The next day, we visited Sanjoy Roy, whom we had met in Chicago. Sanjoy’s business, Teamwork Productions, organizes festivals worldwide—everything ranging from Chicago’s Eye on India Festival to the Jaipur Literary Festival, the Indian Festival of South Africa, and several music and film festivals. This is a for-profit business, with a staff of over 60 in the Delhi office and scores more at his other sites. Sanjoy did everything from introducing us to the people he felt we needed to know, to getting us a better hotel, to providing lunch, to helping Jerri’s iffy stomach with a homeopathic remedy that actually worked.
The week continued by meeting Rahaab Allana, curator of the Alkhazi Foundation, whom we had met 3 years ago on our initial trip. They have a collection of some 100,000 Indian images; maintain a huge archive and library; publish photo books; and organize exhibits and lectures about photography throughout India. They even had an album of photos taken by a US soldier in India the same time as our collection, albeit with a completely different approach.
Rahaab is supportive, wants to be part of the project and said that our work was precisely what their foundation was all about. He suggested the possibility of hosting the exhibit at their New York gallery, and also that he would present the project to the Indira Gandhi Center for the Arts, where he sits on the exhibition committee. This would be a stellar venue. Now all we have to do is complete the work in the next 2 years!
At the suggestion of Sanjoy, we next went to see Anubhav Nath, Director of OJAS Art, an impressive gallery and sculpture park, on property his family previously used as a showplace for traditional crafts. He showed us an amazing collection of vintage automobiles collected by his grandfather, many owned by Rajas throughout India. And importantly, he introduced us to a collection of 19th century “oleographs”— altered chromolithographs. This approach is similar to what Jerri does in her own art and it was an eye opener. It seems that India has done everything, a long time ago, and, consistent with Hindu belief, it all somehow gets recycled, even through the eyes of two Jewish Chicagoans.
The next day we had coffee with Prashant Panjiar of the Delhi Photo Fest and the Nazar Foundation. At a Starbucks, he told us about other possible interested photographers and other potentially relevant collections. Finally, we played tourist (as best we could) and went to Old Delhi. We had lunch at the restaurant Al-Jawahar, a decidedly non-tourist spot (“All Mughlai food you test, All Jawahar serve the best”) and then visited the Jama Masid Mosque. There, we realized that our archive contained a photograph of this very structure. Since we were focusing on West Bengal and not on Delhi, we had never really checked. Our book attracted a small crowd. Jerri somehow found herself in the position of being a rock star, actually posing for photos and signing autographs for scores of young people. I think they thought she was Meryl Streep. Maybe she is.
We then somehow summoned the energy to visit the Art Heritage Gallery. Run by Rahaab’s mother Amal, the current exhibit used old Bollywood movie images and re-imagined them.
Using older images in new ways is evidently becoming a popular approach. I hope our exhibit doesn’t come on the scene after the concept is no longer fresh!
The next to last day in Delhi we finally got smart and hired a driver rather than negotiating the Metro and arguing with taxi drivers. We visited Aditya Arya, head of the India Photo Archive Foundation who has an impressive collection of photographs and cameras. As old photo folks, we shared our love of the process of photography, the need to actually know something to make a decent exposure, the training that we all went through that now is largely lost. We ended up being offered teaching positions, an offer we might seriously consider at some point. Aditya had a young assistant, Aparna Mohindra, who loved classic photography and was enthralled with our stories, envious of our experiences and history. We told her that she’d have even better ones, and they’d be her own.
Next we crammed in a visit to the Art Alive gallery, where we saw yet another exhibit that used old imagery to inspire the creation of new works. This time, it was those 19th century oleographs juxtaposed with contemporary paintings inspired by them. Why is it that you never hear about something, then you hear about it all the time?
On our last night in Delhi, we were invited to attend a dinner and concert hosted by the AIIS. Magical serendipity has governed our India experience since the start. Earlier in the day, we had been back at the AIIS archive, doing more research in an attempt to find our one remaining unidentified temple. I noted that there were more people at the archive than normal and was told that it was the annual conference of that year’s AIIS Fellows. We had narrowly missed that award; we were ‘alternates,’ which is both respectable and frustrating. I asked if Philip Lutgendorf was there. He is the head of the AIIS and was one of my references for the Fulbright and is normally based in Iowa. He would be at the fellows’ dinner and concert later that evening, to which we were then invited. Not only did we see Philip, but we met David Mees, Cultural Attache with the U.S. Embassy. We’d been in touch with him about our project but had never been able to get together. Over dinner, we had a chance to discuss our work in depth. He was intrigued and supportive. We’re now putting together a proposal to craft small exhibits of our 1945 images to be shown at US Consulates throughout India. The project just keeps growing.
The concert was by Aakash Mittal, an AIIS fellow who was performing a classical raag…on saxophone! Another great evening, ending a rather intense week. The next day, it was back to Kolkata.
Am I caught up on the blog yet? No. Keep tuned.
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