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Powder-coated love

American lensman Bob Duncan brings a touch of Indian fantasy to his frames

Bob Duncan’s love for India is as effusive as the bright colours of his latest work. Cochin Colours, on show at Kashi Art Gallery, showcases six stirring photographs of local people who modelled for the American artist. But this only a fraction of the 1000+ photographs of Indians in various moods, poses and attire. “I am absolutely in love with India,” says Bob who found his way to Fort Kochi through fashion photography three years ago.

Cochin Colours comes after Noir Portraits, explains Bob, a series of portraits against a black backdrop, that began in Rome and continued in Los Angeles, the city from which he hails. Most works are faces of known and unknown people wearing highly exaggerated make up. The series is held together by the colour black.

The India of Bob’s imagination — one created through photos in magazines like National Geographic — was fantastical but, he says, he found nothing of that sort in Kochi. “There was, of cours

Powder-coated love
e, the flowing sari or a man’s dhoti, but it was real day-to-day life.” Then, in April 2019, while walking down Princess Street, Bob saw something that stoked his imagination. In a store were heaps of bright coloured powders used in India during Holi and to make rangoli.

He wished to use these on models but was not sure if people would oblige. “It was a surprise when parents came with their children to get them photographed with the colours on them,” says Bob who shot the images in an open studio with a soft black velvet piece as backdrop.

A girl with a turquoise face, purple hair and wondering eyes, a pink-haired, teary eyed nervous boy, one with a soulful eyes peering from a purple countenance and a green-faced boy with an innocent look are images that catch the emotion behind the playful make up.

One of Bob’s portraits is of Faisal, a lemonade seller whom he met at Hotel 18. Attracted by his thick mane Bob approached him to model. Using black on his face and turquoise and purple powder cascading down his frizzy hair is a captivating image of a vivacious man game to take on life.

Renowned artist Jeevan Lal agreed to pose for Bob. “I met him at David Hall and was impressed by his magnificent beard.” Lal appears dramatic in a countenance smeared with rosy, red h

Powder-coated love
ues.

Such compositions originated from an underground group of photographers in Los Angeles, explains Bob. ‘50 to 60 in number, they photographed a community of fire-eaters, dancers, musicians, artistes and others who gathered together quite organically on certain nights. The police who came there investigating too became models for the photographers. “I think this is where my portrait photography began,” says Bob.

A self-taught photographer, he began his long career at the age of 12 when Polaroid introduced the Swinger, a camera which could be hung on the shoulder and carried around. “It did away with laborious equipment,” recalls Bob. At 66, he has delved into all genres of photography. A show of abstract, minimalist compositions is coming up in Paris, while his black and white genre are being done alongside. “You cannot manufacture magic, so I wait for it to happen and the Holi colours did that for me in this series,” says Bob.

‘Cochin Colours’ is on till February 19.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 11:44:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/american-photographer-bob-duncans-works-using-holi-colours/article30769180.ece

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