India is a country of rich images. In the recent past, however, she has been reduced to a number of region-specific visual clichés. In the case of Calcutta, for instance, it is the figure of the Durga- from the process of its making at Kumartuli to its immersion, that has captured the seemingly undivided attention of photographers both veteran and amateur.
Following Barthes, photography may be understood as a craft that is limited by its very nature to capture things ‘as they are,’ so that it becomes difficult to capture the ‘absent’ except by clever simulation. The most recent group show of ‘Third Eye’ gallery spearheaded by Atanu Pal manages to imaginatively infuse freshness even in images (printed on canvas) that may not be startlingly new in their visual content.
Old Calcutta houses are pictured with the warmth of a nostalgic summer afternoon. A sense of loneliness is amplified through shadows cast over huge, unfurnished spaces with small objects like a leaf, antennae, or a bird positioned to make the image come alive. Particularly interesting is the picture of two foreigners kissing on the pavement of Calcutta, oblivious to preening stares, with the poster of a 19th century pat image looming in the background. While other members of the group manage to grab attention, it is Atanu Pal’s images of ordinary objects and situations that are most gripping by dint of an intelligent mix of placement, composition, and catchy captions. The images from outside Calcutta tend to relapse into typicalities. Although one wishes that the exhibition had been even loosely strung together by a theme, the manner in which the human element has been softly incorporated in geometrically inclined backdrops makes the show worth a look.
-- Paroma Maiti
(Images courtesy of Third Eye Gallery and the artist.)