ART After exploring various mediums successfully,Atul Dodiya presents his first ever work in photography.

It is rare to catch an artist at a significant juncture in his progress; in the throes of change. The metamorphosis is a thrilling state for those following his art. There’s palpable curiosity and impending critique.

Nouveau venture

Atul Dodiya, one of India’s leading contemporary artists, who is to exhibit his work at the upcoming Kochi Muziris Biennale, is showcasing for the very first time his work in a medium that he has never ventured into. He is presenting a photo installation called Celebration in the Laboratory, his maiden work in this medium in a career spanning four decades of art expression that has revelled in varied styles, subjects and mediums.

Atul cast a spell with his initial true-to-life, realistic works where realism reached a point of tangibility. After making a mark he moved on to incorporate boldly and sensitively the changes around, impacting deeply and differently with each show. Here he takes a totally new position as that of a photographer.

If wonder and surprise are a reaction to his choice and shift in stance, then, he explains,

“The space here is ideal for contemporary art. I had not even imagined that such spaces were available. When I saw the laboratory at Aspinwall, (a waterfront property in Fort Kochi) I wanted to retain it just as it is. The space has a certain mood. It is a laboratory where one experiments and discoveries are made, much like that in an art studio. We discover all the time in an art studio. This space lends itself to doing something different.”

With Celebration in the Laboratory Atul commemorates the excitement of being an artist at a time when India is holding its first biennale. He says that the moment demands a tribute to the fraternity and his work does so.

Initial foray

His foray into the medium was in 1986 when he first bought a Nikon F2AS, SLR camera. It was to shoot pictures that would be replicated to the last minute detail in oil on canvas. “My realism lies in the photograph,” he says finding immense joy in the act of taking pictures. It became an obsession with him clicking away unmindfully any and every subject that teased his mind. The digital revolution just made things easier for him. Picture after picture on each travel or on a regular day at home or at work resulted in umpteen images. His interest in museums, zoos, gardens, parks all became subjects of his unfettered lens. The cache grew elaborate and enormous, till the space presented him with a reason to work with the 7,000 images collected over the past 10 years.

“I have selected only 231 photographs and that took me two weeks to categorise,” he says about the process.

The photo installation takes one through the best and the beautiful of the art world. There are portraits of Indian artists from the 20th century. It is a tribute not only to the artists but to all connected with the world of art. So there are gallerists, collectors, curators, art museums guards, critics that form the subject of Atul’s fascination with the lens and the subject. “Ninety per cent of my work is about people but there are other images too, related and some totally unconnected. I wanted to have an open approach.”

The celebration thus features the masters of Shantiniketan, Rabindranath Tagore and Abanindranath, M.F. Hussain and the Progressives - Raza, Ram Kumar and Tyeb Mehta, Bhupen Khakhar, an inspiration for Atul, Arpita Singh, Ghulam Sheik Mohammed, Jogen Choudhary to name a few. His contemporaries and the current generation of artists feature in moods caught unawares. There are interesting photos of the Great Masters from different museums across the world.

But it is not only portraits that the artist limits himself to. Between the images appears inspiring text- a poem by K. Sachitanandan, “a very crucial image”, sent to him by a friend, writings by Yoko Ono all adding to the richness built by the layers of different images.

“I wanted to challenge the whole notion about photography. What is important is the context,” he states.

And the context here has also been inspired by the sea “just outside the window- the breeze, ships passing by, the cargo from around the world….I wanted to grab the whole of life itself,” says Atul.

It was as an 11-year-old that he had decided to pursue art displaying a rather unusual clarity of mind for a child of that age. Now using one of the most important mediums in art for the very first time, he can be part of the bigger picture.

The camera, he says, made him see the sharper side of reality.