It is the irony that makes the exhibition “Le Corbusier-Mastering the image” so compelling. Le Corbusier, the designer of Chandigarh, didn't think much of photography, yet always got himself clicked by photographers. He commissioned photographers to take his pictures with people who mattered and locations which he considered significant.
The exhibition, which has travelled from Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai and Ahmedabad and now showing at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) Bengaluru brings out this unknown aspect of Corbusier's life. The collection even has some of the pictures that Corbusier took but never cared to develop and see. In fact, one of most iconic architects of the 20th century, even took pictures himself but never bothered much about them. Thousands of negatives of photographs he took were discovered in 2012 at the public library in La Chaux-de-Fonds — his hometown in Switzerland — and at the Foundation Le Corbusier in Paris.
“He didn't consider photography an art, yet he clicked so many photographs. What we are showing is a very tiny part of it and what makes them even more special that they are being shown to the world through this travelling exhibition. He was also probably aware of his photogenic face,” says Françoise Gardies, who has curated the exhibition in collaboration with Museum of Fine Arts, La Chaux-De-Fonds in Switzerland.
The exhibition is divided into four sections - Biography, Portraits of A Life, Contemporary Approaches, and A Secret Photographer. In these images you see the modernist architect in engaging conversations with people, at work, and at times just ruminating. “But they are all posed and staged. He is conscious of the camera around him. He knew the power of photography,” says Françoise.
This collection of photographs, which would now be understood as documentation, was not created with that intention. “He wanted to promote his work, his ideas of architecture but kept his personal life away from it.”
And he commissioned well-known photographers like Lucien Herve, Robert Doisneau and Rene Burri to shoot his portraits, his extensive travels to Greece, Italy, Spain, Rome, him with Pablo Picasso, Pandit Nehru, and also his cousin and co-architect of Chandigarh, Pierre Jeanneret.
A very interesting photograph is of Corbusier and his photographer-friend Lucien Herve in Chandigarh taken by another celebrated architect B.V. Doshi.
But Françoise’s favourite section is Forces of Nature which comprises photographs taken by him and along with them are a few sketches and drawings. “The images are so close to these sketches. Nature was a big influence, which is evident in these photographs. Perhaps the biggest regret in his life was that he was never recognised as a painter.”
(The exhibition presented by Embassy of Switzerland is on at NGMA, Bengaluru, till April 23)
Here are some questions for you. Don’t look up the Internet but visit the exhibition to get these answers.
Which image impressed Le Corbusier so much that he went on to do many sculptures of it?
What is so special about Chandigarh’s design that makes it one of the best planned cities of India?
Which Indian architect worked closely first with the team of Albert Mayer and Matthew Nowicky who had drawn the first master plan and later with Corbusier?
Who else apart from Corbusier’s cousin Pierre Jeanneret were part of Corbusier’s team?
When did he start taking pictures?