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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Digital Dialogues

Daniel Oppenheim relives his interactions with the people of Kolkata and bangalore through an exhibition of photographs in New York.

Written by Nikita Puri |
Updated: August 18, 2014 12:00:30 am
Girls in Kolkata; Young Men Girls in Kolkata; Young Men

A business trip, that is what it essentially was. But New York-based Daniel Oppenheim managed to steal a few hours from his official and maiden trip to India, the offshoot of which is now seen at the Ossining Public Library in Ossining, New York. When Oppenheim carried his camera along for the trip, his intention was to indulge in some nature photography; instead he went home with images of people who looked straight into the camera.

In the show titled “Kolkata-Bengaluru Journal”, which is on at the library till the end of August, images of bazaar and slum inhabitants from across the two cities make their presence felt through prints measuring between 30×30 to 40×40 inches.

Total Recall

As a teenager in Jerusalem, Oppenheim remembers building his own darkroom. “I had a neighbour who was a professional photographer. He taught me all about composition, light and darkroom techniques. He also tried teaching me studio techniques for shooting models, often nudes, but I was too shy to follow through. So I’d give him my camera and learn later, while developing his shots in my darkroom,” says the photographer, who has worked with IBM Research for more than 20 years and holds three degrees in music.

Discovering India

The marketplaces in Bangalore were not different from the type I knew well in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, in my home country of Israel. However, my experiences there were unlike anything I’d seen in Israel,” says Oppenheim. “One hears about and sees much of the exotic colours, sounds and scents of India, but what deeply moved me were the people. What they lacked in material possessions, they remediated in humanity. I found Bangalore to be a modern city. They did not treat me as a foreigner with a camera, but as a fellow human being. I found a mutual curiosity, and a sincere desire to connect; there was always a dialogue,” he adds.

The scenario was different by the Hoogly. As he discovered Kolkata’s flower market just south of the Rabindra Setu aka Howrah Bridge, Oppenheim’s lens found what it was seeking. “I was looking for honest, raw connections. One doesn’t easily get that in a business or affluent environment. There tend to be some barriers that people hide behind, perhaps trying to project an image that is closer to marketing or branding than the true honest self,” he says. It was while printing an image called Young Men that Oppenheim was sure that certain moments wouldn’t fade away. “The men’s eyes from the image stared right at me with a calm confidence that completely engaged me. I sensed a fresh dialogue beginning with their image. This was a different interaction, a new surprise. I didn’t realise that at the time but I think that this intimacy and directness of dialogue is what attracted me, and is something I will now be on the look out for in the future,” he says.

Reality Check

A recent exhibition Oppenheim saw, “Eyes Wide Shut” by photographer/ filmmaker Stanley Kubrick in Vienna, stuck a familiar chord. “The images were made well before he got into filmmaking, but one can trace a direct path from his photographs to his movies. Kubrick was praised for capturing realistic images of people when, in fact, his approach wasn’t realism at all. To paraphrase him, ‘Reality is good, but stories are more interesting’. His photographs were meticulously staged and preconceived to fit his storyboard that later became central to his films,” says Oppenheim. He says this has a direct relevance to his work. “The images are about a very direct and intense connection that formed in the moment the image was captured. This connection is relived when the printed images are viewed,” he adds.

Up and Coming

After several nature and abstract photoshows, Oppenheim is consciously moving towards portraitures  and causes.

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