On the mainland: Vancouver Art Gallery show explores performative photography in India

I recently returned to Bowen after being away for several months in an art-orientated city. At first I couldn’t get enough of walking in our forests everyday, connecting with the trees. After spending hours in nature it was time to immerse in my second love, photography. Since the Vancouver Art Gallery was showing an Indian exhibit Moving Still: Performative Photography in India, (a place close to my heart), it was time to take an outing into the big city. 

Photography has been in India almost since the camera was invented in the early nineteenth century. Not surprisingly the first photographers were from the upper class and royalty. The Maharaja of Jaipur, known as the “Photographer Prince” was one of the finest photographers. Like modern shooters of selfies, many of his pictures were of himself. In some wearing elegant, elaborate clothing and dripping with jewels and in contrast saying prayers in basic loincloth. There were also pictures of his palatial home.

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Another early period photographer was Umrao Singh Sher-Gil who had an opera singer Hungarian wife, and two beautiful daughters. His pictures told of a life both in India and in Europe. His grandson, Vivan Sudaram, a modern photographer, has now digitalized some of his grandfather’s images and has made some stunning photomontages with his own.

This large exhibit also had videos, with a powerful one on Chapal Bhaduri, who was known for his portrayal of female goddesses. Several modern photographers, created film-like stories and one photographer had some highly sexual videos. After being mesmerized by so much creativity, the fun part came when I encountered a photographic backdrop of what may have been a Maharaja’s palace. I was reminded of all the festivals that I have been to in India over the years, where there would be a street photographer with a rather old fashioned camera and an elaborate backdrop.  I was always more interested in taking pictures of the photographer painstakingingly positioning families or couples and here in the gallery was a backdrop for visitors to have their pictures taken. 

Since I had left on an early ferry to go to Vancouver, I felt bereft when I realized I had left both my camera and phone at home. I watched others taking photos of each other and one lone woman who asked an attendant to take her picture. I asked the woman if perhaps she could take my picture on her phone. Unfortunately I was not dripping with jewels, elegant clothes nor could I summon the serious poise of the Indian photographs.  Also this affable being was definitely not a photographer, (much of the shot was of the carpet.) But finally I have posed with an Indian backdrop and only had to travel as far as Vancouver for it. 

I had spent so much time in the gallery that I only had a short time to take in the Monet to Matisse, 1850-1950. However, I would like to add that for seniors the first Monday of the month is pay by donation. I’ve had my art input for a while, so now it’s back to the trees. 

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