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Updated: February 14, 2011 17:53 IST

Art, frame by frame

VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED
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FACE AS CANVAS: A dialogue between photographer and subject
FACE AS CANVAS: A dialogue between photographer and subject

Many of the photographs from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, demand a contemplative engagement as they are part of the hallowed space of a ‘modern' art gallery

An exhibition of photographs is being held at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Drawn from the contemporary photography collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the displayed images are aspiring for an artistic permanence that is usually not associated with contemporary photographs. The ephemeral nature of the ‘contemporary' is being challenged in this collection

Take for example, the simple image of several rows of greeting cards in what appears to be a stationery store in Kent (‘Broadstairs' by Toby Glanville, 1999). There is nothing about the image that stands out but ‘Broadstairs', in its blown up avatar, in the hallowed space of a ‘modern' art gallery, demands a contemplative engagement that guarantees its permanence. Around 35 works, some of them diptychs, have been displayed at the exhibit.

The photographers whose works have been displayed are artists who are using the medium of photography to communicate many of their artistic ideas. Institutes like the Victoria and Albert Museum, by the process of selecting and archiving, give validity to some photographs to be categorised as ‘art'. Another image called ‘Portrait of Something I'll Never Really See' (Gavin Turk, 1997) which lends its name to the title of the exhibition is the self-portrait of the photographer with his eyes shut. The balding Turk, by presenting an enlarged close up of his face on a white canvas, challenges conventional notions of portraiture. The title of the exhibit plays with the idea that a photographic moment, once captured, can never be seen again. The manner in which the photographs are displayed is also significant as right across Turk's image is another portrait (‘Plum' by Huang Yan, 2004). Here, the face of the model itself becomes the canvas for depiction of a theme from Chinese culture (in this case, a plum tree). The model stares at us directly, her eyes presenting a reminder that the canvas is not apathetic to the photographer. Other photographs like ‘Sunburned' (Chris MCCaw, 2007) is just a gash on sensitised paper used as a negative while Naglaa Walker's series on classrooms gives us different perspectives.

Two photographs have vague Indian connections. One is a hillside view of Kodaikanal (‘Kodai Kanal' by Gerhard Stromberg, 1992) and the second is a photograph of birds feeding in her garden by a British artist of Indian origin, Neeta Madahar (‘Sustenance 114', 2003). Other interesting photographs are by Nan Goldin (‘Jimmy Paulette on David's Bike', 1991) and by Olga Chernysheva (2000).

In the curatorial note for the exhibition, Martin Barnes, the senior curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum writes: “From the beginning of the 1990s, until the present, photography has taken centre stage in the world of contemporary art as never before.” A similar point was also made by H. A. Anil Kumar, an art historian at Chitrakala Parishat, who conducted a docent walk about the exhibit. “It is only in the past few decades that photography has been taken seriously as an art,” he said.

The previous exhibit by the Victoria and Albert Museum at the NGMA had historic pictures and was titled ‘Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists' in 2010. Unlike this exhibit, which had depictions of the coloniser (Britain) constructing information about the colonised (India), the present exhibition ignores India almost completely, although in the curator's defence, it can be said that the exhibition is supposed to only be an aesthetic journey.

The exhibition is on till February 27. Art historian Annapurna Garimella will conduct a docent walk on 19 February at noon. Call 22342338.

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