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Pakistani photography
Article added on August 20, 2010
  
It is a blind spot in art history: Pakistani photography. The exhibition and the accompanying book Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is a first attempt to cover the unknown territory.

Organized by the Whitechapel Gallery in London (exhibition ended on April 11, 2010) and the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (exhibition until August 22, 2010),  Where Three Dreams Cross offers an inside view of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh through the lens of the three countries' own photographers.

The curatorial team directed by Delhi-born artist, curator, writer and cultural activist Sunil Gupta sets a counterpoint to the European- and American-centered image of the region. The catalogue illustrated with some 220 photographs and the Winterthur exhibition with over 400 works by 82 photographers displayed complement the Western vision which often centers on war, crime, violence and famine. “No dead bodies in this show” (Sunil Gupta).

The vast territory the landmark book and exhibition try to cover has been organized into five broad topics: the portrait, the performance, the family, the street and the body politic. The book and exhibition title suggest that “the three dreams are crossed”. Therefore, the photographers have not been separated by nationality and a chronological hanging has been avoided. The result of such a gigantic undertaking can only be a first but important glimpse on what Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi photography has to offer.

Sunil Gupta told the press in June 2010 for the opening of the Winterthur exhibition that the show is open and offers no easy answers”. He added that “culture has no borders”. There may be “schools” and “points of view”.

The museum director and curator of the Fotomuseum Winterthur said at the same occasion that, when he fist researched the subject in 2004, there were no regional publishers dedicated to photography, no photo galleries and there was no photo art scene. In just six years, all this has changed fundamentally. Now one can find publishers and publications, photographic courses, exhibitions and a vibrant art scene.

Sunil Gupta pointed out to the irony that, 60 years after the end of the British colonization of the region, the first exhibition on the subject took place in London. “We need to see the pictures there [in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh]”, he added.



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As far as Pakistani photography is concerned, the catalogue and exhibition dwell for instance on the Malcolm Hutcheson Archive. The Pakistani based photographer Malcolm Hutcheson has spent some eight years researching and archiving negatives, cameras and backgrounds used by ruh khitch photographers. Ruh khitch is a type of camera and photographic method processing the image immediately (like a Polaroid). It acts like a mobile miniature darkroom. It was practiced throughout the world during the 20th century, but known specifically as Ruh khitch in the Punjabi region. The Malcolm Hutcheson Archive includes photographs by Mohammed Akram Gogi Pehlwan, Mohammad Amin and Babby Bhutta, who is the only photographer still working. They set themselves up on streets, mainly in tourist areas such as the Data Dabar shrine in Lahore where Pehlwan worked for forty years.

Another main collection-project contributing works to the book and exhibition is the White Star Photo Pvt Ltd. owned by Dawn Media Group, Pakistan. Formed in 2007, it is the first digitalized newspaper photo archive in the country. It contains valuable material ranging from pre-Partition (before 1947) to the present day. The current team includes photographers from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad, representing a diverse range of approach to photography. Their work is seen both nationally and internationally through editorial and commercial projects in books, exhibitions and multi-national image-based campaigns.

Among the many Pakistani photographers represented in Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is Bani Abidi. Born in Karachi in 1971, she is a conceptual artist who works with video and photography. Educated in Lahore and Chicago, she taught in Lahore, lives and works in Delhi and Karachi and has been exhibited around the world.

Mohammad Adil is also a native of Karachi. He is a photojournalist whose archives are maintained at White Star Photo Pvt Ltd. Mohammad Arif Ali was born in Lahore. He combines fine art practice with photo-documentary tradition. Mohammad Amin is another photographer from Lahore. As mentioned above, until 2007, he was the last specialist of ruh khitch (mainly souvenir) photography. In addition, he made copies of postcards of famous actors and actresses, replacing the heads with his subject's portrait.

Farida Batool was born in Lahore. She lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan and London. She documents the scars in Pakistani society caused by decades of unrest. She often uses lenticular prints, in which the image changes when the viewer moves position, in order to portray contrasting realities.

The list of Pakistani photographers documented in the book and exhibition also includes Iftikhar Dadi, Asim Hafeez (documented Karachi's hijra - hermaphrodite - communities), Tapu Javeri (best known as a fashion photographer), Arif Mahmood, Huma Mulji, Hammad Nasar, Mohammad Akram Gogi Pehlwan, Raghu Rai, Rashid Rana, Tanveer Shahzad, Fahim Siddiqi, Nony Singh, Ayesha Vellani and G.A. Zaidi.

Pakistani photography has been dominated by wedding and tourist photographers. As Hammad Nasar explains in the catalogue's article entitled From 'Spirit Pulling to 'Thinking' Photography, “Pakistan's contemporary art scene suffers from a lack of institutions providing platforms for display and encouragement that exist in other parts of the world. It has nevertheless thrived by serving a small but growing local art market, increasing international demand, and through the supportive environment provided by a number of influential art schools that create opportunities for artists to flourish intellectually and survive materially.” Nevertheless, Hammad Nasar deplores that Pakistani photography has not been “supported locally by institutions or collected internationally. Most local commercial galleries have been reluctant to show photographs in a market that places a high premium on the uniqueness of an artwork. This has led to the paradoxical situation where most photographers exhibiting in Pakistan are compelled to produce prints in extremely low edition numbers: editions of one are not uncommon.”

On the positive side, Hammad Nasar notes the creation of Pakistan's first photo-based gallery in November 2008. He situates the biggest change in the “increasing interest in photography by a new generation of artists.” Photojournalism, studio, fashion and documentary photography flourish. In
Where Three Dreams Cross, photographers approaching photography as a medium of fine arts and those coming from a documentary tradition share a common platform.

Where Three Dreams Cross. Order the catalogue book (376 pages, 220 photographs by 80 photographers, bilingual English and German) from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de. The cover shows a photograph by an unknown photographer: Wedding Portrait of an Indian couple, ca. 1950, silver gelatin print, hand colored, 20.3 x 15.3 cm. Courtesy of Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi, India. The exhibition catalogue covers 150 years of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi photography. It is a first, a groundbreaking work in many ways. The exhibition at the Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland) ends on August 22, 2010. The exhibition offers even more photographs than the already well-illustrated catalogue. - Order sheet music from India.


Where Three Dreams Cross.
Order the catalogue book (376 pages, 220 photographs by 80 photographers, bilingual English and German) from
Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de. The cover shows a photograph by an unknown photographer: Wedding Portrait of an Indian couple, ca. 1950, silver gelatin print, hand colored, 20.3 x 15.3 cm. Courtesy of Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi, India. The exhibition catalogue covers 150 years of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi photography. It is a first, a groundbreaking work in many ways. The exhibition at the Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland) ends on August 22, 2010. The exhibition offers even more photographs than the already well-illustrated catalogue.





Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.