and what spurs you on? Is it the urge to write about a particular work of art or an artist, or is it an aesthetic project in itself?

When I write I’m faced with a major methodological challenge. My preoccupations with art, in a certain sense, share a border with the area that is generally called philosophy of art or art theory. But at the same time, I steer clear of aestheticism, as art to me is a social phenomenon located within a network of societal forces. In fact, it is this social context of art rather than art per se that is of concern to me and my approach is invariably sociological. But at the same time, such a methodology is caught up in the irreconcilable nature of these two orientations. It is quite difficult to pursue a sociology of art. The sociological approach, for example, of culture studies is less problematic in this sense because the work in question doesn’t call for an evaluation in aesthetic terms.

R Nandakumar quote

Interestingly, most of what you have written is in English rather than in Malayalam, why is that? Is it by choice or due to other compulsions?

As for me, though writing is a bilingual practice, I have never for once written in any of the mainstream Malayalam periodicals all along my career. That is by choice. The occasional writing in Malayalam that I do is published exclusively in some fringe magazines of a non-commercial kind. The slant towards English is not a conscious choice, though. May be because of the nature of the English language and the fact of its being an alien language, which enable me to distance myself from the kind of trite and banal fad and fetishism that surround the whole cultural scenario. There is something provincial, insular and micropolitan about the intellectual climate of Kerala – something that inherently lacks a breadth of vision. Our cultural figures, bound by the rigid contours of a provincial ego, are so insecure about themselves that instead of objective criticism and healthy dialogue they resort to invariably personalized muckraking. I positively want to stay out of the inescapably simple-minded sensationalism of such a situation. I must also say that English gives me another kind of freedom through its greater terminological precision and its better suitability for a form of logical discourse. If I pitch my arguments high in Malayalam, they tend to sound pompously vacuous. But then writing art criticism from Kerala in English brings with it its share of risks, too. See, I may have to write on some Malayalai artist and I’m not being apologetic about it as I don’t bother how he is ‘rated’ at the national level. The simple fact of his being written about in English subjects him to another criterion by aligning him with the so-called national scene. For me, I don’t go by what is currently in the air – what the gallery-sponsored opinion-makers say, or what goes on in the in-house circuits of art-talk. Ideally, I would like to see myself as a culture critic. So, it doesn’t matter how significant or insignificant a particular artist is, according to the current canons of taste of aesthetic testimony of the taste makers. What is the point of being an art critic or art historian if one can only guided by the assumptions that are in vogue about art at any given moment? If he can only go by the received cultural baggage and write faithful endorsements of aesthetic testimony to it, I won’t consider him an art critic or historian. And I don’t feel called upon to prove my ‘radical’ credentials by writing about something labelled ‘radical’. The basic question is where would you place yourself in relation to what you write as a critic. It has to do with a system of values and a structure of meaning that you live by.

Nor does writing about an artist in English make him any the better credited for a national recognition. In fact, some of my well meaning friends and senior colleagues have cautioned me that by choosing to write in English about regional artists not much relevant on the national scene, I run the risk of being identified with a certain regional group. But I am not a spokesman of any region or group and am addressing the concerns that have an immediate bearing on my perceptions. For example, I have made an elaborate Lacanion reading on a curious Oedipal theme in the works of certain Malayali sculptor who is hardly known outside Kerala.

Let me ask, what indeed makes an artist worth a consideration of his works as a discourse of unconscious other than the fact that they lend themselves to be so considered? For me, it would have been eminently suitable for my purpose had he been an anonymous sculptor. I even avoided mentioning the artist by name both on the main and the subtitles because, after all I am not so much writing on an individual artist as making a psychoanalytical study of the relation between art and the unconscious.

Undoubtedly this situation puts someone writing about ‘regional’ artists in English into a curious relationship with art criticism in Malayalam, which often turns a conveniently blind eye to the rigors of the discipline. For example, someone like Vijayakumar Menon who wrote on Ravi Varma but without even referring to you.

Yes. That was a bizarre experience. This paper of mine that you refer to, “The Missing Male: Female Figures of Ravi Varma and the concepts of Family, Marriage and Fatherhood in Nineteenth century Kerala”, was originally published in the journal South Indian Studies, edited by MSS Pandian in January 1996. A local writer on art, Vijayakumar Menon lifted my thesis lock, stock and barrel and published his diluted two page journalistic version with much hype, first in a leading Malayalam weekly and later compiled in a book on Ravi Varma.


The pity is that though my piece was widely take note of and acknowledged in the academic circles elsewhere in the country and had got some complimentary reviews too, hardly any one in Kerala was familiar with my original piece that preceded Menon’s article. Incidentally, when it was later included in the book, the author was at pains to circumvent the charge of plagiarism.

He grudgingly admits a reference to my article in an evasive and unspecified manner, saying in all generosity that R Nandakumar in his writing “The Missing Male…”also makes similar remarks. Of course, that is the price one has to pay for opting out of the local situation which, in turn, takes its revenge on you for not being part of it. Yes, writing in English and being part of local situation also entails the danger of getting sidelined or conveniently ignored in one’s own language.

By CS Venkiteswaran and S Sajeev

Originally published: Indian Express, Saturday, Feb 22, 2003




“Devil in God’s own country” – wings Flapping of Migratory Birds in an Anarchist’s Fingers

Johny ML is an art historian, cultural critic and curator. Born in, Kerala, he has three post graduate degrees – Creative Curating, Art History & Criticism and English Language & Literature. He has curated numerous shows and is the founder editor of two online magazines on Indian contemporary art. He also directs documentaries on art, translates international literature into malayalam and is a blogger (http://johnyml.blogspot.in/).

In Abul Azad’s visual dictionary the word ‘still life’ is elaborated as follows: the objects related to and resulted by a person’s life and these objects are seen arrayed in a certain fashion as providence would suggest and these objects would remain in the same way as if they were caught in and frozen by time. Their stillness shows that the person who has caused such an arrangement is equally still or methodically careless.

Perhaps, the birth certificate of still life as an artistic genre, written in fourteenth century does not agree with what Azad’s not yet written dictionary says. Still Life as an artistic genre while capturing the beauty and mortality of life also highlighted the skill of the artists who excelled in this genre. Primarily a western religious artistic mode, Still Life became an unavoidable philosophical visual motif for many European artists during the renaissance and the years that followed. When it came to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Still Life had become a medium of scientific experiments in art, which later crossed over to the modes of conceptual installations.

Hari Narayanan / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2013
Hari Narayanan / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2013

Visit the percussionist, Harinarayanan’s room. What you find there is a total commotion of daily objects used or rendered useless by or even emblematized by the anarchist artist Harinarayanan. Azad trains his camera at these objects and the framing itself edits out the wanted from the unwanted. Unwanted here is the space as Harinarayanan occupies a space that is object infested; his tea glass which has not been washed for quite some time, empty cigarette packets, papers, cigarette stubs and so on. When the space is edited out by the eyes of Azad these objects assume the shape of a Still Life, which simultaneously speak of the life of Harinarayanan and narrates a story about the time in which he lives.

Like Harinarayanan, Azad too lives a life of a nomad, an eternal wanderer. While Harinaryanan travels in his subconscious through nicotine and alcohol or weed induced euphoria, Azad travels in the physical space constantly capturing the displaced images that create meaning out of ironic associations. Nomads are dangerous people as they defy settlement and refuse to enter the mainstream life. On the contrary the mainstream life protected by state is always watchful about the nomads who the state believes that are in a perpetual preparation of war against it. An anarchist and nomad who live within the mainstream society in that sense is a threat not because he causes physical danger to others but because his life style itself remains as a constant critique of the normative life values. It tends to threaten the complacency of the people who live in illusionary sense of conformity.

