by Zohra KhanMar 09, 2020
What happens when a much-celebrated photography exhibit decides to go beyond its own narrative, steer away from popular portrayal in the press and find a new perspective unto itself? What if the curator and the artist seek a new dimension and a new challenge – being voluntarily put to test through the discerning eye of the harshest and most honest critic in the country?
When photo-artist JJ Valaya and host Amit Gupta set out to explore aspects unbeknownst to the journey of Lalaari: Conversations with the Universe, the former’s show of black-and-white photographs hosted at the STIR Gallery in New Delhi and curated by Gallery Threshold, little did they think that one winter morning, the master of photography himself – Raghu Rai – would glide into the gallery swathed in a monk-like red robe, observing each portrait to its last fantasy and last flaw, and leaving everyone a little more enlightened.
Far from a critique, this turned out to be a conversation that brought out the essence of photography in its truest form – romancing creative freedom, embracing the here and now.
“I am a street photographer. I do candid photography. When I have to set up people in a situation, face to face, more than them I become overconscious,” confessed Rai, the award-winning photojournalist who is considered an institution in his own right.
Walking through the gallery with Valaya -who is known as one of India’s top fashion designers and also dons the hat of a photographer, and Gupta - the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of STIR, Rai observed that creative freedom and photography are inextricable. “In creativity, the worst thing that can happen is when your mind is programmed for something, and you are expecting that something to come along. And if that doesn’t happen, you are zero!”
In response, Valaya recalled his process of photographing the Golden Temple in the past – and whilst it is a much clicked subject, what made the experience special to him were the clouds that floated in unpredictably, creating a whole new canvas. “I think one of the most beautiful takeaways for me after this conversation is the word ‘unpredictability’. Because I think that is where the magic lies; going beyond the expected,” said the designer-artist.
The two talked about the challenges of a photographer vis-à-vis a writer or another artist, as while the latter can ‘multiply their concepts by putting several experiences into one’, the gift and the curse of the photographer is to deal with the physical reality of the here and now and silence that constant, buzzing voice in the head.
How does one break free of all the noise to bring one’s entire self to the important moment of creation of art? How does the artist become one with the energies of his subject in order to manifest these as something far more powerful? What is the role of truth in photography?
Watch the video to find the answers.