A library of one’s own: Mumbai's burgeoning photo community

The city finally has a space for the burgeoning photo community to come together says Anurag Banerjee

Updated - December 09, 2017 02:59 pm IST

Published - December 08, 2017 08:37 pm IST

It was a dark and stormy October afternoon, but that certainly didn’t dissuade a bunch of determined photographers for a long anticipated collaboration. The collaboration in question was a first of its kind between bookstore and library Trilogy and photobook collective BIND which comprises of photographers Philippe Calia, Andrea Fernandes, Asmita Parelkar, Nishant Shukla and Sunil Thakkar. This alliance began when art writer Alisha Sett put Parelkar in touch with Trilogy co-founder’s Meethil Momaya.

At the inaugural event, photographer Harikrishna Katragadda and his wife and writer Shweta Upadhyay presented their forthcoming book I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you. The book, which was a finalist for the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts Photobook Grant 2015, uses the moon as a motif for a lover’s yearning and desire. Much like a dream, the work does not have a beginning, middle and end. Flitting from one subconscious state to the next, the work hauntingly canvasses love and longing.

While Katragadda is a full-time photographer, Upadhyay is an editor with an arts magazine, and it was enthralling to see how these two worlds converged into one body of work, which has been four years in the making. The photographs are made entirely by Katragadda, the flow of the narrative is attributed to Upadhyay.

Unlike the old fashioned notion that is the coffee table book, which is a collection of photographs, a photobook is a consolidation of photos, texts and design and it was enlightening to see how these different elements came together for Katragadda and Upadhyay’s book. The conversations between the makers of the book and Calia, who was moderating the heavy-duty discussion, meandered from one aspect of the work to another, from the picture making to the final form of the book – an accordion fold design.

Events such as these have been few and far between in Mumbai, but owing to the association between BIND and Trilogy the city finally has a permanent space for photographers and can expect more such evenings. Sitting in that chrome-yellow room while another storm brewed outside, surrounded by photobooks and conversations on photography, made one rediscover a love for the medium.

The hunt for space

Momaya’s generous overture to host Bind at his bookstore/library could not have come at a more opportune time. The genesis of BIND really began just two years ago when co-founder of Focus Photography Festival Matthieu Foss got in touch with Calia and Thakkar to produce a show for the bi-annual festival. That is when the five photographers came together to curate a photobook show at Muse Art Gallery in Kala Ghoda. They put together some of their own books with some that people donated through a call for submission and a few in collaboration with Bengaluru-based photographer Mahesh Shantaram out of his private collection. However, they had this space for only two weeks and an overwhelming number of photobooks in their possession. BIND now had books from all over the world, from celebrated Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies to American photographer Robert Frank’s seminal The Americans to Indian photo-bookmaker and artist Dayanita Singh’s House Of Love. The collective also had less accessible works of many contemporary Indian photographers such as Sohrab Hura’s Life Is Elsewhere, Adil Hasan’s When Abba Was Ill and Ronny Sen’s Khmer Din. “Post Focus we started thinking of what to do, we had all these books that needed to be seen,” shares Thakkar.

BIND then travelled to a few festivals, curating a photobook library at Photo Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2015 and doing an exhibition at Jaipur Photo Festival in 2016. At the Delhi Photo Festival in 2015 they put up a show called Of Journeys and Journals interpreting Australian photographer Max Pam’s work. Apart from these, BIND’s also had few pop-up shows in the city. But traveling with these books turned out to be a difficult task and it also increased the risk of them getting damaged. “The library was something that we had worked very hard to create and we did not want it to fizzle out,” says Thakkar. This is when the need of a permanent space arose.

BIND needed a space that shared their vision and love for photobooks and at Trilogy they found just that. “BIND and Trilogy have at least one common goal,” explains Momaya, “to increase the levels of visual literacy.” The 37-year-old used to be a wildlife photographer and while traveling, would also read a lot. “This unique perspective makes Trilogy a place that is very fond of good quality photography and books and therefore photo books,” he says. For BIND, it made perfect sense to house their books at Trilogy as it would ensure the resituating of photography amidst other practices. Besides, the fact that Trilogy is also a bookstore meant that these photobooks could also find potential buyers.

The collaboration also means that photobooks are now accessible to anyone. “A photobook is expensive to produce and so it is available to only a certain class of people, that is why a library like this is important so that anyone can see it,” says Parelkar.

Happily BIND’s space at Trilogy will also functions as a resource for photographers working on their own projects. “For me, I know that there is no work possible without a library,” stresses Calia. “When you are an artist, you speak with the public, you speak with your peers and you also speak within your history. You situate yourself within a discourse; you don’t come from nowhere.”

Expanding the collective

The hope that BIND has for the library space is to be community driven, so that it does not only depend on its five members. They want photographers in the city to feel a sense of belonging with the space and hope that more people come forward to conduct events like the one that took place last month. “A sense of community is important in any field. When one stops working in their own silos is when they actually grow,” ponders Thakkar. “A space needs to exist but it should be constructive,” Parelkar opines. “It should become a place where people can come together and reflect. The community has to be led into a space like this where they feel free to discuss or converse with each other about various issues.”

As a photographer in Mumbai, a space like this has been long awaited. In the everyday chaos of assignments and rent making, one tends to forget what made them pick up the camera in the first place. A space such as the BIND library at Trilogy could be vital in helping one pause and take a step back. “It’s important to live these moments together,” says Calia. “One has to get inspired and also inspire other people.” In this whirlwind of a city, a little inspiration could go a long way.

To see BIND’s photobook collection, head over to Trilogy, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel; 80805 90590

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