Harinarayanan is a percussionist par excellence. While percussion is mostly related to temple based classical art forms, Harinarayanan operates from outside the religious structures. He has always been a fellow traveler of other anarchists and creatively mad people like late filmmaker John Abraham. In Abraham’s hallmark movie, ‘Amma Ariyan’ (For Mother’s Information) Harinarayanan plays the role of a tabalist who commits suicide. His friends gather from different places and they together go to his mother’s place and slowly the mother becomes the leader of that pack of anarchists who in fact moves against the mainstream values of life. Harinarayanan’s character has become one with the character that he plays in the movie. A friend of many like-minded creative people, Harinaryanan still lives the life of a non-conformist in the city of Kozhikode.

When Azad captures the objects and presences in Harinarayanan’s room devoid of Harinarayanan’s physical presence, they in a way tell the story of the person who lives there. In the moments of revolt and self-induced pain and angst, Harinarayanan writes slogans of revolution on his walls. They remain like graffiti written by a revolutionary in exile. Though Still Life connotes the beauty of life and the imminent death, here in Azad’s vision, these photographic still lives emblematize the life of a person who refuses to die and prolongs his life through anarchistic life style and thinking. One cannot forget the lives lived by late John Abraham and A.Ayyappan or D.Vinayachandran, when we look at these photographs. When Azad registers the still life of Harinarayanan we feel how moving a life it is. At the same time that life poses before us a critique of our own lives.

There is a sense of strong identification between Azad and Harinarayanan. In his autobiographical series called ‘My Anger and Other Stories’ Azad brings out a series of still lives from his own life that has brought in anger and pain, love and denial in his own life. Harinarayanan in that sense becomes a surrogate for the artistic self, a character which could be interchanged in subtle ways. Azad’s spiritual seeking at Thiruvannamalai also gets reflected when Harinaryanan writes on his wall, ‘Who am I?’ Such resonances make this series worth pondering. In a sense, each photograph belongs to the genre of still life but the intentionality of the artist transcends it into the zones of documentation, biographical registration and a critique of life, rather than a caution about death.

Disclaimer: Photographs and text published in this post is copyrighted property of the author. Prior permission is required from the author for republishing and reprinting. For more information, contact Ekalokam Trust for Photography at admin@etpindia.org



தீன் தயாளின் புகைப்படங்கள்

துளசி ஸ்வர்ண லட்சுமி தூத்துக்குடி மாவட்டத்தில் உள்ள உமரிக்காட்டில் பிறந்தவர். சென்னையில் உள்ள  சிவ நாடார் கல்லூரியில் எம்.பி.ஏ பயின்றுள்ளார். சமூக வளர்ச்சியில் ஆர்வம் கொண்ட இவர் ஆப்ரிக்கா மற்றும் தென்னமேரிக்கா நாடுகளில் பணியாற்றியுள்ளார். சுனாமி மற்றும் தானே புயலின் போது இந்திய மற்றும் சர்வதேச தொண்டு நிறுவனங்களுடன் இணைந்து பணியாற்றியுள்ளார். ஏகலோகம் புகைப்படக்கலை அறக்கட்டளையின் இணை நிறுவனர் ஆவார்.

ராஜா தீன் தயாள் / சுய உருவப்படம் / மூலம் - இணையத்தளம்
ராஜா தீன் தயாள் / சுய உருவப்படம் / மூலம் – இணையத்தளம்

புகைப்படக்கலை, நவீன கலைகளின் சிகரம். அன்றாட வாழ்க்கையின் ஒரு அங்கமாக ஊடுருவி விட்ட உன்னத அடையாளம். காட்சி ரூபங்களிலும் காட்சியகப்படுத்துவதிலும் பண்டைய தமிழக மக்கள் கொண்டிருந்த ஈடுபாட்டினை பறைசாற்றும் கலாச்சார சின்னம். கடவுளை கலையாகவும் கலையினை கடவுளாகவும் வணங்கும் திராவிட மரபின் குறியீடு.

நண்பர் உறவினரின் புகைப்படம், மனதிற்கு பிடித்த நடிகர், நடிகைகள், கடவுள்களின் மற்றும் குருக்களின் உருவச்சித்திரம், அல்லது விருப்பமான இடம், மலர், காட்சி என ஒவ்வொரு வீட்டிலும் கட்டாயம் ஒரு புகைப்படமாவது இருக்கும்.

கேமரா அப்ஸ்குரா
1024px-View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce_1926_first photograph
நிசிபோரே நியாப்சே எடுத்த புகைப்படங்களில் ஒன்று, 1826
டகுரோடைப் முறையை பயன்படுத்தி டகுரோ எடுத்த முதல் புகைப்படங்களில் ஒன்று 1838

கேமரா விஞ்ஞானத்தின் (Camera Obscura) அடிப்படை ஞானம், பல நூற்றாண்டுகளுக்கு முன்பே நாம் அறிந்திருந்ததே. சங்ககால சீன தத்துவவாதி மோ டி, கணித வல்லுனர்கள் அரிஸ்டாட்டில் மற்றும் யூக்ளிட் ‘ஊசி துளை கேமரா’ குறித்து விவரமாக எழுதியுள்ளனர். ஆறாம் நூற்றாண்டிலேயே கணித வல்லுநர் அந்தேமியஸ், ‘கேமரா அப்ஸ்குரா’ என்ற இந்த நுட்பத்தை தனது ஆய்வுகளுக்கு பயன்படுத்தியுள்ளார். ஆயினும், பதினெட்டாம் நூற்றாண்டின் துவக்கத்தில் தான் புகைப்பட விஞ்ஞானம் குறித்த ஆய்வுகள் தீவிரமாக நடத்தப்பட்டன. 1820களில் பிரெஞ்சு நாட்டு விஞ்ஞானி நிசிபோரே நியாப்சே, புகைப்பட பதிவுகளை உருவாக்கினார் அவர் கையாண்ட முறைக்கு நீண்ட நாட்கள் வெளிப்பாடு அதாவது exposure நேரம் தேவைப்பட்டது. 1839ம் ஆண்டு நீயாப்சேயின் துணை விஞ்ஞானி லூயி டாகுறே, டகுரோடைப் என்ற புகைப்பட பிம்பங்கள் மற்றும் அச்சு முறையினை கண்டுபிடித்தார். குறைந்த வெளிப்பாடு நேரமும் தெளிவாக பிம்பங்களை உருவாக்கவும் செய்யும் இந்த முறையையே புகைப்பட விஞ்ஞானத்தின் முதல் கண்டுபிடிப்பாக அங்கீகரிக்கப்படுகிறது. சார் ஜான் ஹெர்ஷெல் இவ்வாறு உருவாக்கப்பட்ட அச்சுகளுக்கு ‘’Photography”, அதாவது ஒளியினால் வரையப்படும் ஓவியம் என்ற பெயரை வழங்குகிறார். போடோக்ராபி என்ற ஆங்கில சொல்லிற்கு தமிழில் மட்டும் தான் ‘புகைப்படம்’ என்ற தனிச்சொல் உள்ளது. ஐரோப்பாவில் கண்டுபிடிக்கப்பட்ட குறுகிய காலக்கட்டத்திலேயே, புகைப்பட விஞ்ஞானம் ஆங்கிலேய அரசால் இந்தியாவிற்கு அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்டது. இந்தியாவின் உலர்ந்த வெப்ப நிலையிற்கு ஏதுவாக ட்ரை ப்ளேட் முறையும் கண்டுபிடிக்கப்பட்டது. தற்பொழுது பாரம்பரிய முறைகளில் ஒன்றாக கருதப்படும் டகுரோடைப் முறையில், ரசம் போன்ற ஆபத்தான உலோகங்கள் வெளியிடும் புகையினால் பிம்பங்கள் உருவாக்கப்பட்டன. இவ்வாறு புகையினால் உருவாக்கப்படும் படமானதால் தான் தமிழர் போட்டோக்ராப்பிற்கு புகைப்படம்’ என பெயரிட்டனர். ஆபத்தான ரசம் போன்ற உலோகங்களை பயன்படுத்தியதால், புகைப்படக்கலைஞர்களை ரசசித்தர் என்று அழைக்கும் வழக்கமும் இருந்தது.

