Moving Focus, Shifting Zones: Rameshwar Broota's Recent Photographs
by Sritama Halder
Rameshwar Broota, along with being a painter is also a photographer who got interested in the medium from his early days as an artist. An exhibition of his recent photographs titled This End to the Other is ongoing in Aakriti Art Gallery, Kolkata in collaboration with the Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi from 7th to 30th December.
Broota's paintings from 2000 to 2009 are marked by an intense physicality. An erotic male body is conspicuously present in almost all his paintings of this period. This body, placed against a blank background, is fragmented. The fragments a part of an arm or finger/s occupy a dark claustrophobic space. Sometimes a metal like object transforms itself into a human body, a bent pipe echoes a finger, a limp finger, a cylinder or an arm with protruding veins and wrinkled skin insinuates the phallus, two hands grow multiple palms that hold each other. In these works such as the Collected and Pooled it is not an ideal body that is being celebrated. It is rather a body with all its corporeality, sexuality, sweat, pain and hunger that occupies the central space in Broota's works.
What is different in the photographs on display from his paintings is the absence of the centrality of human body. Here the body is no longer a site of contestation. If at all present within the frame, it is rather relegated to the margin, subsidiary to a vast and indifferent landscape or cityscape. One work titled This End to the Other shows a vast deserted rocky land with patches of faded green bushes which is divided by a wall made of multi-coloured boulders. This wall is manmade probably in order to mark different territories and that is the only sign of a human agency here. But those who had made it are gone and what remain here are the land and the wall. Another work titled Tactile Spaces, Textured Grounds is of a vast expanse of arid land with a tiny human figure with a machine in the middle and a horse standing away from this group. The bottom left corner shows tyre marks of passing cars. This photograph is again about the fleeting existence of humanity within the vastness of nature.
Even where a person is present in the foreground of a photo he is not the subject of focus. He merely acts as a prop, an essential yet small appliance in the
whole design. In the work titled No Man, No Horse, No Parrot-2 the figure of a boy in the foreground is standing with his back towards the viewer. His head and the lower part of his legs are abruptly cut off by the edges of the frame. He looks towards a city, in the middle of which a river silently flows. The boy is there merely to invite the viewer's gaze towards this city. He is actually one of us the viewers who stand behind him outside the frame looking at him looking at the city.
In the Untitled-2 a woman lies face down on the bed. Only the lower portion of her body is visible. A striped green sheet partly covers her naked legs, her dark coloured kurta scatters over and around her body. The upper part of this photo is superimposed with a portion of a bright blue sky. The human figure on the bed, stripped off her natural domestic surroundings, is thrown into an immeasurable space.
In the exhibition, the adjacent wall of this image is occupied by a photo of a mountain titled Shifting Sand. Though these two photos were taken at different times (2009 and 2010 respectively) they have a striking similarity. The curve of the body, the folds and ridges of the cloths and the subtle shadows almost echo the topography of the mountain with its crevices, gorges, slops and different textures and shades of the rocks. The inert figure of the woman helplessly submits to the eyes of the viewer the way the length of the mountain submits to the lens of the camera.
This exhibition is also about textures. The grainy texture of the lands, the texture of the skin, and the pixel like effect of a city create different effects in each image. In Nature tapestry-1 and Nature Tapestry-2 the architectures are almost strangled by the roots of some ancient trees. These roots entwining each other as they spread over the surface of the houses create an effect of a coarsely woven fabric.
Where Does the Ganga Flow? is an image of a city that presents a riddle. Somewhere in this city, hidden behind this jungle of concrete, invisible to the eyes of the viewer, flows the Ganga. The geometric shapes of the houses taken from top look like a picture with broken pixels. There is something mechanical about this image that reflects the growth of an unplanned city.
Photography captures not just the essence of truth but the truth itself. It captures what the naked eye misses and what the brain refuses to register. In that way a camera becomes a detached witness of reality. A photographed image has a sense of immediacy and permanence. It documents the past and preserve memories for posterity. Yet ever since the invention of camera there has been two ways of tackling this process. One was by celebrating the realism offered by a photographed image and the other was by denying it by manipulating the image. Even at the time when the art of photography was at its nascent stage there were attempts to recreate the real world by manipulating the light, the exposure time, density of the solution etc. With the arrival of digital photography and a number of softwares it is even more so. The art of photography destroyed the aura around a work of art as the idea of authorship and uniqueness was replaced by a photograph's potential to be multiplied. Digital photography farther questioned the 'truth' that a photograph offers by reworking on a particular image thus creating a multitude of parallel truths/ realities.
For Broota, photography ceases to be a medium of documenting and recording reality. His process of photography does not end with a camera. A camera is rather the beginning of a long and painstaking engagement of the artist with the process. The artist is widely travelled and he obsessively captures the places he visits. But one single image is not sufficient for him to depict reality. In the photos he superimposes one image over the other merging two different times and spaces, cropping an image, manipulating the light and shade thus creating an entirely new world of visuality. For example, the image Untitled-1 that is done in a diptych format shows the back of the head of an old man in the lower part apparently looking at the birds depicted on the upper part. These two parts taken in two different places are merged together to create a new visual and a different reality. In another work Road Block, Is It? a portion of a log of wood is superimposed over another image of cars on a highway. These images are taken from his stock of travel photographs. Once reworked digitally in the computer the real space ceases to exist and a new reality emerges that exists only in the virtual space.
In Broota's photos reality conforms to his desires and intentions. This process questions the meaning of a real, tactile space and the ability of a machine to capture the truth. Photograph is also associated with memory. Broota's digitally altered photos do not offer to reminisce the past. They are about a virtual present time and their history begins at the very moment when they are conceived on the computer screen.