Nostalgia often accompanies the journey back home. Chirodeep Chaudhuri, a Mumbai-based photographer who has been visiting and photographing his ancestral village of Amadpur in Burdwan for over a decade, has attempted to broaden this theme to explore such ideas as beauty, loss and the pastoral identity in his exhibition of photographs (Galerie 88, till Nov 20). The exhibition comprises photographs that have been selected from his book, A Village in Bengal, which was published recently.
That Chaudhuri is intent on weaving a personal narrative is evident from the images that portray the festivities surrounding a family Durga Puja. Mercifully, the monotony of such familial joy is broken by a few frames that show mundane, human exchanges. For instance, the charm of the photograph of a woman bending to whisper to a child lies not just in the richness of detail but also in its lack of contrivance.
The photographs convey an unmistakable anxiety to preserve clichéd ideas like that of the timelessness of rural settings. In one photograph (picture), we see an old temple beside a shallow pond. Also visible are a solitary girl, buffaloes, a sari hung out to be dried, mud walls caked with dung and some trees. Chaudhuri’s use of scale lends each element in the frame an autonomous identity. But they seldom disturb the balance of the photograph.
In another image, the hands of a woman, criss-crossed with veins, are seen weaving a kantha. A bent spectacle frame and a rusty blade lie at two different corners of the picture. They are suggestive of the crippling poverty faced by marginalized groups such as artisans. Perhaps Chaudhuri should have developed this line of enquiry further to challenge the notion of a pastoral idyll being relatively free of the warts of iniquity and discrimination.
Another aspect that Chaudhuri neglects is the tension that binds the home to the world. This is surprising because as the veritable ‘outsider inside’, he has the advantage of a toehold in two markedly different spheres. A number of enthusiastic critics have claimed that Chaudhuri’s photographs remind them of Satyajit Ray’s depiction of rural Bengal. Significantly, in Ray’s trilogy, what immortalizes Apu is his courageous decision to embrace the world, forsaking home in the process. Afflicted with nostalgia, Chaudhuri seems oblivious to the idea that one’s home may not always be one’s world.