ஆரம்பக்காலக்கட்டத்தில் புகைப்படங்கள், ஆன்மாவினை சிறைப்படுத்தும், ஆயுளை குறைக்கும் என்றும், சூட் என்ற ஆங்கில வார்த்தை, சுடு, கொல் என்று காலனித்துவ பீதியினை உருவாக்கவும் செய்தது. ஆயினும், இந்தியாவினை ஒரு இலக்காக மாற்ற, ஆங்கில அரசு, இந்திய நாட்டின் சிறப்பை பறைசாற்றும் விதத்தில், ராணுவத்தின் உதவியோடு அழகிய புகைப்படங்களை எடுத்தனர். இந்தியாவில், மனிதரை உண்பவர் உள்ளனர், நோய் மற்றும் பஞ்சம் மட்டுமே உள்ளது என்ற கருத்தை மாற்ற, வானுயர்ந்த கட்டிட பாரம்பரியம், எளிய வாழ்வுமுறை, அழகிய பெண்கள், நிலப்பரப்பு என இந்தியாவின் செல்வங்களை, புகைப்பட பிம்பங்கள் மூலம் உலகிற்கு ஆங்கிலேயர் பறைசாற்றி வந்தனர். அப்போதைய காலக்கட்டத்தில், புகைப்படங்கள் எடுப்பது இப்போது போல் சுலபமானதல்ல. அதிகம் செலவும் தேவையானது. அதனால் தான் வெளிநாட்டவர், வெளிநாட்டவரோடு தொடர்பு உள்ள இந்திய அரசர்கள் மற்றும் ஜமீன்தார்கள் மட்டுமே இந்த கலையினை கையாண்டு வந்தனர்.

புகைப்பட விஞ்ஞானம், ஒரு காலனித்துவ கருவியாக, இந்தியாவின் விசித்திரமான அம்சங்களை உலகிற்கு பறைசாற்றி வந்தது. அதே சமயத்தில் சுதந்திர போராட்டத்தின் போது, இதே கருவி, காலனித்துவ அராஜகத்தையும் வெளிச்சம் போட்டு காட்டியது. இந்தியன் ம்யுடினி என்றழைக்கப்படும் 1857ம் ஆண்டின் இந்தியாவில் நடைபெற்ற கிளர்ச்சியினை வெளிநாட்டவர் பலரும் புகைப்படம் எடுத்தனர். அது இந்தியாவின் காலனித்துவ ஆட்சின் அராஜகத்தை பலருக்கும் வெளிச்சம் போட்டு காட்டும் விதத்தில் அமைந்தது.

இந்த தாக்கத்திலிருந்து இந்தியாவின் நிலைபாட்டையும், பெருமைமிகு சொத்துகள் என்று இந்தியாவின் மாளிகைகளையும், மக்களையும் சிறப்பம்சமாக காண்பிக்கும் புகைபப்டக்கலைஞர்களுக்கு, ஆங்கில அரசு பெரும் ஆதரவு அளித்தது. இவ்வாறு இந்தியாவைப் பற்றிய உலகின் பார்வையை மாற்றி அமைத்த பத்தொன்பதாம் நூற்றாண்டு புகைப்படங்களை எடுத்தவர்களில், இந்தியப் புகைப்படக்கலையின் ராஜா என்றழைக்கப்படும் லாலா தீன் தயாள் (ராஜா தீன் தயாள்) குறிப்பிடத்தக்கவர். உத்தர பிரதேசத்தில் உள்ள சர்தனாவில் 1844ம் ஆண்டு பிறந்தார். பொறியாளராக ரூர்கியில் உள்ள கல்லூரியில் தேர்ச்சி பெற்றார். ரூர்கி கல்லூரியில், பிரிட்டிஷ் அரசாங்கத்தாரால் 1854ம் வருடம் புகைப்படம் ஒரு பாடமாக அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்டது. 1866ம் வருடம், தலைமை கணக்காளர் மற்றும் வரைவாளராக இண்டோர் அரசவையில் தீன் தயாள் பணியில் சேர்ந்தார். அதே சமயத்தில் புகைப்படம் எடுப்பதிலும் ஆர்வம் காட்டினார். மகாராஜா டூகோஜி ராவ் தான் அவரது முதல் புரவலர். நாளடைவில் ஆங்கில கவர்னர் ஜெனரல் ஹென்றி டாலி (டாலி கல்லூரியின் நிர்வாகி) தீன் தயாளின் புகைப்படங்களை கண்டு விருப்பம் கொண்டு ஒரு புகைப்படத்தொழிலகம் துவங்க தூண்டினார். இண்டோரில் துவங்கப்பட்ட இந்த வர்த்தக ஸ்டுடியோவிற்கு பற்பல வாய்ப்புகள் ஆங்கில அரசு கொடுத்து வந்தது.

1870களில்ஆங்கில அரசினரால், இந்திய கலாச்சாரம், மற்றும் பாரம்பரியத்தை மேம்படுத்தும் விதமான புகைப்படங்களை உருவாக்கித் தருமாறு கேட்டுக்கொள்ளப்பட்டார். சில காலங்களுக்குப்பிறகு இவர் மும்பையிலும் ஹைதராபாத்திலும் ஒளிப்படத்தொழிலகம் கிளைகளை துவங்கினார். ஹைதராபாத்தின் ஆறாம் நிசாம் மஹ்பூப் அலி கான் அசிப் ஜாஹ் அரசவையில் அரசாங்க புகைப்படக்கலைஞராக நியமிக்கப்பட்டார். பின்பு 1885ம் ஆண்டு ஆங்கில அரசினரால் அரசாங்க புகைப்படக்கலைஞராக நியமிக்கப்பட்டார். 1897ம் ஆண்டு ராணி விக்டோரியாவால் ராயல் வாரான்ட், அதாவது முன்பெல்லாம் அரசுகளுடன் வணிகம் புரியும் சிறந்த வணிகர்களுக்கு அரசவைகள் அங்கீகாரம் அளிக்குமல்லவா,. அது போலவே, அவர் இந்தியாவில் எடுக்கும் புகைப்படங்களுக்கு அங்கீகாரம் கொடுத்து, அவரின் புகைப்படங்களை வாங்க அரசாணை விடுத்தது.

