The portrayals span centuries and continents — from colonial India of the 1780s to an abandoned harbour in Italy in 2012. Through the frames in a small hall at Delhi’s Max Mueller Bhavan, Rahaab Allana and his team are attempting to fulfil the singular aim of exploring “habitat”. “In a time of massive globalisation and instant information, how do we define what is our ‘natural’ environment? How do we ensure long-term outcomes through sustainability, from the environmental and cultural point of view? The term ‘habitat’ can be expanded into notions of identity, migration and assimilation,” says Allana, one of the curators of the exhibition that opened on Friday.
Pondering over his concerns are 16 photographers, each interpreting the theme in an individual way. Alessandro Ciccarelli focuses on the complexities of urban redevelopment and its interface with ecology through the Porto di Concordia harbour under construction in Fiumicino, Rome. Possibly the largest tourist harbour of the Lazio region, it was impounded in 2012 by magistrates due to structural deficiencies. Miles away, Devansh Jhaveri focuses on the slum of Gulbai Tekra spread across 2.5 sq km in Ahmedabad. Referred to locally as Hollywood, the community living in the area makes statues of Ganesha. While the idols now define the location, the industry is under threat due to environmental concerns as well as the growing metropolis.
Marking the 10th anniversary issue of the photography quarterly PIX, the collection offers a shortlist from more than 80 applications. “We were conscious about selecting projects that handled the subject in a diverse manner,” says Tanvi Mishra of PIX. She refers to the works of Thomas Vanden Driessche and Amirtharaj Stephen — both of who project the impending danger to a local population. While the former focuses on toxic vapours in the coal mining region of Jharia in Jharkhand, the latter has photographed a local uprising against the Indian government after commissioning of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. If Driessche’s images have the quiet population seemingly resigned to fate, Stephen’s brims with mass protest.
The show also features the project by Italian photographer Antonio Martinelli, who followed in the footsteps of the Daniell brothers to the sites the painters from England had visited in India in the 19th century, to reproduce the very same views. “This serves as a reminder of the enduring qualities of the country’s architectural and natural legacy. It also highlights the importance of preserving this heritage, and warns of the risks in the future if this is not done,” says Martinelli.
There are others who dwell on more intimate spaces. Anshika Varma gives a glimpse into the homes of people she has come across in her travels, in the process finding figments of her own. Paolo Patrizi has Nigerian sex workers making a living in Italy and Tuhin Subhra Mondal documents the inhabitants and visitors in the “place” where he lives. Asmita Parlekar’s work mirrors the absurdity of the post-modern dislocation of the animal of which the modern zoo is the epitome.
Philippe Calia sums up the project with a metaphor, where the photographic realm is the ecosystem, a community of living and non-living organisms resting primarily on diversity, sustainability and preservation. “The function of the photographer would be central to this system, embodying parallel and overlapping existences — on the one hand, as a photographer-author, producing original work, re-investigating dominant narratives and mainstream visual lexicons; on the other, as a photographer-editor, appropriating existing material (primarily his/her own) and giving it new life through the art of montage,” he says.