Between 2006 and 2011, photographer Amit Mehra visited Kashmir 25 times and captured the many faces of a place that has always been a favourite subject with artists, be it poets, writers or painters. The idea of Kashmir usually invokes images and pre-conceived notions of what but Mehra’s work tries to steer clear of the stereotypes, presenting a picture that goes beyond the beauty and turmoil.
Currently an ongoing exhibition in Photoink Gallery, Mehra’s work has also been published by Penguin as a photo book. Titled Kashmir, the book includes 90 images from his collection and a foreword by poet and art critic Ranjit Hoskote.
Both the book and the exhibition include images only from the last two years of Mehra’s visits. He says that, initially, he shot pictures that everybody else had and could sense that there was something missing.
“I wanted to get beyond the beauty and turmoil of Kashmir,” he adds. On photographer Sanjeev Seth’s advice, Mehra returned to Kashmir in 2008; this time without a camera and chose to become a silent inconspicuous observer standing in corners and alleyways, watching the Kashmiris get on with their lives. After this visit, Mehra decided to start taking photographs without letting people know of his presence, in a ‘non-intrusive manner’.
Mehra agrees that Kashmir is a politically charged subject, but refuses to take sides. His concern, he says, is about the people. “They have become silent, cold and almost numb,” he says. Mehra calls his photographs ‘visual silent notes’, a fitting term that underlines the almost palpable silence that infuses his images.
Mehra captures the sometimes flourishing, occasionally stilled, life in the face of uncertainty and violence that has become synonymous with the Valley. Soldiers march in the spring tulip gardens of Srinagar; boys jump into the Nagin Lake to cool off; the afternoon sun entangles shadows on loops of razor-wire barricades, in the middle of a street; and the biting Baramulla winter cloaks a dismembered doll with snow.
Mehra was recently awarded “Best Photographer of the Year-Asia” by Sagamihara Museum, Japan, for his photo book India A Timeless Celebration.
Bottomline: Images of life in the face of uncertainty and violence.
Kashmir by Amir Mehra
Where: Photoink, Faiz Road, Jhandewalan, New Delhi
When: Till January 12, 2013
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs. 3499