அதன் பிறகு, அரசு மற்றும் அரசு விருந்துனர்களின் இந்திய பயணங்கள் பலவற்றையும் ஆவணம் செய்தார் தீன் தயாள். அவரது புகைப்படங்களில் ரம்மியமான கண்ணைக்கவரும் காட்சிகளும், மாட மாளிகை கட்டிடங்களும், நினைவுச்சின்னங்களும், கோவில்களும், வளம் மிகுந்த அரசினரின் மற்றும் அரசு குடும்பங்களின் உருவச்சித்திரமும், நதி, மலை, அருவி என இயற்கை செல்வங்களும், காட்சிக்கு இதமான பெண்களும் மிகுந்து காணப்படும். வெளிநாட்டவர், இந்தியாவிற்கு வருவதற்கும் இங்கு முதலீடு செய்வதற்கும் எதெல்லாம் தூண்டுமோ, அவையெல்லாம் நேர்த்தியான தொழில் நுட்பம் மற்றும் தீன் தயாளின் அழகியல் திறத்துடன் கலந்து புகைப்படப்பதிவுகளாக, காண்பவர் மனதினை கவர்ந்தது. அந்த சமயங்களில் இருந்த புகைப்பட ஸ்டுடியோக்களிலேயே மிகவும் சிறப்பு வாய்ந்ததாக விளங்கிய தீன் தயாள் ஸ்டுடியோவிற்கு, ராஜாக்கள், ஆங்கிலேயே அதிகாரிகள் பலரும் புகைப்படம் எடுக்க ஆர்டர் கொடுத்தனர். பத்தொன்பவதாவது நூற்றாண்டின் சிறந்த புகைப்பட ஆவணங்களை உருவாக்கிய, புகைப்பட உலகின் ராஜா என்றழைக்கப்பட்ட தீன் தயாள், 1905ம் ஆண்டு இயற்கை எய்தினார்.

தீன் தயாள், காலனித்துவ மற்றும் நிலவுடைமை கொண்டிருந்த அதிகார வர்க்கத்தின் சேவகராக, தீவிர பிரச்சாரகராக, தந்திரமான வர்த்தகராக தன்னை பிரதிபாலித்துக்கொண்டு, புகைப்படம் எடுத்து வந்தாலும், தற்பொழுது அவரது புகைப்படங்கள், அழிந்து மறைந்துவிட்ட ஒரு காலத்தின் கல்வெட்டாக உயர்ந்து நிற்கிறது. இவரது அரிய புகைப்படங்கள் பலவும் வெளிநாட்டில் உள்ளது. அவரது ஸ்டுடியோவில் மீதம் இருந்த, பெரும்பாலும் நிராகரிக்கப்பட்ட, அல்லது வேண்டாம் என்று தானே ஆர்டர் கொடுத்தவரிடம் கொடுக்காது மாற்றி வைத்த பிளேட்டுகள் பலவற்றையும், சமீபத்தில் IGNCA வாங்கி, பாதுகாத்து வருகிறது. அன்னாரது முப்பது ஆண்டு புகைப்படபயணம் இன்றும் இந்தியாவின் சிறந்த ஆவணமாக இப்பொழுதும் நிலைத்து நிற்கிறது.


இந்த பதிப்பிலுள்ள புகைப்படங்கள் மற்றும் படைப்புகளின் பதிப்புரிமை படைப்பாசிரியரின் உரிமை ஆகும். மீண்டும் பிரசரிப்பதற்கோ வேறு பதிப்புகளில் உபயோகப்படுத்துவதற்கோ இ.டி.பி. நிறுவனத்தின் (Project 365 பொதுக்களஞ்சியம்) முன் அனுமதி அவசியம். மேலும் தகவல் அறிய  {0}94879 56405 / admin@etpindia.org

മരണത്തിന്റെ ഛായാഗ്രഹണം

എം.നന്ദകുമാർ പാലക്കാട് ജില്ലയിൽ ജനനം. പാലക്കാട് എൻ.എസ്.എസ് എഞ്ചിനിയറിംഗ് കോളേജിൽ നിന്ന് ബി.ടെക്ക് ബിരുദം. Wipro net technologies, Cats-Net ISP (ടാൻസാനിയ) മുതലായ ഐ.ടി സ്ഥാപനങ്ങളിൽ ജോലി ചെയ്തു. ഇപ്പോൾ  Technichal Documentation Consultant ആയി ജോലി ചെയ്യുന്നു. വായില്ല്യാകുന്നിലപ്പൻ, നിലവിളിക്കുന്നിലേക്കുളള കയറ്റം (ഡി.സി ബുക്ക്‌സ്), പ്രണയം 1024 കുറുക്കുവഴികൾ (കറന്റ് ബുക്‌സ്)എന്നീ കൃതികൾ പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്. ‘വാർത്താളി സൈബർ സ്‌പേസിൽ ഒരു പ്രണയ നാടകം’ എന്ന നീണ്ടകഥയെ ആധാരമാക്കി വിപിൻ വിജയ് സംവിധാനം ചെയ്ത ‘ചിത്രസൂത്രം’ എന്ന സിനിമ ദേശീയ അന്തർദ്ദേശീയ ചലച്ചിത്രമേളകളിൽ പുരസ്‌ക്കാരങ്ങൾ നേടി.

Roland Barthes / Image source internet / Author unknown
Roland Barthes / Image source internet / Author unknown

തത്വചിന്ത, ഭാഷാശാസ്ത്രം, ചിഹ്നശാസ്ത്രപഠനം എന്നിങ്ങനെ വിവിധ മേഖലകളിൽ മൗലികപ്രതിഭ കൊണ്ട് സർഗ്ഗാത്മകതയുടെ പുതുസരണികൾ തുറന്ന റൊളാന്റ് ബാർഥിന്റെ അവസാനകൃതി ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിയെക്കുറിച്ചായിരുന്നു Camera Lucida: A Note on Photography.

Camera Lucida Book Cover

ഛായാഗ്രഹണത്തിന്റെ സാങ്കേതികവശങ്ങൾ, ചരിത്രം, സാമൂഹികശാസ്ത്രം, സൈദ്ധാന്തിക നിരീക്ഷണങ്ങൾ എന്നതൊന്നുമല്ല ഈ ചെറുഗ്രന്ഥത്തിന്റെ ഉള്ളടക്കം. സൂചകങ്ങളെ വേർതിരിച്ച്, കാഴ്ചയുടെ അനന്തപാഠങ്ങൾ നിർമ്മിക്കാനോ ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിക്ക് ഒരു വ്യാകരണം ചമയ്ക്കാനോ ബാർഥ് മുതിരുന്നില്ല. വൈയക്തികവും പലപ്പോഴും വികാരതരളിതവുമായി 48 ഖണ്ഡങ്ങളിലൂടെ ഉരുത്തിരിയുന്ന ആഖ്യാനം ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിനെ മരണവുമായി ബന്ധിപ്പിക്കുന്നു.

മുൻകൃതികളുടെ മുഖമുദ്രയായിരുന്ന വിമർശനാത്മക വിശകലനരീതിയിൽ നിന്ന് ബാർഥ് വിട്ടുമാറുന്നു. ഇതിന് പല കാരണങ്ങളും പറയാം. അമ്മയുടെ മരണം ഏല്പിച്ച ദു:ഖാഘാതം, ദൈനംദിനജീവിതത്തെ ഞെരിക്കുന്ന മടുപ്പുകൾ, ചിഹ്‌നശാസ്ത്രം, മനോ:വിശകലനം തുടങ്ങിയ ചിന്താപദ്ധതികളിൽ വളരുന്ന അവിശ്വാസം… അതെല്ലാം ബാർഥിനെ അലട്ടിയിരുന്നു. വിമർശനാത്മക സമീപനങ്ങളിൽ അനിവാര്യമായും വന്നു ചേരുന്ന ജീവിതത്തിന്റെ പരിമിതപ്പെടുത്തൽ, അവസാനകാലത്ത് അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ ഉത്കണ്ഠയായി. സ്വന്തം അനുഭൂതികൾ നല്കുന്ന ഉൾക്കാഴ്ചകളെ മാത്രം എഴുത്തിന്റെ പ്രാഥമിക ഉറവിടമായി ആശ്രയിച്ചാണ് ബാർഥ് Camera Lucida രചിച്ചത്.

