Four renowned figures from Indian photography recently led a mentoring programme for four junior photographers. The results are displayed at the second edition of Habitat Photosphere, now on at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, writes Bhumika Popli.


‘In Habitat Photosphere 2019, I have used photography as a tool to raise concerns on sustainability. This is the second edition of the festival and the theme that emerged out of the work of four photographers is ‘Bhu/Earth,’” says Alka Pande, curator of the festival Habitat Photosphere 2019, a month-long festival on at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre till 19 March.

Photos by eight photographers are on display at the event. Four of whom—Zishaan Akbar Latif, Syed Adnan Ahmed, Juhi Saklania and Thulasi Kakkat—were awarded a year-long fellowship by the India Habitat Centre, under the mentorship of the other four senior photographers, namely Aditya Arya, Parthiv Shah, Bandeep Singh and Prabir Purkayastha. The results of this programme can be seen at Habitat Photosphere 2019, in the form of the 100-plus exhibits displayed at the venue.

The terrific images by Zishaan Akbar Latif, from his series Withering, depict scenes from the Majuli island in Assam, constantly being eroded by the Brahmaputra River. According to him, this island needs to be saved because it is culturally rich and also serves as a great location for organic farming. His photos portray local symbols of island life—like fishing nets; and symbols of nature—like the photo that shows a butterfly on a plant.

Another photographer, Juhi Saklani aims to put across her thoughts by bringing man and nature together in her images. She says, “Human beings and nature shouldn’t be considered as separate from each other. They should be seen together, as a whole. Maybe, if we make this philosophical shift, we will be in less of an ecological mess as we are now.” For the past two years, the artist has been taking photos of trees across the country. In her series entitled Human/Nature, we see collages which she has digitally reproduced by using pictures of trees along with images of different aspects of human life and culture. One photo depicts a woman next to a Banyan tree that has massive roots. We also see a picture of a house with a tree in its porch. In some images, we see photos of trees juxtaposed with newspaper cuttings, of official reports and orders on deforestation drives.

Withering, a photograph by Zishaan Akbar Latif.

In her installation titled A Window into ‘Redevelopment’, Saklani takes on the authorities. This artwork is partly made of window frames, each of them around five feet in height. “The window frames are important because they signify an important episode of Delhi. The idea originated from the protests by Delhi residents against the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry of the government which took place in June-July 2018. The ministry’s proposal aimed to completely demolish seven government colonies, such as Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar and others. But before the protest even began, the houses at Sarojini Nagar and Netaji Nagar stood semi-demolished, their doors and windows removed.”

Saklani adds that the government order also proposed to fell 16,500 trees, with Sarojini Nagar earmarked as a place “of no significant biodiversity”. “The experts founded at least 26 bird species and 11 types of butterflies in just a two-day research. Now the government has redesigned these projects where they have promised to cut fewer trees. I want people to be aware about these promises made by the government,” says Saklani.

Thulasi Kakkat, a photographer from Kerala, has also centred his series on trees. Entitled Lost Wilderness, the series introduces us to a vital link between plants and ritualistic dance form theyyam. In the photographs we see performers surrounded by trees. “These trees are part of the kavoos (groves) in northern Kerala and traditionally theyyam was performed amid the groves. Many groves are already destroyed in order to bring up new housing settlements. A government organisation identified 10,000 groves in 1956 but a 2015 report recorded only 1,200 as remaining of the lot. This, in a way, is diminishing the culture where theyyam performers suffer the most,” says Kakkat.

Photographer Syed Adnan Ahmed has produced a series entitled Murgh Bazi, where he has documented rooster fights in Ajmer, Rajasthan. According to him, this is age-old tradition and is still very much prevalent in society. He says, “I am looking at sustainability of culture in this project. Yes, it [rooster fight] was deemed illegal by the state government and the Supreme Court in 1960 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, but it still goes on in our society.”

The festival also has on display photographs by the four mentors. Their works can be seen at the Visual Arts Gallery at the venue. Aditya Arya’s series is called TattvaAravalli Deconstructed, which includes photos made using four 19th-century printing techniques—Cyanotype, Anthotype, Gum Bichromate and Salt Print.

Prabir Purkayatha brings Ladakh landscapes to the gallery. Entitled Dheemahi…Silent Contemplation, the photographs in this series display streaks of sunlight and massive cloud-covers over a dark sky. Many of the pictures here look like an illusion, dissolving the distinction between land, sea and sky. Purkayatha calls the earth as a “guiding light that gently steers us through the dark labyrinths of time”, in his concept note.

Parthiv Shah, through his project called Rewa, has captured life in and around water bodies. He has been working on this theme for about 20 years now. In this series, we see boatmen, labourers and even Google images of Narmada River, whose second name is “Rewa”.

In the Bhiksha series by Bandeep Singh, we come across the photographs of bhiksha mats which he encountered at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad—mats used by religious ascetics for collecting alms. These black-and-white images are displayed on the ground, in LED light boxes. Singh believes this act of looking down is an act of giving alms itself.


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