Somewhere in the middle of Max Pinckers’ self-published photography book, Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty, a lone picture manages to describe what it’s all about. It’s a photograph of text printed on an A4-sized sheet taped on a glass door, which reads, “Lake of Sorrows, Ocean of Tears, Valley of Death, End of Life”, with the first letters of each sentence forming a “LOVE”. The 26-year-old Belgian photographer’s odyssey into the idea of love, its consequences, and, very evidently, the sense of theatricality around it in India, has resulted in this book.
It was commissioned by Europalia International Arts Festival and was released this June in Brussels. The book — with a special focus on Delhi-based organisation Love Commandos that protects and gives shelter to couples in love — paints a picture of the subject in a way that it straddles documentary and abstract photography.
Having grown up in Bali, Australia, Singapore and “a bit of India”, Brussels-based Pinckers came back to “the culture (he) understood best” when he had to choose a subject to work on during his higher studies in Belgium. After his 2012 self-published book The Fourth Wall, which explores Bollywood’s relationship with the cultural psyche of India, Will They Sing… comes as a sequence to tell a story on universal love. It follows no rules of storytelling, nor does it entertain any structure.
Photographs appear haphazardly, the non-linearity denoting that the author does not intend on telling a straightforward story.
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As if to set a background, scenes such as two mattresses lying in the morning sun or a framed studio photograph of a couple hanging on the wall, create a sense of impending storm. What follows is a series of newspaper clippings whose headlines read, “bro beheads sister”, “Cops joined kins’ hunt for lovers” or a “MP doc invents ‘suicide-proof’ ceiling fan”. Photographs of couples dominate the canvas, interspersed with abstract imagery.
“By bringing together different formats, the story unfolds itself through association and interpretation. I consider the work to be a documentary series about the subject of honour-based violence and love, although it also deals with the medium of photography, documentary and storytelling,” says Pinckers.
The book evokes further drama with no captions or explanatory text, except a column that features unedited emails from various people from the Love Commandos blog. “The title itself comes from an English translated lyric of a love song from a Bollywood movie,” he says, adding, “I am fascinated by Indian cinema. I love the way of storytelling, the cliches, the poetics and somewhat absurdity in them.”
The photographs give the narrative a humorous, even dark tinge. An ashen rose, a burning wedding dress, spilled milk on a bed-side table or digital landscapes and cut-out couple portraits from a Mumbai photo studio — these serve as metaphors for Pinckers’ visual story. “They function within the context of the documentary framework, which gives them their meaning. They usually refer to different aspects or insights into the subject, such as the use of spilled milk as a metaphor for erotic scenes in classic Bollywood movies,” he says.
While The Fourth Wall has bagged The City of Levallois Photography Award, Will They Sing… won the Photographic Museum of Humanity 2014 award in April. The photographs from both have also been exhibited at the 2013 Europalia India edition and can be viewed at maxpinckers.be. The book hasn’t been released in India yet. “The Indian market in art books is not strong enough for self-published works to be distributed,” says Pinckers.