It was an affair that began in Paris as early as 1965 and continues to this day, although his commitment to his first love, art, never wavered. When Jogen Chowdhury, in his late 20s, was in the French capital on a scholarship, he bought his first camera. Everything but its lens was plastic. But his romance with photography began with this downmarket toy at that time. He’s been through several cameras since and has clicked hundreds of photos without offering any for public viewing.
Until now. Photography is only an avocation, not a vocation, for Chowdhury, true, but when an artist of repute tries out an alternative expression, even as an album chronicler, it draws attention. That’s how a modest selection of his photographs came to be seen recently at Maya Art Space. It began with the first picture he had taken. In Paris — in black and white, of course — and it included artist Suhas Roy in a group of three. Unfortunately, no dates were available to trace his progress with the shutter. Hence it was difficult to tell whether the occasional blurring you saw resulted from technical hiccups or creative choice.
In his Evening Sky in Cochin, with the blend of pale colours, the definition of breakers that creased the sea, and the silhouette of the shore, you saw a competent shutterbug, though the composition was of a picture postcard watercolour. But the artist’s eye was generally sensitive to light and its gradations. To textures and colours. And new angles. For example, a colour photograph of a housewarming balanced two sources of light gently reflected in the newly polished floor. With several women watching a fairly elaborate religious ceremony with a small fire and incense smoke, the scene could have been a pause in cinematic fluidity.
That Chowdhury did search for the unusual in the everyday was apparent in Reflection which merged images like in superimposed photography. Another picture resulted from a low-angle shot of a carpeted staircase, its wrought-iron railing, ornate and glistening black, caught in the open space between the base and the ground floor ceiling of the interior, all beige in colour. It brought a Cartier-Bresson masterpiece to mind, but held your attention for its articulate economy. And the frame taken in Alaska was striking for its, yes, painterly quality.
A series on people — which included two sensitive portraits of his wife in her younger days — could evoke abiding interest because of those photographed, most of them artists. Like Paramjit Singh and Manjit Bawa, Paritosh Sen and Ganesh Haloi. Even Husain, caught in Dubai. With visitors like Anjolie Ela Menon, Paresh Maity, Jayshree Burman and others against the backdrop of a wall-spanning painting, the instant frozen was of dégagé bonhomie.