Henriette Barthes holding her son Roland Barthes / Image source internet
Henriette Barthes holding her son Roland Barthes / Image source internet

‘വ്യാഖ്യാനത്തിന് വഴങ്ങാത്തത്’ എന്ന രീതിയിലാണ് ബാർഥ് ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിനെ സമീപിക്കുന്നത്. കാരണം, പ്രതിനിധാനം ചെയ്യുന്ന വിഷയത്തിൽ നിന്ന് വ്യതിരിക്തമായി, മറ്റെന്തെങ്കിലും അർത്ഥമോ ചിഹ്‌നമോ അതിൽ കണ്ടെത്താനാകുന്നില്ല. ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫുകളെ വർഗ്ഗീകരിക്കാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുമ്പോൾ രണ്ട് ഭാഷകളുടെ സംഘർഷം ഉടലെടുക്കുന്നു. നോക്കുന്നയാൾക്ക് ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിൽ താത്പര്യം ജനിപ്പിക്കുന്ന ഉളളടക്കത്തെ ബാർഥ് Studium എന്ന് വിളിക്കുന്നു. അതിന്റെ വിഷയം, സാംസ്‌കാരിക സന്ദർഭം, ചരിത്രത്തിന്റെ, കലയുടെ പോലും അംശങ്ങൾ ഇതെല്ലാം ഈ സംജ്ഞയിൽ ഉൾപ്പെടുത്താം. മറ്റ് മനുഷ്യർ, വസ്ത്രങ്ങൾ, പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ, വിനോദങ്ങൾ എന്നിവയിൽ ഒരാൾക്ക് തോന്നുന്ന ഒഴുക്കനും അവ്യക്തവുമായ താത്പര്യം പോലെ തന്നെയാണ് Studium നിലനില്ക്കുന്നത്.

എന്നാൽ, അലംഭാവം കലർന്ന ഈ നോട്ടത്തിനെ ഭേദിക്കുന്ന ഒരു വിശദാംശം ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിൽ ഉണ്ടാകും. അതാണ് ജൗിരൗോ. വ്യക്തിപരവും തീക്ഷ്ണവുമായ പ്രതികരണത്തിന് പ്രേരിപ്പിക്കുന്ന ആകസ്മികത. പോറൽ ഏൽപ്പിക്കുന്ന, രൂക്ഷമായ ഒരു വിശദാംശമാണ് Punctum. ആത്യന്തികമായി അത് മരണത്തിന്റെ അറിയിപ്പാകുന്നു.

അമ്മയുടെ വേർപാടിന് ശേഷം, പഴയ ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫുകളിൽ ബാർഥ് അവരെ തിരയുന്നു. അമ്മയെ പോലെ എന്ന് തോന്നിക്കുന്നുണ്ടെങ്കിലും, അവയിലെ മുഖങ്ങൾക്കൊന്നിനുംഗ്രന്ഥകാരന് അറിയുന്ന അമ്മയുടെ മുഖവുമായി തികഞ്ഞ പൊരുത്തമില്ല. ഒടുവിൽ ബാർഥ് ഒരു ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിൽ എത്തിപ്പെട്ടു.അമ്മ അഞ്ച് വയസ്സുളള പെൺകുട്ടിയായിരുന്നപ്പോൾ എടുത്ത ചിത്രം. അനന്യമായ ഒരു നിലനിൽപ്പിന്റെ മിന്നലാട്ടമായി ബാർഥ് അമ്മയെ വീണ്ടും കണ്ടെത്തുന്നു.(പുസ്തകത്തിൽ ആ ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫ് ചേർത്തിട്ടില്ല. കാരണം; ‘അത് എനിക്ക് വേണ്ടി മാത്രം നിലനില്ക്കുന്നു. നിങ്ങൾക്കത് തീരെ താത്പര്യമുണർത്താത്ത വെറും ചിത്രമാണ്.’) ആ ഛായാപടത്തിലൂടെ, അമ്മയുടെ മരണത്തിന്റെ വ്യാകുലതയിൽ നിന്ന് ഗ്രന്ഥകാരൻ സ്വന്തം മരണത്തിലേക്കാണ് എത്തിച്ചേരുന്നത്. അക്കാരണത്താൽ എല്ലാ ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫുകളും സ്മരണികകളാണ്. തന്റെ തന്നെ അന്ത്യത്തിന്റെ സൂചന പേറുന്നവ. അവയിലൂടെ ആഗ്രഹവും ദുഖവും കരുണയും വീണ്ടെടുക്കാനുളള ശ്രമം തുടരാം. അമ്മയുടെ അഭാവവുമായി പൊരുത്തപ്പെടാനുളള വിഷാദാത്മകമായ ആഖ്യാനത്തിലൂടെ നിലനിന്നിരുന്നു എന്നതിലാണ് ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിയുടെ സത്ത. വധശിക്ഷക്ക് വിധിക്കപ്പെട്ട കുറ്റവാളിയുടെ ചിത്രത്തിൽ നിന്ന് കാലത്തിൽ അടങ്ങിയ ഭയാനക വൈരുദ്ധ്യം ബാർഥിന്റെ കാഴ്ചയിലൂടെ വെളിപ്പെടുന്നു: അയാൾ മരിച്ചു അയാൾ മരിക്കാൻ പോവുകയാണ്.

Roland Barthes Autoscopia / Image source internet / Author unknown
Roland Barthes / Image source internet

ഓർമ്മകളെയും മരണഭയത്തെയും അരിച്ചെടുക്കാനുളള, ബാർഥ് തന്നെ സൂചിപ്പിക്കുന്ന പ്രൂസ്റ്റിയൻ പ്രയത്‌നത്തിന് എല്ലാ ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫുകളും വഴങ്ങണമെന്നില്ല. പോർട്രെയ്റ്റുകളിൽ മരണം പതിയിരിക്കുന്നുണ്ടാകാം. എന്നാൽ പ്രകൃതിദൃശ്യങ്ങളിലും മറ്റനേകം ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫുകളിലും ഈ വ്യഥക്ക് സാംഗത്യമെന്ത്?

ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫി കലയാണെന്ന വാദം, ദൃശ്യമാധ്യമ പഠനങ്ങളിൽ അതിന്റെ പ്രാമുഖ്യം അത്തരം കാര്യങ്ങളൊന്നും ബാർഥിന് താത്പര്യമുണർത്തുന്നില്ല. ഛായാഗ്രാഹകന്റെ കൗശലം, ആവിർഭാവത്തിന് ശേഷം പിന്നീട് ചേർക്കപ്പെട്ട നിറങ്ങൾ എന്നവയോട് വിരോധം പോലുമുണ്ട്. യാഥാർത്ഥ്യത്തിന്റെ പകർപ്പ് എന്നതിനേക്കാൾ കഴിഞ്ഞുപോയതിന്റെ ഒരു പ്രസരണമായി ബാർഥ് ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫിനെ വീക്ഷിക്കുന്നു. പെയിന്റിംഗിനേക്കാൾ കൂടുതലായി രസതന്ത്രജ്ഞന്റെ വിദ്യയോടാണ് അതിന് കൂടുതൽ അടുപ്പം. അതിനാൽ, കലയെന്നതിനേക്കാൾ ഛായാഗ്രഹണം ഒരു മായാജാലമാണ്. ഒരു ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫ് നന്നായി കാണണമെങ്കിൽ അതിൽ നിന്ന് കണ്ണുതെറ്റിക്കുകയോ കണ്ണുകൾ അടയ്ക്കുകേയാ ചെയ്യണമെന്ന വിചിത്രസൂക്തം ബാർഥ് നിർദ്ദേശിക്കുന്നു.

