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Meeting Point of Many Lives


Anisha Shekhar Mukherji

ARTISAN CAMERA: STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY FROM CENTRAL INDIA
By Suresh Punjabi and Christopher Pinney
Tara Books, Chennai, 2013, pp. 94, Rs. 650.00/ £ 12.99/ $ 19.95

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 6 June 2014

This is a fairly slim book. It has only about 15 odd pages of text, and 60 photographs. Yet, it contains a lot to think about and see. In any case, if it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then this intriguing little volume contains more than 60,000 words worth of matter.   The book essentially comprises full page photographs of people, individually and in groups. They are preceded by a thoughtful essay by Christopher Pinney, which begins with the story of some thousand medium format negatives, saved from the onslaught of a monsoon storm, and how some of them became this book. The subjects of the photographs, with a directness that is compelling, look the viewer straight in the eye, rarely shying away or looking coy. Even when they are evidently posed or theatrically posturing, they still seem natural. They are a riveting, occasionally haunting, collection of faces, attires and attitudes.   The book, like the photographs it contains, is the meeting point of several lives and a window to many stories, glimpsed fleetingly through a few images or sentences. Naturally enough, these stories are partial. But despite being so, or perhaps precisely because of this, they are fascinating. Related through Pinney’s personal and informed writing, and recollected by Suresh Punjabi over the course of conversations between them, they tell us how and why particular persons came to get themselves photographed in Studio Suhaag, the photo studio owned by Mahesh and Suresh Punjabi, and of the way of life in and around a small town in central India, Nagda Junction.   Within these vignettes and momentary portraits of people, Pinney interweaves larger issues—notions of history, memory, identity and aspirations. Such a discussion, derived from the precedence of Walter Benjamin’s writings, (as Pinney acknowledges) manages to effectively evoke the context of the photographs, even when this context is not directly visible.   The photographs are organized in the book according to themes prefaced by a brief explanation. These sections, (termed ‘Everyday Faces’, ‘Conjugality’, ‘Friends, Families and Gurus’, ‘Staging Identities’) serve to illustrate how the photographer interprets the requirements of his clients, and creatively composes the desired ‘picture’ within the scope and limitations of the society and the tools that it endows him with, and within the space at hand—literally ‘in camera’. Some ‘subjects’ are evidently embellished with props from the Studio, but many others wear a variety of clothes ...


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