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Updated: February 20, 2013 20:45 IST

Many faces of India

Harshini Vakkalanka
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STUNNING PORTRAIT ’Member of the Ramnami sect, Chhattisgarh, India, 2005. © Olivia Arthur / TASVEER’
STUNNING PORTRAIT ’Member of the Ramnami sect, Chhattisgarh, India, 2005. © Olivia Arthur / TASVEER’

Magnum Ke Tasveer unravels the layers of a cross-section of Indian society

Long after stepping out of the exhibition “Magnum Ke Tasveer: Magnum’s Vision of India”, a collaboration between Magnum, a photographic cooperative, and Tasveer, Steve McCurry’s photograph of a “Red Boy during Holi Festival” still lingers in the mind.

Perhaps it is the boy’s gaze that burns through the red smeared on his face, perhaps it is the shadowy red image in the background or the daylight that appears brighter amidst all the colour. But Steve McCurry’s photographs, of a boy running around the corner of an alley at a moment when he appears airborne with both tiny legs in the air, a colour-smeared man “surfing” through a small group of colour-smeared men or the saint-like gaze of the Rajasthani shepherd, burn brightly in memory.

If Steve McCurry captures a certain apparent, almost violent vibrancy, Olivia Arthur taps into a silently brutal power in her portraits of the Ramnami sect with every inch of their faces (sometimes heads and other parts of the body as well) covered in tattoos (of the Indian god Ram as a form of protest against their imposed untouchable status).

Warner Bischof’s frames are full of pathos, in the shredded clothing of a labourer working on the construction site of a dam project, in the vulnerable Indian man lying asleep on a bag of grain, or the dancer crouching on her single iron cot readying herself before her performance.

Ferdinando Scianna captures innocence in “everyday” photographic encounters on the street, in the gaze of his subjects, and Bruno Barbey in the “religious and spiritual” encounters where there is a sense of viewership even within the subject. For instance, in the Rajasthani girls who find a place in the frame next to the subjects, a pair of Rajasthani boys riding a motorcycle cut-out or the people gathered around a sadhu who has immersed himself in the sand, keeping only his palms folded in a gesture above the sand.

Marilyn Silverstone’s gaze lies in the other Indian extreme, in the lifestyle of Indian royalty, whether it’s Maharani Gayatri Devi, Indira Gandhi, or Mrs. Kennedy and her sister with the Maharani of Mewar. But the most poignant is her photograph of a young Dalai Lama at the opening of the Tibet House in Delhi.

The exhibition also features photographs by Abbas, who captures Indian pilgrims and Raghu Rai, who somehow seems to seep into the fabric of Indian society to capture singular moments in space and time, whether in “Dream World” taken in Mumbai where a man seemingly oblivious to the gaze of the lens is in the process of sliding his hand suggestively up the thighs of a skimpily dressed mannequin or in the amusing perspective of the “Wrestlers through the painted gate”.

The viewer, in the end, is left wondering what India represents and appears like from a outsider’s perspective. “Magnum Ke Tasveer: Magnum’s Vision of India” in association with Zuari Cement and Luxure Louis Philippe will be on view until March 1 at Cinnamon, 1st floor, 11 Walton Road, off Lavelle Road. For details, contact Chetana 40535217.

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