സ്‌നേഹത്തിന്റെയും വേദനയുടെയും ഈ പ്രേതകഥ അവസാനിക്കുമ്പോൾ അങ്ങേയറ്റം ഏകാകിയായി ബാർഥ് നിൽക്കുന്നു. അമ്മയുടെ ഓർമ്മയും പേറി. വരാനുളള സ്വന്തം മരണത്തിന്റെ അടയാളങ്ങളായ ഫോട്ടോഗ്രഫുകൾക്ക് നടുവിൽ. സൗന്ദര്യാനുഭൂതിക്കും അർത്ഥകല്പനകൾക്കും അപ്പുറത്ത്, നമ്മുടെ നോട്ടത്തെ പിടിച്ച് നിർത്തുന്ന തീക്ഷണമായ ഒരു ജൗിരൗോ. അതിനാലാകാം ഛായാഗ്രാഹകർ, സാംസ്‌കാരിക ചിന്തകർ എന്നിവരെക്കാൾ കൂടുതലായി എഴുത്തുകാരും മറ്റ് കലാകാരന്മാരും ഈ കൃതിയിൽ നിന്ന് ഊർജ്ജം വലിച്ചെടുക്കുന്നത്.

Camera Lucida എഴുതിത്തീർന്ന് ഏതാനും ദിവസങ്ങൾക്കകം ബാർഥ് ഒരു റോഡപകടത്തിൽ പെട്ടു. പാരീസിലെ തിരക്കേറിയ തെരുവ് മുറിച്ച് കടക്കാനുളള ശ്രമത്തിൽ, ഒരു അലക്ക്കമ്പനിയുടെ വാഹനം അദ്ദേഹത്തെ ഇടിച്ചു വീഴ്ത്തി. ആശുപത്രിയിൽ പ്രവേശിപ്പിച്ചെങ്കിലും ബാർഥ് ഒരു മാസത്തിനകം മരിച്ചു. അന്ത്യദിനങ്ങളിൽ, ജീവിക്കാനുളള ഇച്ഛ നഷ്ടപ്പെട്ട ഒരാളായിട്ടാണ്, ചുറ്റുമുളളവർക്ക് ബാർഥ് കാണപ്പെട്ടത്. അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ എഴുത്ത് മേശയിൽ സെ്റ്റൻഡാലിനെക്കുറിച്ച് തുടങ്ങിവെച്ച ഒരു പഠനം കിടപ്പുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. ആ ലേഖനത്തിന് ബാർഥ് നല്കിയ ശീർഷകം: ‘സ്‌നേഹിക്കുന്നവയെക്കുറിച്ച് പറയുന്നതിൽ ഓരാൾ എല്ലായ്‌പോഴും പരാജയപ്പെടുന്നു.’


ഈ പെയ്ജിൽ പ്രകാശിപിക്കപെടുന്ന ചിത്രങ്ങളും, ലേഖനവും അവയവയുടെ രചയിതാവിന്റെ മുൻ‌കൂർ അനുവാദം കൂടാതെ പരസ്യമായി മറ്റാരാലും പ്രകാശിപിക്കാവുന്നതല്ല. ഇവയെല്ലാം. കൂടുതല്‍ വിവരങ്ങള്ക്ക് admin@etpindia.org / 94879 56405

Close encounters: 365days myopic view

{ Essay on photography by Arjun Ramachandran, a media student with interests in cinema and photography. 365 days myopic is a smart phone photographic series done by photographer Abul Kalam Azad, as a contribution to Project 365 public photo archive Tiruvannamalai. In this unique, expansive body of work Abul records the everyday life in the ancient town, Tiruvannamalai. Abul is the Director of Project 365, and co-founder of Ekalokam Trust for Photography.}

Since the advent of digital technology and its fast growth, we have been carelessly misplacing or erasing much of the images we produce, “safely” storing them in the long forgotten floppy discs, CD drives, USB drives, old mobile phones, cameras etc. Photography, which is essentially a print, has been stripped of its traditional alchemical quality and longevity, and has almost completely become mere virtual intangible images. While this digitization has undoubtedly democratised the medium and stretched the horizons of thought of its practitioners, the danger is, in an instant, the innumerable casual-yet-valuable images that are being made can be lost forever to our future generations.

Digital recording is, largely, mere magnetisation of a material or optical marks made on a surface. The unwanted and untrue connotation that the word “digital” has acquired is that it is only presentable on a screen; “digital” only really means quantised, non-continuous data. On the basis of this misunderstanding, we have been storing digital images for the purpose of virtual viewing alone and by nature, digital recording is much more vulnerable to damage compared to analogue (read continuous) recording. A stray magnetic field is enough to wipe out a hard disk.

Even though several thousand photographs are being taken every day, by nearly everyone, only a very few provide thoughtful and focused efforts to preserve these photographs like yesteryear epigraphical documentation or other iconographic motifs for the benefit of future generations. This is as much an effect of seeming unnecessity and non-viability as it is of gross negligence. Documents are only valuable for those who see a use for it many years down the line, and not for those who do not intend to pay a second thought to the matter. Smart phone photographs, therefore, seem trivial and replicable for the majority of the authors and as such, irrelevant. These photographs may not be printable in larger formats, may not be commercially viable, but in an archive, they serve well the intended purpose – a visual document of ordinary people and their everyday life in an ancient town.

Abul Kalam Azad has been making smart phone photographs as connecting anecdotes for project 365. He has created several hundred lo-fi images depicting the life and culture of this ancient town, recording routine or chance meetings, casual events or details of his own daily life. Project 365 public photo archives will be locally preserving these images for public access and research. Setting aside his expertise in analogue & experimental photographic works and after traversing through digital, painted, manipulated images, Abul has consciously shifted to smart phone image making in a bid to utilise its nuances.

Smart phone images readily seem to bring in an element of autobiography. The daily events are most often captured through them, almost always in a moment of subconscious composition and judgement. There is a lack of formality or any veil of pretention that a bulky professional camera might induce even though the pretentions and mannerisms of the “real world” remain intact, as the smart phone remains nearly invisible between the subject and the artist. Even in staged portraits captured on smart phones, the posture of the subject becomes much freer. The smart phone becomes something of a non-intervening observer, not affecting the system at all.

The myopic eye of smart phone demands that the photographer has to be within a certain “intimate” distance to take a photograph. There has to be a certain connection between the one who is being photographed and the photographer himself – using a smart phone to create portraits of people means that the photographer is not a mere witness; the one who is photographed often looks straight into the camera and thus, at the photographer. A reflection of the effect of eye contact between the photographer and the subject is captured in the portrait.

This presence of intimacy is what a spectator relates to in these images. As personal spaces become increasingly reserved and physical contact becomes restricted in a wave of conservative urban-elite influence, this welcome intrusion of a nonprofessional-appearing, smart-phone-wielding photographer into touching distances of the subject is a reminder of the extent of simplicity and freedom in human relationships.

Disclaimer: Photographs and text published in this post is copyrighted property of the author. Prior permission is required from the author for republishing and reprinting. For more information, contact Ekalokam Trust for Photography at admin@etpindia.org

Apropos of Nothing: Musings on ‘Art’ etc.

{ R. Nandakumar is an art historian and culture critic. He has taught art history and aesthetics in various Fine Arts colleges and has been Professor and Head of the Department of Visual Arts in Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. Formerly a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, he has currently been a Senior Nehru Fellow at Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi.

