Chennai gets its first photo biennale with a line-up of exhibits, workshops, symposiums and talks
A picture isn’t simply pretty: it’s a souvenir for some, evidence for others and, sometimes, a part of a larger story. And Chennai’s first photo biennale aims to capture the multiple angles to a photograph. The brainchild of Varun Gupta from Travelling Lens and Helmut Schippert from Goethe, the mega series of exhibitions, workshops, talks and symposiums emerged from multiple sessions of brainstorming with a singular objective—of trying to create a space for viewing and discussing photographic art in the city. Featuring collections from the Delhi Photo Festival 2015, works of legendary Indian photographers Kishor Parekh and Raghu Rai as well as international talent like Sarker Protick from Bangladesh and Olivier Culmann from France will be on display at the Lalit Kala Akademi from February 26. One of the core events, the Urban Water exhibition is a culmination of works by 15 photographers at a rather unorthodox location, the Lighthouse MRTS. Faced with the uphill task of finding the right space to showcase enormous prints, Schippert and Gupta set out to haggle for commissions. “We wanted to take the exclusivity out of art and not restrict it to private spaces,” says Gupta, adding, “Public exhibits also remove the implicit pressure of purchase and allow everyone to engage with the art form.”
Outside the frame
With the democratisation of photography, thanks to social media, Gupta says the ability to see, learn and question may have taken a hit. Furthering the discourse on photography through workshops by renowned photographers like Walter Astrada, the biennale wants to bring forward a shift from simply seeing photography as an image to a storytelling tool. Schippert is quick to point out the difficulties of getting an event of this scale running. “If governmental institutions could see art as an empowering way for people to take pride in their spaces, many avenues could open up,” he says. Another intriguing showcase is Chandralekha, curated by Sadanand Menon. It chronicles the legendary dancer’s life as she composed her major choreographic works for over 20 years, and features photographs by her close associates that capture the geometry and abstraction in her performances. For its debut in the city, staying consistent is currently where the bar is set, but for Gupta and Schippert, it’s really about redefining the ways of seeing a photograph.
Show and tell
- A Plague ’O Both the Worlds is a unique photo showcase by Russian photographer Olya Morvan, which documents the search for identity after the Soviet separation, among young Ukrainians.
- Surrealistic by Nature, curated by India-based French photographer Yannick Cormier, is an exhibition of seven photographers from around the world, including French photographer Denis Dailleux and Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel, which captures rituals by indigenous communities in their own individualistic light
- Philip Blenkinsop: The three time Visa d’Or award winning photographer will assist participants in capturing stand alone images over a four-day shooting period in Chennai. The workshop will focus on developing skills needed to construct a coherent narrative. Rs. 12,000. From February 19-25
- Walter Astrada: Winner of three World Press Photo awards, he will host a one-day workshop on storytelling approaches and how to finance personal projects with Portfolio Reviews. `4,200. February 25, from 9 am to 6 pm
Girls in focus
Beyond Boundaries will engage women photographers as well as women who do not practice photography, but who drive social change through their commitment to the cause of humanity, in an effort to address some of these pressing questions. Featuring eminent speakers Smita Sharma
(photojournalist, New York), NayanTara Gurung Kashapati (photographer and curator, Nepal), Bonnie Chiu (co-founder Lensational, England) and Karolin Klüppel (photographer, Germany). The panel discussion will be moderated by art writer-author Rosalyn D’Mello at the Goethe Institut on February 28 between 10-12 pm.
The Water Warriors
With the inauguration of the Chennai Photo Biennale drawing close, and amid all the works being curated for it, one exhibition caught our eye—a fresh work that was created in the city.
Between January 6 and 15, at the Lighthouse MRTS, 15 photographers had worked under the guidance of photographers Andreas Deffner from Germany, Ravi Agarwal from New Delhi and Munem Wasif from Bangaladesh. They spent days taking photographs on Urban Water, a topic that holds more relevance now than ever in Chennai. “It covers various aspects like the issues of rivers, water supply, changing ecology of the coastline, the water corals, etc,” says Agarwal, who along with Deffner and Wasif, helped the 15 participants “hone” their photographs through the biennale’s first workshop.
Having completed the editing, these pictures are getting prepped for installation and Agarwal says that we should be excited. Though not as popular as the other photographers who will be present at the biennale, the 15 from the Urban Water workshop are practising photographers, many of whom have spent time at coastal villages for the project and others who have come up with concepts based on their theme. “It is different photographers looking at different ideas of water in their own style,” Agarwal says, promising that the audience will be exposed to different styles of photography at the biennale.