By Sharmada Sivaram
Monday afternoon, at the start of the week, was understandably slow. The Casuarina Hall was yet again, full. Kurt Hoerbst and Prabhuddha Dasgupta were conducting talks there.Every now and then, I saw someone entering the Habitat Center and being drawn to one exhibit or the other – be it the Street Photography from SAARC countries or Raghu Rai’s brilliantly colourful Backdrop Series or Grigoris Digkas Memento Mori.
Rene, an Austrian with a rather cheerful disposition said, “I love it! Specially the street photography from the SAARC countries. It’s nice to see such festivals!”
Terje from Norway had this to say : “There seems to be a lot of variety which makes it more interesting. We don’t have many of these back home. And I can’t wait to finish looking at the rest of the exhibits!”
I also caught up with Sunanda, a photojournalist working with the Times Of India. She’s been coming to the festival since it was inaugurated. “I loved Raghu Rai’s talk last night (Sunday, 16th October – in conversation with Devika Daulet-Singh). It’s incredible to have a Festival such as this because it’s really needed. In India, specially, it’s had to have access to mentors such as Raghu Rai and it is truly inspiring.” When I asked if she was aware of the artist talks that were on, she said, “I attended the ones yesterday! Except today, I’m not sure I could’v fit inside – the Casuarina Hall is bursting with people, justifiably so!”
Shradha and Sudhakar, students of animation, told me that they thoroughly enjoyed Kannagi Khanna’s exhibit Hollywood, as well as Raghu Rai’s Backdrop Series.
Raveesh, a former student of Triveni Kala Sangam thought that some of the work felt a bit repetitive in terms of being seen before. For instance, the street photography from the SAARC countries may be of more interest to foreigners than to us because “it’s something we’v sorta seen everyday.”. He admitted that some of the work was a bit too arty for his taste. When I asked him if he had seen Kannagi Khanna’s exhibit, he said, “I loved it! Love the conceptualization and she’s spot on in terms of composition in most of the pictures.”
Moushumee Jha has been part of this Festival, mentally since the very beginning, she told me. She wishes she had more time to devote and physically be part of the process of putting up an event of this scale. “This kind of a Festival is happening for the first time in India. To see it now, in reality is just amazing. This is a first time effort for most of the team behind the Festival and obviously, there are certain corners here and there which will need work. But for a first time effort, it’s awesome! I think the Festival reflects the generosity and courage of ‘leaders’ like Dinesh (Khanna) and Prashant (Panjiar). As it is, photographers in India are a relatively intimidated bunch but occasions like this let’s freelancers be proud to introduce themselves as photographers.”
I caught up with Bhumi Ahluwalia whose work is exhibited in the Visual Arts Gallery. She mentioned that the first thing to strike her was the sheer scale of this Festival. She was with her friend Pallavi, who teaches film-making in Jamia Milia Islamia University. Pallavi said, “It’s refreshing to see photography as an artistic device rather than sociological tool for documentation.” Both of them talked of how the mix of galleries as well as out-door exhibits was brilliantly done – thus “undoing the aura” and making works of photographers like Raghu Rai more accessible and less intimidating.
I got to talk to Paolo Patrizi, an Italian photographer whose work will be seen on Sunday, 23rd October during Nazar ka Adda. Initially apprehensive to talk to him, I soon found out that Paolo is extremely soft-spoken and easy to converse with. When asked what he thought of the festival, he immediately said, “This festival shows full immersion into photography.”
I asked Paolo when it was that he got interested in photography. He said, “I was about 13 or 14 years old, I picked up a camera and started photographing my friends and never looked back from then on. A few years later, I went to work in London as an assistant, and thus began my professional career.”
We then spoke a little about his work that will be exhibited at the Festival. It is based on migration linked with prostitution. Specifically, it has to do with Nigerian trafficking of women who end up as sex workers in different parts of Europe, specially Italy. Most of these women are headstrong about the decision to leave home and work in the sex industry – migration means a path to ensuring a better future for one’s family.
“Can you tell me about another project of yours that it special?”, I asked Paolo. He talked about a project he did on migratory birds that come from northern Europe around the months of November-January. He photographed these at sunset in Rome and the formations formed were amazing – some times created an illusion of a black sky. This work of his has won a lot of awards.
Paolo’s favorite exhibit (“if I had to choose, if I really really had to choose”) at the Delhi Photo Festival 2011 : “Photographing the Street : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”
So, what’s your favorite exhibit so far?