Egaro, or eleven in Bengali, is the story of a number turning into life. Three years since it started, this unique photography exhibition in Tripura has started making its presence felt in the region as a no-nonsense ensemble of serious ‘photography artists’ trying to make a difference.
Arkadripta Chakraborty, festival director of Egaro, says they have expanded from a small exhibition of 11 photography artists in Tripura to a national event where even Indians based in Australia are participating. Plans are on to take ‘Egaro’ global from next year.
It started small in December 2016 with 11 photography artists from Tripura. Each one had their own photographs exhibited in print in front of Rabindra Shatabarshiki Bhavan. In 2017, the exhibition had works from photographers based in Kolkata, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Madurai.
Among the 11 whose works are being displayed this year are Akshay Mahajan, Aparna Jayakumar, Chandan Gomes, Karan Vaid, Mansi Thapliyal, Mohini Chandra, Priyanka Shah, Sameer Tawde, Saumalya Ghosh, Srinivas Kuruganti and Swastik Pal. Among them, Mohini Chandra is currently based out of Australia and has worked on nostalgia of her father through photography.
This year’s collection has a wide range of subjects. These include a centerpiece of work on shrinking fringe islands of Sunderban in West Bengal and people who are gradually losing ground under their feet there due to rising water levels. Other works deal with mining in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, women advocacy and rights, nostalgia and the likes.
They also have a series of talk on ‘Expressions of Freedom’, where acclaimed Bangalore-based photographer Mahesh Shantaram would be speaking on how photo books are made. Shantaram has worked extensively on African diaspora living in India, cultural interactions, racism and other humanist issues.
Animik Chakraborty and Anurab Dhar, both photography students at Dhaka, would deliver their first ever talk on ‘History of Photography’ and ‘Portrait Lighting’ during the festival as well. And then there is a photobook library for interested exhibition hoppers.
Animik Chakraborty, who is also an organising member of Egaro, said the festival has come to attract eyeballs of photography artists from across the country. However, he wants it to stay a homegrown festival, even if it clicks bigtime.
“Egaro has come a long way since 2016. And I hope someday, people treat it as a destination. But, most importantly, it should remain a homegrown festival instead of turning into an institutionalized event with a big-budget,” he says. Animik studies photography at Pathshala South Asia Media Institute in Bangladesh.
Tanmoy Chakraborty, an amateur photographer from Agartala, says Egaro is a good platform to showcase works of well known artists so that budding photographers can be inspired. He also said workshops and artist talks organised during the photo festival would give young photographers a low-cost opportunity to gain valuable insight on tricks of the trade.
Over the last three years, Egaro has exhibited works from different genres of photography cutting across wildlife, street photography, photography activism, diverse socio economic documentation, environmental issues, animal confinement, water pollution, social documentaries, contemporary art, fine art and so on.
Festival director Arkadripta Chakraborty has been enthusiastic about organising the event so far. However, he feels the biggest lacuna about photo festivals in northeast India is the absence of proper photo galleries.
“The biggest obstacle of photography in NE India is that gallery space is very limited in all these states. We have few government-owned galleries. But you can’t really call them galleries by the way those are maintained. I am buying lights and fitting them here to make do for an exhibition. This is not how a professional gallery works,” Arkadripta says.
Usually, art and photo galleries hire a gallery manager who is a connoisseur on art history, curation, art forms and installation. But coming from northeast India, photo festivals come with the baggage of a bulk of oblivious audience.
So, while selecting works for Egaro, the team tries to boil it down to something which is quickly relatable.
As of now, Egaro is the only standardised photo festival in NE India. An international photo festival was organised in Shillong four years back but it could not sustain.
The challenge to photography, however, is amateur mobile photography. So, Arkadripta and others have planned to embrace it in the bigger scheme of things.
“Everyone is a photographer in their own right these days. There was never more democracy in photography, thanks to mobile phone cameras. Our idea at Egaro is to push the boundary of imagination and inspire people to think about what you can capture with a camera,” Arka says.
Meanwhile, photography artists from elsewhere in NE India have said in an age of exhibitionism, Egaro is a serious venture with a homegrown touch of community. Ritesh Uttamchandrani, an acclaimed photographer and a photojournalist for several years, was highly enthusiastic about Egaro. “They are doing groundwork for the future,” he says, adding that the Egaro-model should be adopted in other NE Indian states like Meghalaya or Arunachal Pradesh. He feels photographers from NE India has a much greater shot at working in potential projects than parachuting photographers from Delhi or Mumbai to the region.
However, he differs with Arkadripta in the idea of having proper photo galleries. “See, galleries isolate people. Mostly, the rich can afford to visit galleries. For young photographers, hiring an auditorium in a school and turning it into a gallery for the time being should do it. I feel what India needs is a community that is built from below,” he reasons.
Goa-based photographer Akshay Mahajan says Egaro has proved to be a well-curated local photo festival. “There are only three or four major photo festivals in the country. But it seems photography is venturing away from the metro cities to NE India and such places. Egaro has done a good job in creating a contextual and relevant frame of work for the local audience. I hope this goes ahead,” he adds.