Poulomi Basu’s Centralia is no easy read. The situation it unravels − a protracted fight for land and resources in central India − is not only complex, but also largely unheard of, especially in mainstream Western media. And Basu, reflecting on contemporary documentary practices, refuses to simplify it into a readily digestible format. Instead, she wishes to reflect the bewildering atmosphere that reigns in the region. “The adage ‘The first victim of any conflict is the truth’, is particularly apt here,” she says. “The conflict, with its many actors all occupying opaque roles, has created a space with its own internal logic and landscape.” Thus, she hopes to take the audience “on a journey to a place where truth and lies, reality and fiction have become blurred”.
Indian photographer Arko Datto (b.1986) completed two masters degrees in theoretical physics and mathematics before deciding to take a “leap of faith into photography”. After studying photography at the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus, his long-term projects have since been published in leading international publications, such as TIME and National Geographic. For PIK-NIK, Datto spent the last five winter seasons photographing picnic spots across eastern India, primarily in West Bengal but also in Jharkhand and Orissa. Here, families and colleagues converge for a day of food, drink and revelry before departing at sunset, leaving piles of rubbish in their wake. “Vats of freshly slaughtered chicken, sacks of vegetables and an arsenal of pots, pans and gas cylinders are lugged along, taking cooking en plein air to a whole new level,” says Datto.
Launched on 11 December, a brand new biannual, Clove, has a refreshing take on art and culture. Founded by London-based, British-Indian journalist Debika Ray, the magazine focuses on creative work from South Asia and its global diaspora. “My impression was always that, in Western media, there was a narrow frame of reference when it came to covering parts of the world beyond North America and Europe,” says Ray, who until recently was senior editor at the architecture and design magazine Icon. “Stories from South Asia or the Middle East are often handled in a distant way, focusing on problems or crises and how people battle against odds to overcome things. I wanted to tell stories from those parts of the world in a way that were instead built on their own merit.”
When New York-based photographer Marc Ohrem-Leclef first travelled to India eight years ago he was struck by the “small, shared moments of intimacy” that he saw men displaying towards one another in public – admiring the openness with which they made what he assumed were public displays of romantic love. “As a gay man, I was quite excited by what I thought was romantic freedom,” he says. “Men would be holding hands or leaning against each other in public. There was a connectivity that I thought was really beautiful.” He quickly learnt that things were not as he had first thought, that the men he saw were not necessarily romantically involved at all and were often just expressing friendship.
The last time we spoke to Vasantha Yogananthan he was preparing to release chapter one of his hugely ambitious seven-part project A Myth of Two Souls. A project that he started in 2013 with his first trip to India, the collection is a photographic re-imagining of one of the most significant Hindu texts, the epic poem Ramayana. Dating back to the 4th century, the Ramayana still holds tremendous significance in India, with its allegorical, mythical stories helping convey concepts such as love, duty, violence, loyalty and divinity. Yogananthan had always been familiar with the Ramayana growing up – his Sri Lankan father told him stories from it during his youth in Grenoble, France, and he picked up comic book adaptations of it as a teenager. But it was only when he visited India that he realised just how interwoven the analogies presented in Ramayana are with the experience of everyday life on the subcontinent, and just how thin the line can be between mythology and reality.
NOOR, the prestigious photo agency and foundation, has signed up three new nominees – Sanne de Wilde, Arko Datto and Leonard Pongo. Hailing from Belgium, India and Belgium/DR Congo respectively, all three are known for their cutting-edge work, rooted in documentary but pushing the aesthetic boundaries of image-making.
The September issue brings the otherwise invisible into sharp focus. Invisible World explores forgotten conflicts, intimate retreats, abused landscapes and remote islands to uncover the hidden realities and unknown societies behind ordinary backdrops. “As social beings, we all demand to be seen,” says Hoda Afshar, whose latest series, Behold, takes us to an exclusive male-only bathhouse. Her point resonates with all the photoseries explored in this issue: how do we negotiate our surroundings, how do we see our societies, how do we interpret our world? We need to first see the invisible to answer these ever salient questions.
While Martin Parr describes photography as “the most accessible, democratic medium available in the world”, the industry that has built up around it has not always followed suit. Often confining itself to intimidating, inaccessible museums, galleries and organisations, photography as an art form doesn’t always interact with the public at large. A new Indian festival, Just Another Photo Festival wants to remedy this, aiming to “democratise photography across the country.” The initiative of photographer Poulomi Basu, Emaho Magazine founder Manik Katyal and British independent filmmaker CJ Clarke, the New Delhi festival will be showcasing 150 photographers from over 35 countries. Work from the likes of Roger Ballen, Philip Toledano and Sim Chi Yin will be displayed in 11 different locations. This guiding idea of expanding the base of photography lovers is being put into action by bringing photography to open, public spaces including malls, universities and even slums. “We’re showing it at a school in a slum,” Katyal says. “They’ve told me they would never imagined that they would get to enjoy photography in this space. We’re …
How do you communicate, through photography, what it’s like to live in a city like Mumbai? A city of such variety, ethnically and economically, one of total poverty for so many and free of want for a few. Traditionally, Western photographers have approached the city from a humanitarian perspective, using people – their expressions, gestures, moments of clarity – that might symbolise the social realities of the city Max Pinckers, the 27-year-old Flemish photographer newly invited into the Magnum Photo Agency, found a new way to visualise Mumbai. In The Fourth Wall, Pinckers photographed, with a careful, cool composition, how human beings apply their creativity, how they problem solve, how, in the most basic ways, they use ingenuity to survive and overcome the hardships of their environment. First released in 2013, The Fourth Wall caused huge waves in photography world. The Europalia International Arts Festival, in its 24th biennial, quickly commissioned Pinckers to continue his India work. The Brussels-based festival highlights the artistic and cultural output of one country. In 2011, the featured country was Brazil; in 2013, it was …
“This story you cannot tell, only recording the work as it is,” says photographer Vasantha Yogananthan. In a black blazer, black jeans, black cardigan and a floral shirt, Vasantha Yogananthan is as mellifluous as his photography. Scans of these – slate and rainbow squares on cream paper – lie fanned on the table. The 29-year-old Paris-based photographer has just gained the resources to develop his epic seven-book project, A Myth of Two Souls, which we discuss at the BJP office in Old Street, London. He’s won a £5,000 grant in the international category of the IdeasTap and Magnum Photographic Award, after finishing in the top three of 823 applicants. He is in a good mood. “The challenge is: how do you tell this story for people in the West?” says Yogananthan, whose mother is French and father is Sri-Lankan. “People will see the pictures and miss what the project is about. We are working on finding an editorial strategy where we can invite the audience to discover India the same way I am discovering it.” The project is to …