Photography – Breaking the mould

The past two days have been a delight for the artist within. I have spent a whole day walking through Tate Britain‘s collection of art works from 1500s until present day and another day with looking at works of modern art from across Europe and the americas in Tate Modern. The experience in both places have been wonderful. These galleries hold huge collections of arts of the periods and the regions they are dedicated to.  You love art or not, everyone loves beautiful sights. One must to go to these museums just to experience that sight of those beauty from centuries. And the best part about these museums is the guided tour around the place provided by the volunteers. That helps one understand the context, the reasons and the times when these museums were initiated and the times the art works were made.

The walks and time spent in the galleries of these museums is not enough for me. There were many comparisons, thoughts , observations going on within. A thought and a marvel that recurred as I walked from one gallery to another was about photography, its advent and its contribution to fine arts.

Photography is classified as one of the fine arts along with drawing, painting, sculpting etc. But the entire scene of fine arts have gone through a revolution with the invention of cameras. Life of photography and the techniques- to capture light and capture images from chemical mediums to digital mediums is another fascinating journey. But its undeniable what this field of arts have done to the others. Its contribution to others is enormous. If you look at the collections in Tate Britain and Tate Modern there is stark change in the style of paintings and expressions. There seems to be a sudden shift in how an artist expressed himself. And to me that sudden shift in expression was made possible by photography.

Wivenhoe Park by COntable

Before photographic techniques were found, artists mostly painted scenes, portraits and situations to document stories.  If you look at the collection of 1500s in Tate Britain, every painting has a story to tell. Every detail of a painting had a reason – what dress a person is wearing, the number of rings they wore in their hands portrayed etc, all of it was trying to say something of those times. Many art works commissioned were to tell those stories in one single frame. The art works of Turner, Constable and others of those times are so important in that respect. They helped us see what it would be like in their times.

The field of waterloo by Turner

With the carrival of photography, the responsibility of documentation to a great extent was lifted off from the artist.  This provided the kind of freedom that artists in the past did not have. The sublime art of Turner’s times now gave way to the abstract art of the modern times. In a way, my journey as an artist have been like that of classical art to that of modern art. I did not have a camera of my own until I was 19 years old. I had basic training in classical painting and drawing techniques- water colors, oil on canvas etc. I used tomake landscapes with oil on canvas and portraits of faces with pencil or charcoal on paper. After the point when I had a camera of my own, I started to experiment with color, papers and different medias simply expressing what I felt on those papers. The need to document and capture moments of importance is now taken care of by my camera.  Photography bestowed me with that mental freedom.

Weeping woman by Piccaso

I have always been able to relate to Pablo Piccaso’s or Jacksonn Pollocks work without knowing why. And lately my interaction with colors look like the way Gerhard Richter’s play with colors. In an interview Richter says ( i paraphrase it here) – colors are so beautiful to simply be with, i simply play with them until I feel satisfied. The rage and agony Piccaso must have felt painting the weeping woman, or the surging emotions that Pollock felt while slapping and dripping colors on his canvas or the delight of playing with colors that Richter felt is what I could connect with.  This to me was a contribution of photography to fine art.

One of the paintings of Gerhard Richter exhibited at Tate Modern



V&A museum – Art and its perception across generations

One of the Jammel Prize exhibits. An artist trying to make the arabic calligraphy modern yet not too modern.

One of the Jammel Prize exhibits. An artist trying to make the arabic calligraphy modern yet not too modern.

I visit many magnificent museums, exhibitions, places of architectural importance all the time while on work. I take zillions of photos and I edit none. I write detailed notes and I never write/ publish it.

Today I am spending my entire day at this V&A museum in London. The first thing I did while here is go through the Jameel Prize winners exhibit. And then took the introductory tour through the museum. And I am typing this post taking a break from my museum tour. I think I won’t be able to write anything coherant by the end of the day as I will have too many things to say and won’t know what to write and share. So I took this break after a brief interaction with another museum visitor at the V&A cafe.

There are many things wonderful I can say about the V&A museum. Can I say something which has already not been told by some celebrated art critic or an appreciator?I don’t think so. Neither do I have the language or the skill to do it. All I could talk about is my experience and observation on what happens around the art exhibits here.

Observation 1:

A hanging exhibit of all the band instruments used by the coal miners

A hanging exhibit of all the band instruments used by the coal miners crushed and flattened. More symbolic of what happened to the mines during the Thatcher era.