As an art historian though visual arts is his home discipline, cultural musicology is another major area of his research interest. His works in both have appeared in important academic journals and they address areas of intercultural concern from the perspective of the sociology of culture. }




Let me quote at some length an observation I made fifteen years ago in general terms about a particular aspect of the Kerala art scene of the early 1990s:

Now the artist-aspirant even from a place like Kerala is privileged enough to represent more the social aspirations of his own class in its growing upward mobility. No longer a world-weary outsider or outcast from his own class struggling against social stigma and with the qualms of declassing, he readily falls in with the values that are predicated on the brute efficiency of upward mobility of his class. With increased cultural contacts (enough to make him ‘international’), an expanding nexus of promotional agencies, art organisations and the art market, greater inflow of money into the gallery system, easier outlets for travels and exhibitions abroad and so on, the artist-aspirant finds the process fairly smooth and highly rewarding. All these have gone into the making of different notions of professionalism which are transformed by the machinations of culture bureaucracy and the mechanics of operation of the media bandwagon into trendy aesthetic testimony. Aspects of socialisation, recruitment and enculturation of the career in art, in sociological terms, now depend largely on how well the artist-aspirant can adapt himself to the cosmetic sensationalism that thrives in an environment of rarefied high culture, of what the media bandwagon would have it as the ‘intellectual’ order of the day. While being part of the larger environment of consciousness industry and thought machines, his sub-cultural affiliations with marginal forms of dissent should secure his déclassé non-identity a high-visibility stardom (may be for fifteen minutes, a la Andy Warhol) in terms of the media, the world of fashions, the professions and the information systems, all of which together having made a dogma of the jargon of dissent. At the same time, what is expected of him is a kind of streamlined efficiency in the manipulation of the operational presets offered by the art establishment and the culture bureaucracy and a slick resourcefulness that can make the most of anything sub-cultural and marginal to add to his artistic persona. In such a situation the kind of spiritual dimension we used to attach to the subjective preoccupation with the meaning of experience, held together by an overall system of values, yet riddled with inner conflicts and contradictions, which is eventually what all art is about (or so we thought), becomes a casualty.

It is nothing short of a sea change that has come about during the intervening period and for obvious reasons. Put simply and bluntly, it is the new world order of neoliberal dispensation with its cultural baggage of globality. The last heroic gestures of the avant-garde in the modernist trail had a whimpering end by then. The new economic policies of outreach and outsource cutting across the centre/periphery relations, combined with the phenomenal upswing in the art market and the all-pervasive influence of the electronic and digital media on art production and distribution, have all gone to redefine practically all aspects of the production and reception of art. High-visibility mega art events like the international biennials which have been well in place for quite long, suddenly start acquiring a new format and different dimensions; they also proliferated, probably in tandem with the policy advocacy of the new cultural economy and the hegemonic political agency and its neoliberal cultural agenda. A new biennial model with its global-tourism mandate, specific institutional tie-ups for sponsorship, urban regeneration schemes and wealth-creation had become the norm and through edition after edition its cultural currency swept across geopolitical differences.

The growing international networking of national markets and societies, the liberalization and the politics of deregulation, the technological advances in transport and communication created the prerequisites for a global export of the “biennial” model and an increasing exchange of art. With biennials rapidly spawning in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia, more and more biennial models are emerging but only very few are modelled on the original Italian one. Instead of diplomatic invitations, curators and teams of curators select the artists.

– Sabine B. Vogel, 2010

It is hardly acknowledged that its cultural currency as a model is what validates its being virtually transplanted from a generalized ‘global’ context to the ‘local’ and that its trans-national dimension is wedded to the cultural policy that informs the neoliberal order of the day. In fact the whole thing can be seen to have its origin in certain policy decisions taken by the Thatcherite England of the late 1980s as a EU country, that has gone on to become a guiding principle for the economic management of any country anywhere under the banner of neoliberalism. If by hosting a biennial the benefactors and policy makers of a local government together with the art entrepreneurs think that the local art scene can be latched onto the global market, it can only be seen with guarded optimism. It is because biennials have now acquired a format which when superimposed on a local situation by virtue of its putative ‘global’ authority, what is at stake are the meaning and experience of local history and its nuances. The disturbing question remains as to how far it can help break the cultural isolation of a region or locality.

That said it should be acknowledged that the art projected in the biennials is informed by a particular historical rupture with the art of modernity which, in spite of its radical breaks, “manifests the hegemony of a geopolitical region and thus establishes political boundaries in culture as well. Global art, by contrast negates, ignores and destabilizes boundaries drawn by the state …” (Vogel, ibid) There is in principle a focus on the local life, history and culture, going by the paradigm of the local/global, which is expressed through on-site works that are commissioned around themes bearing on those aspects. However, the question remains as to how far these visiting artists can either identify the broad themes or understand the intrinsic ebb and flow of the life-world of the host country/society.

The city-to-city cultural exchange paradigm in contemporary art is a familiar phenomenon. It is a particular staple within the international biennial exhibition system by which urban landscapes are transformed for better or worse through site-specific artworks seeking to activate transnational connections of over-determined yet changing city cultures across the globe.

– Alice Ming Wai Jim, 2014

This invariably reminds us of a similar and closely allied phenomenon that is gaining ground apace, again as a fallout of the neoliberal political economy with the professed ideal of urban reorganization or regeneration. I mean here what has come to be known as creative industries, creative class, creative economy and finally the creative city. The following observation is prompted by a news carried in The Hindu a few days ago titled “ ‘Creative capital’ to come up in city” which mentions about how Thiruvananthapuram is going to be taken up by a Bangalore-based art institute and developed into a centre for new media and digital art.

While the concept of “creative cities” first emerged in the 1980s, it gained real momentum and popularity in the 2000s in part due to Richard Florida’s writings, and has since become a global movement. Creative cities are understood as urban areas where creativity, knowledge and innovation flourish; aided by the presence of a critical mass of diverse peoples who, through sharing and interaction, spark creativity.

– Hospers and Pen, 2008

Over the past two decades, the concept of “creative industries” has gained ground and dominated academic and policy discourse in many areas related to what earlier were denoted by “cultural industries” which in turn has superseded the classic concept of twentieth century critical theory associated with the Frankfurt School, “culture industry”. Propounded by Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer in 1944, it was a concept with a terminological precision oriented in a field of academic research before it lent itself to be a term of discourse of popular culture. In 1997 the United Kingdom’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) coined the term “creative industries” as a classifier for one of its main policy sectors, replacing the previously used notion of “cultural industries” which was the prevalent stand-in for the original Adorno concept. That heralded the age of the creative industries which clearly took a commercial orientation by prioritizing creativity and creative industries that can generate intellectual property for economic profit, thereby defining it to include the new segment of entertainment and leisure business. The close affinity and unstated affiliation of the academia with the administrative machinery and cultural bureaucracy is best seen here when the policy shift from “cultural industries” to “creative industries” was soon followed up by a corresponding discursive shift in academic writings: from “cultural economy” to “creative economy”, from “cultural clusters” to “creative clusters”, from “cultural worker” to “creative worker” and from “cultural economy” to “creative economy”. And so was it that the glorious era of creative cities was bequeathed to us by the British government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sports in terms of the new-fangled idea that rendered redundant the criticality of a historic concept.

The 1990s and 2000s witnessed heightened interest in the creative industries as an urban regeneration strategy, with creativity more purposefully integrated into economic and social policies, and the intensified commodification of artistic and creative activity. The creative industries were strongly promoted for their benefits to the economy, as supported by growing revenue and employment figures in the case of the UK. Given their apparent success, UK policy makers were able to promote the idea of the creative industries to other nations. Across Asia Pacific, the creative industries began to feature in national and city policy agendas, as evident in places such as Singapore, China, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and the Philippines.

– Lily Kong, 2014

In fact, there are very pertinent apprehensions being raised about the “creativity” strategies. The critics of these strategies point out that they contribute to the widening of the income gap and the emergence of a low-wage service underclass and contribute to dispossession through gentrification. It’ll do us good if only we heeded some of these discordant notes as well before Thiruvananthapuram goes global along the “creative” way.

