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CIMA Gallary

Amazing grace of bugs

Some of the photographs being displayed at the exhibition

Even creepies and crawlies, which repel most of us, have an incorporeal elegance, grace and exquisiteness of their own that is rarely revealed to the human eye. Christopher Taylor’s exhibition, fittingly titled Close-Up, of large silver gelatin prints at the Seagull Arts & Media Resource Centre offers a rare glimpse of this charmed, microscopic world. His works are closer to fantasies than to the dissecting table of biology classes, which in all probability was the stimulus behind this series on arthropoda, the name of the group comprising insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes and crustaceans.

A zoologist by training, Taylor, who is British by birth and lives in France, has a mind that is partly cold and clinical, and he enjoys observing his subjects with detachment. Yet the poet in him gets the upper hand and in his photographs he uses the alchemy of light to transform these critters into creatures with sinuous, translucent bodies, hard and gleaming carapaces, and limbs as long and willowy as those of a ballerina. But it is not all lithe daintiness, for there are hints of menace lurking in this fascinating world as well.

The caterpillar turns into a giant furry thing — the kind of monster that Hieronymous Bosch and Francis Bacon would love. Yet, with whiskers and the saucer eyes of a racoon, it is quite as ludicrous as its cousin with whom Alice had a maddening conversation. Taylor has held exhibitions in Europe, China and India, but this exhibition reveals what a painstaking and fastidious artist he is.

It must have taken him aeons waiting for the creatures to strike just the right pose — the moment when the daddy long legs would look poised enough — and to decide which part of the centipede’s long sinuous and translucent body to focus on. He uses a medium format film camera, a Rollei by make, with a single removeable lens. To quote him: “They are very small things, photographed on b&w negative with a bellows system between the camera and lens which permits to get very close. I push developed the film to increase the film speed, essential when photographing small moving objects.”

Even more amazing are Taylor’s images of orbs suspended in mid-air or exploding like bullets, and beads and bullets they actually are. However, if one suspends one’s disbelief, these could be heavenly bodies, some of them imploding on their own. These cosmic occurrences were staged in his studio itself with the simplest of devices. It is a matter of split-second timing, a flash to freeze the action, and many failures before Taylor got it right.

One of Taylor’s most enigmatic images is the quietest, for it shows little else but pale grey ripples. It comes closest to a visual of the word “resonance” for one can hear its voiceless music even if one shuts one’s eyes.