When I arrived at the museum, I was early by few minutes, there were many people waiting in front of the entrance. Right across V&A museum is the Natural history Museum and the Science museum. These also had people waiting in front of the gates. That is a nice sight. I have liked the attitude people have  for history and art in this country. I can not stop myself from comparing what it is in India. If few more of us cared for art and finer things our cities, towns and villages will be a different place.

Observation 2:

Somnathapura temple , Karnataka, India

Somnathapura temple , Karnataka, India

There were two groups of school children running around the museum. All of them were taken around by their school teachers I think. Don’t know who those adults were. But while taking the introductory tour, I came across one of the bunches, who sat in front of on of the art pieces and a teacher/ volunteer was explaining them about it for more than 15 minutes.  I have gone to museums, planetariums and science exhibitions as a child, but dont remember anyone taking me through the works like this. Recently while on a trip to one of the most beautiful Keshawa temple of Hoysala architecture in  Somnathpura ,there were children from local school brought to the place. They were introduced to the sculptures  but not as well as it could have be done.

Experience of the place:

V&A Cafe, designed in the William Morris times.

V&A Cafe, designed in the William Morris times.

My experience of the place has been good. Its a huge museum.  In the words of  this lovely lady, Edda Luise Irvine, who took us around doing the introductory tour : ” it will take me another life time to see, understand and appreciate every one of the millions of exhibit  in the museum” . Indeed! But the thing that I liked about this place is the fact that I could relate to the space. The design of the museum.  Although most of the exhibits are centuries old, there is something relatable. This could be because of the fact that the reception area and some spaces  have exhibits like – this huge glass chandelier (made of glass weighing some 1700 kilo grams with thousands of pieces of glass) hanging at the entrance and  a huge copper wire art work by Omer Arbel  in the middle of ceramic sculptures from 18th and 19th century.


An art exhibit with light bulbs hanging off copper wire. It is called the 28.280 by Omer Arbel

Glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly. This was installed in 1999.

Glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly. This was installed in 1999.

Interestingly while having a cup of tea in the cafe, one of the fellow tourist (must be in her 60s) shares how things in the museum have changed. She had visited this place when she was a teenager. . And her quibble was – “The museum was so much better in those days”. And that is what we always do isn’t it? If I came 40 years from now, my quibble will be similar to hers, isn’t it?. The reasons for which I found this place more acceptable were the same why she did not like it.  There is this inherent resistance to change and acceptance of new things. And that to me is intriguing. Places like these bring that aspect of us out so well.

With that thought, I shall resume my tour again.

♫ The power of Music ♫

I go through my share of high, upbeat and beautiful  days and smaller but a felt share of  down, deep in dungeon states too.

In the dungeon days, earlier I sought for external support, from friends and other near ones. As time passes, a self healing process seems to be lot better an approach. There is very little effort one has to put to make self understand about their own turmoils. 🙂 .  Of course this process of reconciliation and healing of self is not completely by myself. There is a big aid in this process, music.  I either sing by myself or listen to music compositions that come to my mind or something I happen to listen during the troubled times. This is not a very unique process, most of people I know do it unconsciously. Until few months ago, even I would have to remind myself – “listen to something” and that was enough to see me through the blue days and come out of it all happy and optimistic about everything life. But it was not a very conscious process. Now the attempt is more conscious.

This post is not to praise myself of this ability to get out of lows with the help of music, but to share about a beautiful school that takes this approach to reach out to children from troubled backgrounds. This was a movement initiated by José Antonio Abreu. He talks about this initiative at TED in 2009.

The school that he started in Mexico is called The El Sistema. There is another school by the same folks now in  United States of America as well . I smile with pride and joy when I see these children from El Sistema perform.

I indulge in arts ( paint, sketch), music and yet I never realised that these so called “softer forms” of practice have a powerful bearing on the work done to people and situations that needs the most attention and care.  Art and music is much needed in places where there is and was trouble. It is not something only the elite need to indulge in. It is more needed  and  is quite a powerful instrument to address the problems of the world. As most problems of the world are problems of living beings who have hearts and minds.

Of course we need  – houses, water, food and all the necessities to meet basic needs. But it really matters to the world that each and every individual in this world  is happy within themselves. That makes them capable of facing their challenges and struggles of life gracefully without causing pain to themselves or others.