Now that we’ve made an incidental mention above to academia, this much should be said, to wit. The word ‘research’ in its academic parlance and practice never made sense to the Malayali intellectual and generally it was with a bemused condescension that the word was used to refer to the respective activity. (I remember having been asked by the AIR Thiruvananthapuram to give a talk in their weekly evening slot for English talk in the eighties. Not only did they decide the subject but then went as far as to fix a snappy title for it: “The Disposable Research Paper” which I didn’t accept.) But now the word ‘research’ is used in a range of contexts which has absolutely nothing to do with the practice that was once known by the term. For one, the discourse-generating compulsions, primarily of humanities disciplines, to keep abreast and diversify the academic streams have pushed those ‘boutique disciplines’ to the limit and a particular kind of academic brinkmanship that knows how to make one’s PhD pay, has taken the floor. This is of course, at the cost of credibility of research, to be worth its name. However, there is another more important side to the matter of research as it is in practice now. The various fund-seeking outfits and fund-granting bodies function on a tacit mutual understanding where ‘research’ is a vogue word that arrogates to itself an academic authority of sorts by faking its authentic counterpart. Most of these as it invariably happens, are cross-cultural concoctions without conceptual framework or theoretical perspective, in spite of a smattering of ethnographic or other data thrown in for good measure and pass for research. Added to this is the outsourcing of user-generated data through content farming available online in downloadable formats. In fact, many of these sponsored/funded research projects and their mission statements end up being absorbed into some academic circles that share an interface with the governmental machinery and cultural bureaucracy. And their inputs inevitably feed into academic discourse.

[Similarly] the academy has used critical theory, in particular French post-structuralism, gender theory and queer theory, as a way of welcoming new students and diversifying humanities departments. While an important political advance, such theory has become its own industry, merely trading an old canon for a new one, and retaining the same hierarchies and worshipful groupthink. There is little subversion to putting Judith Butler or Slavoj Zizek on a T-shirt, or to liking them on Facebook. [… ] In North America, critical theory imported from Europe, mainly from France, became trendy in the 1980s and effectively colonized universities in the 1990s, allowing graduates of various humanities departments to specialize, and thus to brand themselves and gain professional toeholds in highly specific, unprecedented ways. Current academic specialists in such subjects as ‘ecocriticism’ and ‘homosociality’ were certainly unheard of before this period. […] New, genial- and sexy-sounding departments and programs emerged, such as urban studies, cultural studies and gender studies. Detractors called them ‘boutique programs’.

– David Balzer, 2014

Coming to the interface between ‘research’ and ‘creative worker’, see this online subscription campaign by a very high-profile funding agency:

5 Reasons to Support India Foundation for the Arts (IFA)
Reason # 3: Live with Passion

Samrat Som, the Creative Director of a leading apparel brand,
has always been passionate about art and design.

In this video, made by filmmaker Sumantra Ghosal, he talks about the need for the corporate world to look beyond immediate return-on-investment when creating marketing strategies and how IFA, through the arts and culture, helps him add value to long term brand building.

That’s why Samrat is a Friend of IFA.

Join him and others like him as they recognise
the necessity of the arts in the corporate world.

IFA, 2013

Now, where on earth is art in this scheme of things?

Where, then, should we expect to find the artist in our society? Where he was before, where the myths are made, and there, in fact, he is, in the advertising agencies, in the dream factories of the consumer society.

– Toni Del Renzio, 1980

The high-spirited 2013 mission statement quoted above reads well with the sombre introspection of the pre-liberalisation era, almost one to one.

So, there we are. Let me conclude with what I have always felt about this dream factory that on the face of it may look at one remove from our immediate context but which from what we have seen is entirely paradigmatic of the whole situation. I mean here the commercial ads and spots and their audio as well as video aspects. We have learned to give allowance to the various tall claims and habituated ourselves to the level of untruth and falseness that they routinely take recourse to as a matter of right. We take it easy that the spectator/listener is being taken for a ride or at any rate, taken too much for granted. Nobody is concerned about the fact that it makes a mockery of normal human credibility. As we willingly suspend our disbelief about most of the canards so professedly aired, couched in the unabashedly outlandish melodrama staged in flagrant settings, we take it for granted as the gilded cameos of a wishful irreality that are embroidered onto the texture of desire, on the ground that it is all in the game, being the “art of persuasion”.

I don’t mean to take exception to the quantum of untruth being dished out in any kind of moralistic outrage. What I mean is that all the high-flown melodramatic flourish and flamboyance and the carnivalesque display of consumable affluence is in one sense a celebration of flippancy and of ostentatious possession and in the process, a glossing over of the evident ground reality as something incidental, something to be wished away. It does so by levelling out the difference between the spectator/consumer and the fictional nonentity of the presenter/model by rendering alterity as the masquerading of a faked self. If this frolicsome celebration of flippancy is seen as a matter of style in the “art of persuasion”, so does it inform its content as expressing a particular view of the world which is perfectly in tandem with the global neoliberal dispensation. What is called lifestyle porn. The visual aspect of these ads is matched by a corresponding aural dimension. Here, I would say pace Amanda Weidman (who has written about the neoliberal quality of voice production in a popular south Indian female playback singer), that the tone, tenor and timbre of a plumy voice (mostly female) apart from the pitch which is particularly (and unnecessarily) high combined with an affected intonation and frivolous lilt, is expressive of an attitude well in keeping with the spirit of neoliberalism. We know that its idyllic euphoria and boisterous gleefulness are matched by a vocal quality that has a conspicuous false ring and that its upbeat and jaunty gusto can barely conceal an affected and smug self-exultation. All this expresses a message that is explicitly at one remove from anything that we know of in reality. The language is explicitly out of sorts with the diction laced with a smattering of English which a couple of decades earlier would have been considered as a vainglorious self-indulgence of the postcolonial mindset that flaunts it as a cultural marker, but which now has become perfectly natural as is only in tandem with the global dispensation. This is the case as much with the language as with the manner of utterance which feigns a hesitant and condescending familiarity with the regional language. It is neither natural nor synthetic but is virtual in the sense that it obviates the need for an original, to extend the suggestion of Nicholas Mirzoeff.   The voice is digitally processed to create the synthetic vocal texture that obviates the need for something as source that can be authenticated as original, so to say. Thus, for example, when in a certain ad Amitabh Bacchan speaks in Malayalam, it is obviously mimicked and dubbed by some so-called mimicry artists who Kerala has aplenty. Even as we know that his famed husky and plumy voice is being faked, of course convincingly and impressively, the apparent improbability is sort of waived or discounted. All questions of improbability are leavened by the rationale of a world where the equation between the subsidised dreams on offer and the diminishing returns of reality is the primary term of communication of a far greater improbability. The production of these pompous canards forms a capital-intensive labour sector that is typically of the so-called “creative economy” discussed above, in the neoliberal narratives that thrives on deskilled labour aided by a streamlined efficiency in handling the presets of the digital media and yet is crucial to the revenue-generating functions of the electronic new media at the service of corporate capital.

There are a few things that make this case paradigmatic of the neoliberal global situation. First is how its political economy related to a local/regional marketing situation is latched on to the global economy of corporate capital and free market, using a kind of ‘international’ language in its product promotion and sales strategy, driving at the purchasing power of a local community in a different economic situation. Second, the sham level of ‘creativity’ that informs it is obviously because of the way the ‘theme’ has been ‘conceptualised’, ‘researched’ and ‘executed’ by its ‘Creative Director’ (who belongs to the “creative class” of service delivery systems under the new taxonomy of the “creative industries” in lieu of the earlier cultural industry) who has been pre-eminently de-skilled (the kind of de-skilling that WJT Mitchell has noted as having already happened in the case of workers under industrial capitalism) in all areas of traditional visual articulation but has enough skill in software manipulation that is attested by a profile portfolio.

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