At the intersection of the art and craft of photography

While spending a week in Calcutta, India, I saw (and photographed) many things. Having previously spent little time in Calcutta, everything I experienced and pondered there seemed to be doubly intense. This was quite a sensation, since going anywhere in India is always so intense. In the future, I will share some of my experiences and thoughts that came out of my time in the place also known as the “City of Joy.” One thing I did that was especially interesting was to see an exhibition by an Indian photographer, Prashant Panjiar. The work I saw exists almost perfectly at the intersection of the art and craft of photography.

The project is called PAN India, A Shared Habitat. The first part of the title alludes to the work’s all encompassing approach to India geographically AND to the photographic technology used to make that work. Information on the exhibit is at: http://www.tasveerarts.com/artists/prashantp_gallery01.shtml There is also an interesting, thought provoking review of the work/exhibition at: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main42.asp?filename=hub260909the_price.asp

The images are all in panoramic format, made with an X-pan film camera that the photographer first borrowed to start experimenting with in 2000. From the reviews and the exhibition catalog, it becomes clear that during the first six years he was using the panorama camera, the images were taken along side the more photojournalistic images that were actually taking him all over India for his work as a photojournalist.

After six years,

“…he took stock of his wide format images and realized they could be organized around a theme of living habitats, and began work on the project (with more intention.) ‘These concerns — around the new Indian growth and construction and how people live — evolved as they preyed on my mind,’ he says. His earlier project, titled Kings & Commoners, came similarly with an emerging theme rather than something programmed.”

Gaurav Jain writing for http://www.tehelka.com

This struck a chord with me because some photographer’s projects are born in their mind’s eye and then, all they have to do is go out and execute the proposed work. Other photographers have to do some of the photographing and then look at that new work to see what subconscious themes are appearing in that work. Many of my wife’s long-term projects use the former strategy while mine generally use the latter. One approach is not better than the other! Both should result in a body of work that provokes a response in the viewer.

What I like about Panjiar’s work is that he used a Hasselblad X-Pan, which makes panoramic images on 35mm film to create large, luscious and thought provoking images. Today, panoramas are much more common, often assembled by the imaging software from a collection of images made at the same time by literally panning or laterally moving the camera. The technology, while amazing, often overcomes errors on the photographer’s part. The discipline required to work in the panoramic format with slide film (an especially finicky media when it comes to getting the exposure just right,) is admirable.

The same panoramic film format, seems to mimic the landscape of India, is also a signal to the viewer to slowly pan their own vision across (or up and down) the images. The work feels like it is best contemplated slowly.

The project’s strategy, in terms of craft and concept, seems to me to be a response to his years working as a photojournalist, where the images had to be a quick read, not call too much attention to the author and were always made in subservience to the news story.

The work and the artist’s thoughts (in the catalog and reviews) take you along on the two journeys that he went through in making the exhibited work (and subsequent book by the same name.) Of course we go to all of the many places Panjiar went to as he did the photography. But as a photographer, if you pay attention, you will see and appreciate the creative journey he went on, starting with a borrowed camera and ending in a compelling exhibition.

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