The blur is an important metaphor in the tradition of non-representational photography. The road-marking series — beautiful black-and-white images of dark, smudged tar marks on concrete roads — by Aaron Siskind uses it as a signifier to highlight the paper-thin division between the real and the abstract.
The interest is piqued, initially, by the nudes in Nikhil Bhandari’s photographs (The Camera With The Third Eye, Akar Prakar, Aug 25-Sep 3) because the female body is amorphous in these pictures, the details of its luscious curves kept deliberately blurry. Not a single object, be it the striking model, the crumbling havelis or the cavernous rooms, retains its solidity. Everything is fluid, transmitting darkness and light. Bhandari, who holds a fine-arts degree and is a veteran in advertising and fashion photography, claims that his photographs have been inspired by the experimental works of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the Finnish photographer, Arno Rafael Minkkinen.
Originality mesmerizes, only if content is as spellbinding as form. Bhandari, undoubtedly, has worked hard to ‘arrange’ his shots: he uses pigment ink on archival paper, multiple lights, slide projections and a non-digital camera in his zeal to capture the decisive moment. But the result, despite the meticulous arrangement, is kitschy and vacuous. The images are slick yet as empty as ad-stills.
Taut yet formless bodies, breasts, slender hands and shoulders in the Form beyond eros series surround the viewer, but leave him unaffected. Bhandari’s quest, ostensibly, is to transcend the erotic (what’s wrong with the erotic?) and reach a spiritual domain. But our spirits are not raised, by either the smoky Ranthambhore hills and trees etched like white rash on the bare skin of a reclining model (Form beyond eros 9) or the gleaming redness of the interiors of a sprawling drawing room that is seen through a translucent, phantom torso. In the coloured images, the choice of the bold shades serves as a forceful reminder of Bhandari’s fashion-photography days.
For a man claiming to have been inspired by the experimental tradition in photography, Bhandari’s work is strangely insular to its exciting possibilities. The wit and quirky surrealism of Minkkinen or the sheer beauty of the inexplicable in Siskind’s images is nowhere to be found in Bhandari’s photographs. The attempt to fuse elements of fashion, photography and painting does not come off with the required control or subtlety. The end result is not clarity or enlightenment, but a vague, galling confusion.