Shot at night in Malaysia and Indonesia, 'What news of the snake that lost its heart in the fire' takes on mankind's relationship with nature
“During the daytime people are so busy with their lives, but during the night they are more truthful, this is what I want to capture in my walks,” says Arko Datto, who has just completed SnakeFire, the second chapter of the trilogy started with Will my mannequin be home when I return.
The Indian photographer, who was nominated for the Gomma Grant in 2016, started Mannequin in 2014, first using black-and-white then moving to colour to create a “more advanced, elaborate and a visually solid work”. Shot in India on a walk he repeated many times, it explores “what it means to be in direct confrontation with the night”. The project is open to several layers of interpretation, and includes fictional stories that run through the documentary images.
SnakeFire – or, to give it its full title, What news of the snake that lost its heart in the fire – is based in Indonesia and Malaysia, and also explores the night. “Different places have their own characteristics,” explains Datto. “I’ve been going there for three years before to absorb the vibes of the place, the idea born when some men found the world biggest python and it died shortly afterwards.”
Datto argues that human beings are living a life out of balance now, and that nature is reacting because of it, with, for example, global warming. He was impressed with the raw beauty of Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, but says that “but with development, they have been creating so many problems there that has become very hard for everybody [nature, wildlife and humans] to co-exist”.
Datto has worked on a trilogy before, previously shooting a project called Cyber Walks that included chapters called Cyber Sex, Crossing and CaptiveCam. Based on the idea of the panopticon, the series suggested that “nowadays with the internet, which is a virtual panopticon, normal people, like you and me, can observe other people and the State, like Edward Snowden did or Julian Assange. So people from the normal space are launching their attacks to the people in power”.
“India is facing a new fascist totalitarian setup,” says the photographer, “since Hindu fundamentalism is rising, people are been killed for eating cows or for holding hands on the street. Like Hitler or Mussolini have done in the past, people in power are oppressing the minorities such as the Christians, Muslims, intellectuals and academics. I wondered if I should face this issue with my photography, but fascist governments are something that will keep coming back through history.”
“The peoples’ memory is very short,” he continues, “Brexit and Trump are examples showing that right-wing governments are almost everywhere in the world now. So even though I am politically active, for the moment I prefer to work on linear existential things instead of working on issues that are repeating themselves. If the planet stops working we all die, that is something that is more important for me right now.”