Pushpamala N

Arts Collaboration

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

The photograph's ability to document reality — the character of verisimilitude that it possesses — is universally acknowledged. Photojournalism, in this sense, exemplifies the documentary nature of everyday photography. Pushpamala reminds us, though, of the early days of Indian photography when we found an extremely free and imaginative use of the new technology.On the other hand, new-age technologies, including photocopiers, and computer manipulations of digital images, open up interesting possibilities. "The image degeneration that comes from reproduction itself is interesting and has its own expressive quality." It is this phantasmagoric possibility of the photographed image that Claire and Pushpamala are keen to explore.

Trained as a sculptor, Pushpamala has, in recent times, consistently explored the creative elements of photography and video. 'Phantom Lady or Kismet', Pushpamala's collaboration with photographer Meenal Agarwal, was a variation of the painterly idea of a self-portrait. This was preceded by a collaboration with Australian artist, Derek Kreckler, towards the creation of a video installation. Claire Arni, a commercial photographer for the past fifteen years, has documented innovative architecture and worked as a fashion photographer. Keenly interested in the creative possibilities of her vocation, she has independently studied Edwardian and Victorian-era portraits. Claire and Pushpamala have known each other for more than a decade. Their common interest in researching the ‘South Indian woman’ and passion for the photographic image will form the basis, they hope, for a long-term and intensely productive collaboration.

They will construct the imaginary Somberikatte Photo Studio, exploring their common interest in interrogating processes that generate and manufacture gender stereotypes, especially through photographs. Working with urban artisans, Claire and Pushpamala will conceive, design and photograph a series of tableaux. These tableaux will "displace and re-arrange stereotypical images of the south Indian woman, to create contemporary images, through the medium of photography" and make reference to "Hindu mythology, early Indian photography as well as contemporary popular and street forms." Photographing these tableaux will also involve experimenting with lighting designs, and attempting a variety of innovative poses, expressions and moods for the character(s) featured within them. The duo wants to make these photographs not for their nostalgic value, but to intervene in the histories of how women have been seen. In pursuit of this aim they will manipulate and work on the photographs of these tableaux in various ways.

They plan to test and try out a variety of darkroom techniques. They will also collaborate with a range of technicians including specialists in the fast disappearing technique of hand tinting black and white photographs, computer-savvy graphic designers who will help them explore the possibilities of photomontage. These newly composed photomontages will then be given to commercial lithographers to be developed into traditional film posters. While the two will work with new-age technology to make crisp, contemporary images, they will also work towards creating images that are deliberately archaic, damaged and old. This collaboration will produce a variety of materials that can be exhibited, displayed and disseminated in different ways. These would include a set of b&w and hand-tinted photographs, posters, postcards and a cheaply priced flipbook with a small text behind each picture. Claire and Pushpamala will also consider the possibility of using some of the tableaux as sets for live performances in a gallery, and the projection of slides onto the walls of a gallery as an installation perhaps, or on a public building at night as a site-specific work. They might also use the photographs in a video installation.