Rahaab Allana’s culinary skills may not have moved beyond the basics but with photography, he is exploring the unexplored
The emergence of people like Rahaab Allana is reflective of the vibrance the photography scene is witnessing of late. Does the picture say only what it is depicting or is there a narrative that runs contrary to the portrayal is what young photographers, writers and curators like him are engaged with in the field of contemporary photographic practice. Pix, a photography quarterly, Rahaab Allana’s brainchild, is a work in that direction. “Our main prerogative was to understand South Asian photography. Contemporary photography practice in each country and region is unique. We wanted to see how the language of communication changes when it goes beyond boundaries and borders,” says Rahaab, who is thrilled about Pix’s eighth edition, The Iran Issue: the interior, which will be out later this month.
At San Gimignano, The Imperial’s cosy Italian restaurant, Rahaab samples a couple of Italian dishes while dwelling on his favourite subject. Although not a food connoisseur, he has a taste for good food. “I am not a foodie and I can cook some basic things like pepper chicken chettinad, butter chicken and fried pomfret, which is like a family dish. Everybody loves it in my family. I can make jeerish too, which is a traditional dish cooked on Id. I am interested in food when it becomes an act of giving pleasure to other people and satiating their appetite,” reveals Rahaab, gently tucking into fresh buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and basil pesto.
This edition of Pix is based on Iran bringing out work of an array of photographers in the country experimenting with the discipline. In a country that’s plagued by censorship, the edition shows a lot of work happening in the genre of staged photography. While Azadeh Akhlaghi recreates incidents of state induced violence – suicides, tragic deaths and assassinations, Newsha Tavakolian has done portraits of female Iranian singers addressing the issue of ban on female Iranian singers. In the same space you will find the likes of Mehrdad Asgari Tari, Nikoo Tarkhani whose works are rooted in memory and personal history. The edition’s release will be accompanied by an exhibition at the Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, Pix’s primary sponsor.
On the one hand, Rahaab is dealing with contemporaneous images, on the other, he is the curator of the Alkazi Collection of Photography, a collection of 19th Century photographs built over the years by his grandfather and theatre stalwart Ebrahim Alkazi. The exhibitions that he curates out of the 95,000 strong collection are re-visitations of these images which are then located in a new context.
“This is my pedagogical engagement with the field of photography which goes beyond photographers, writers and curators. What happens when we exhibit an image of a photographer who is no longer around or when it’s historical context is over?” asks Rahaab, who is now on to his main course.At the recommendation of the restaurant manager, Rahaab settles for grilled prawns with angel hair pasta in garlic, extra virgin olive oil and chilli flakes. “It’s spectacular. Prawns are grilled to perfection and the combination of parsley with olive oil is quite uplifting.”
Back to the world of photography, the discipline he chose over theatre which runs in the family — his grandfather Ebrahim Alkazi is considered one of the most powerful voices in modern Indian theatre, his mother Amal Allana is also a senior theatre director and two time chairperson of National School of Drama, his father Nissar Allana is an eminent stage and lighting designer — Rahaab says it brought the worlds of theatre and painting together. Back after studying Art History in London, Rahaab was one afternoon called by his grandfather and asked to document the photographs Alkazi had collected. That brief engagement transformed his life and today Rahaab has churned out around 15 exhibitions in and out of India so far in addition to several publications of the Alkazi Foundation for The Arts under whose aegis the collection exists.
In Rahaab’s world both worlds coexist with ease. “Having a point of connect is becoming very important for me,” he says as he sips on green herbal tea. Pix, a fine quality magazine which is free of cost, supported by primarily foreign cultural institutions with a photo-editorial that changes with every issue, is about forging those connections.