A photographer's pursuit to find ‘faces' in nature

The closer you go, the luckier you could get. That's how Pulak Haldar found a niche of his own on tree trunks. Endowed with a ‘micro' eye, the rank pictorialist in him sought on weather-beaten chipping barks, the kind of iconic images embedded deep in his psyche: the flowing Rabindranath beard and his meditative, glinty eyes; the half-shrouded, mysterious ovoidal female faces which Tagore loved to sketch and paint; the rugged, frost-bitten profiles of working class heroes you saw in old Soviet magazines; and the dusky scenes of rural folk and cattle (like ‘returning home') which litter Indian photographic salons even now, and so on.

The shallow depths of macro-photography and the micro range in which objects in focus can go out of it provided Pulak Halder with an absorbing play field to experiment and discover. Like all amateur nature photographers venturing into macro photography, he too was initially hooked to flowers and insects. Much later, on a family visit to Nagarjunasagar in 2008, his eye began to decipher moody faces and languorous figures on tree trunks. “When you turn the lens out of focus, it's essentially a 2D view. And when you scan the surface of the tree, depending on the light and the angle, and essentially your good luck, a recognisable face or setting lifts itself into your view,” says Pulak. However, finding something generic is not easy. “Sometimes days pass without a single face coming your way.”

It was a rather short exhibition of ‘Nature's Painting', Pulak's collection of some twenty and odd micro-discoveries held recently at ICCR Art Gallery, Kala Bhavan. They impacted every viewer who visited them with a haunting visual imprints for keepsake. Apart from the freckled figures of Tagore and ‘Nature's Tribute to Tagore' with their serrated marblesque texture, one of the most striking photographs was that of a scarlet hued ‘Lady Saint and Little Girl' sitting below a blazing flame at the entrance of a timeless rocky cave. Light and luck did the trick for Pulak Halder.

Hailing from Kolkata, Pulak did his PG from Jadavpur University before joining DRDO laboratory in Hyderabad. An active member of AP Photographic Society, Pulak is an avid traveller. The pictures in the present exhibition (his second so far here) were a result of three years of search in Hyderabad, Nagarjunasagar, Bangalore and Sikkim.

The originality of this approach has already been recognised by the Nature Art Museum in Santiniketan which have put some of these images in its permanent display. Pulak wants to continue his patient search looking for uncanny images and stirring abstract patterns to create more indelible impressions.