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Tale of reminiscences

NUPUR SHARMA
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ExhibitionPhotographer Dileep Prakash overcomes his innate diffidence

to make peace with a lonely past, saysNUPUR SHARMA

RECALL VALUEA still from the exhibition
RECALL VALUEA still from the exhibition

Dileep Prakash has been photographing for 20 years. A considerable part of Prakash's work navigates memory and the passage of time. Many would recall his project on the Anglo-Indian community (2004-2006) that led him to the far corners of India, making portraits of a community in twilight. Solo exhibitions include The Anglo-Indians at The Goethe-Institut, Frankfurt (2006), Photoink, New Delhi (2008) and Photo Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh (2010). Group exhibitions include Photoquai Biennale at the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris (2007), The Self and the Other – Portraiture in Contemporary Indian Photography at the Palau de la Virreina and Artium in Spain (2009), Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2009) and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Wintherthur (2010).

Prakash's latest work is currently being exhibited in New Delhi and is titled ‘What Was Home'. It is accompanied by a book, published by Photoink (2011). The project was triggered by a desire to revisit the past and explore memories attached to his alma mater, Mayo College, Ajmer, where he spent nine formative years. Prakash expanded his interest to include 18 other boarding schools that held a similar resonance for him. ‘What Was Home' is an intimate tale of reminiscences by a photographer who is not only reviving his own memories but is also projecting them on to familiar spaces of ‘fear, loneliness and surprise'. He elaborates, “The idea of personal space doesn't really exist in a boarding school. Your days are structured - PT, breakfast, classes, lunch, games, prep, dinner, prep, sleep. All through my years at Mayo I would try to find places where I could be by myself.”

Prakash's negotiation of the past and revisiting the spaces of his childhood reflects the changing nature of memory; that which was once a space marked by alienation and homesickness is now revisited with a measure of detachment. These photographs, when viewed through the lingering intimacy of Prakash's photographic gaze, evoke memories—some real and some distorted by time. One reminisces about engraving names on school desks, scribbling graffiti on walls, forbidden midnight feasts, amorous rendezvous, hushed conversations about ghosts that inhabit school buildings and the frenzied rush to bathe in shared bathrooms.

Black & White

Black and white is clearly Prakash's medium of choice and he justifies that by saying, “I grew up in an era dominated by black-and-white photography. My earliest photographs in the school darkroom were shot in B&W. To photograph these spaces after 25 years, using B&W film was an easy decision to arrive at. Besides B&W film also gave me the latitude to work with long exposures.”

A striking aspect of Prakash's images is the lack of human forms. How important is that to what he was looking to capture or convey? He replies by saying, “This work is about my memories. If I had photographed students, then the work would have been about them and not how I recalled my experiences. So while there is an absence of human beings in my photographs, there is enough to suggest their presence. I photographed lived-in spaces.”

The passage of time has dulled the sting of teenage angst and Prakash seems to have attained a kind of empathy imbued with nostalgia. He concludes by saying, “On the one hand this work was about revisiting a place that was home to me. By extending it to include other schools, I have tried to explore this idea at another level. Could my memories be shared by many others?”

Clearly, we are not alone.

(The exhibition is on till May 28 at Photoink, MGF Hyundai Building, 1 Jhandewalan, Faiz Road, New Delhi.)

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