Print Edition - 2015-07-25  |  On Saturday

Shards and shadows

  • These images capture a confusing and difficult time after all. They represent and capture absence where before there was monumental presence
- Rachana Chettri
Shards and shadows

Jul 24, 2015-

After The Earthquake, a photographic tribute, an exhibition currently ongoing at the Park Gallery, Pulchowk, was originally set to conclude on July 12. The exhibit still hangs on the gallery walls, though, and two months since the April 25 quake, a collection of black and white images shot within two weeks of it confront the viewer as they enter the gallery’s main exhibition room. Mounted on Nepali paper, the images are displayed in a chronological fashion, beginning on May 3 and continuing till the 11th.

There was another earthquake on May 12. The photographic record on display at Park Gallery ends with the second quake.

It is significant that the photos are in black and white. The monochrome distills each moment in each picture. The dates on which the photographs are taken lend them immediate significance. Looking at them now, I feel a sense of unease about how distant the time and reality locked within these images seem to me. The photographs are real. They are a visual documentation of the days following the April 25 earthquake, days that felt terrifyingly surreal to me. I do not imagine I can understand what the earthquake felt like to those whose families, homes, communities were destroyed because of it, and it is perhaps because of this that I feel uncomfortable looking at images that are a recording of that time.

The photographs on exhibit are taken by a photographer identified simply as Navin. Light and dark, shadow and light are very clearly demarcated in these images. The various gradations of grey in Navin’s photographs work to create pictures our eyes naturally do not see and hence our minds are immediately put to work examining. Because colour is what we naturally see, the absence of it in these images lends them distance from reality, although the viewer is consciously aware of the fact that they are a deliberately and meticulously framed representation of reality.

I imagine that the photographer’s intention here has been to record the spirit of Kathmandu in the aftermath of the earthquake, a difficult task for one person with a camera working on days when the earth was still periodically shaking beneath our feet. The people in these pictures seem to be tackling life as it comes; people gather together, there is water that needs to be filled, children need tending to, life needs living even when things are the most uncertain they’ve been in 80 odd years.

The exhibition does not occupy a very large area of the gallery.  Just a portion of the ground floor is dedicated to it. Visitors will walk through the images, looking at the pictures and reading the dates below them (watching and remembering, perhaps) before they turn a corner and look beneath them to find a set of shiny, silvery broken pieces.

What these are pieces of is unclear, but the silvery shards are accompanied by colourful sticks that too seem to originally have been part of something bigger. A three-dimensional structure made up of multiple triangles that are made of sticks (much like those scattered on the floor beside it, except for the fact that they areuncoloured) stands in the middle of them room.  Behind it, on the wall, is a photograph in which a man is carrying a three-dimensional structure, much as the one in the gallery, on his shoulder. It is a riverbank somewhere in the hills of Nepal. Another such structure stands by itself amidst the pebbles on the opposite bank. This installation is what becomes the centerpiece of the exhibition, both physically as well as conceptually for the viewer. The bits and pieces of this piece, originally part of the To Gather Together Again exhibit by American artists Paige Phillips and Evan Dawson, synthesise the sentiment of the photographs, enriching these images without quite being related to them.

Wholeness and fragmentation, construction and deconstruction form the sort of dichotomous relations light and shadow, life and destruction have in all of Navin’s photos. These images capture a confusing and difficult time after all. They represent and capture absence where before there was monumental presence and they show the routine of life at work in the midst of an event that routinely reminded us of our human littleness.

Published: 25-07-2015 08:21

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