Ace Australian photographer Michel Lawrence's latest exhibition titled ‘Indian Aussies' was displayed at Vivanta by Taj, Thycaud. The exhibition of life-sized photographs of Indians settled in Australia was organised in connection with the visit of the Australian High Commissioner Peter N. Varghese to Kerala. He was accompanied by David Holly, the Australian Consul-General for South India.
In an e-mail interview, acclaimed photographer Lawrence talks about the collection and his experience of interacting with the Indians settled in Australia. Excerpts…
When and how did the idea of such an exhibition of portraits take shape in your mind?
I produced a large exhibition called ‘All Of Us' in 2008 to demonstrate how Australia had changed from an Anglo-Irish-Scots-based country to a truly multi-cultural community with representatives from almost every country on earth now calling Australia home. The Australian High Commission in Delhi discovered this exhibition and subsequently brought it to India. While I was in India with ‘All of Us', I had a discussion with the High Commissioner who thought I should do a similar exhibition but just featuring Indians. So this is what I did. Australia has a very well established and relatively large Indian ommunity so it wasn't a difficult assignment.
During your interactions with people from the Indian community, what is the striking feature that stays in your mind?
I was struck by the vibrancy and intelligence of the community. Indians have been in Australia for a long time, so they have integrated into the society. But, importantly, they have managed to maintain their own identity and their own customs and culture more strongly than most. They have maintained a strong religious and cultural presence while ensuring their children and their grand-children are a dynamic and involved part of the Australian way of life.
How many portraits were would be included in the exhibition and who are the kind of people (among the Aussie Indians) you have included in the exhibition?
I produced about 85 portraits in total. But as they are all large scale prints – around 1.8 m high – the space at each location will determine how many can be exhibited at any given time.
I tried to cover as many different ethnic, religious and geographic territories as possible. I went to Hindu temples, Christian churches and mosques. I visited people in their homes and at their places of work. I also travelled to the small rural community of Woolgoolga on the northern NSW coast to visit a large Sikh community of farmers – largely banana growers. This community has been here for a long time and they also boast the largest Sikh temple in Australia. I was welcomed like a long lost son, fed and entertained and welcomed everywhere in Woolgoolga.
Are there people from Kerala in this exhibition? If so who are they and what are they doing in Australia? Reverend Bobby Philip and Johny Varkey [who figure in the collection] seem to be from Kerala?
Yes, of course. Kerala features strongly in the groups photographed as they are a strong and well-organised community. I think Bobby Phillip has moved to another posting now but the community is well-established and with many of the members running successful businesses they are able to be very self-sustaining. They also receive strong support from the local Anglican Church community.
Have you been to Kerala? If yes, what are your impressions about the Southern State and her people?
No. Unfortunately, I have not been to Kerala. But with its ancient history it's a part of India I would love to visit. I would like to visit South India as I have only been to the northern regions.
Having worked as creative head in the advertising industry for long, has that helped you in focussing on interesting subjects and themes for your exhibitions?
Having a creative background in advertising gives me the ability to see the big picture. So I am able to develop an idea from scratch and then as I am also able to execute the idea go out and produce that idea to my own brief. That can be a difficult task sometimes. But it's also very satisfying when it works. In this instance, I was also able to meet a lot of interesting people and get a glimpse of a different way of life.
Visiting India was an eye-opening experience. Of course it's sheer size can be mind blowing for someone from a country of 22 million. Mumbai and Delhi would each have Australia's total population in their respective city boundaries!
I love India for its colour and it's intensity. And as a fast growing power in this region it's also been valuable to see India as it now is, before it changes too much.