As a focus for a photography show, “light” is a fairly open-ended theme. After all, light is photography’s one necessary element – whether reacting with sensitive chemicals layered on metal or glass plates for the earliest blurry images, on paper, on celluloid film, or through digital image sensors. Photography literally means “light-writing”. Hikari (Japanese for “light”), Tasveer gallery’s new exhibition, brings a fresh, poetic perspective to the basics of the medium through the work of five photographers, each with his or her own distinctive lens. “The photographers are not recording light, but rather using it as a painter might use his brush,” said Nathaniel Gaskell, who co-curated the exhibition with photographer Shiho Kito. Gaskell and Kito chose images that use light “to manipulate, describe and deceive”, playing with the idea of what light reveals and conceals and skirting between the real and the imagined.
Conventionally, photographs are thought to document reality, but the 30 photographs in Hikari demonstrate how light can be moulded to create an image that is quite different from what is in front of the camera, or visible to the human eye. On the one hand, the camera can immortalise what is actually fleeting and transient.
Yuji Obata captures the ephemeral through his pictures of the intricate geometric shapes of snowflakes in the “Homage to Wilson A Bentley” series. On the other hand, the camera can often “miss” or misunderstand what is in front of it. This comes across in Tokihiro Sato’s playful landscape photographs, which are illuminated by what look like electric fairy lights from a distance, and fireflies up close. They light the base of a tree in “Shirakami, #4” and a shed in the middle of a field in “#170”. Although trained as a sculptor, Sato told Time Out that he shifted to photography to explore how he could create “non-existent sculptures by lights.” Sato achieves this effect with a large-format camera and an exposure of up to five hours. While the shutter is open, he enters the frame to “draw shapes with a torch”. “What I would like the viewers to see is this idea of the ‘missing part’ in my images,” Sato wrote in an artist statement for the exhibition. “I want them to imagine that something which they cannot actually see in the picture does exist – by means of showing my own absence.”
The luminescent images made by Sato, the oldest in this group, enter into a lively dialogue with those of Kito, the youngest. Sato’s student at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Kito also uses long exposure, but with different results. Both of her series in Hikari were taken during an exchange semester at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, but the black-andwhite daylight portraits in “Walls” and the night landscapes in “Pikari” present a striking contrast. In the first, Kito looks at walls as a metaphor for interpersonal barriers, hinting at the walled old city in Ahmedabad and communal tensions after the Gujarat riots in 2002. “Pikari”, which is Japanese for “flashing lights”, emerged from Kito’s desire to map the places she’d travelled to. “I embarked on collecting and gazing [at] lights in England and in India as if I were repeating starspotting to find my location and direction [as I used to do] in my girlhood,” she said.
Less literally linked to the central theme, Ken Kitano and Kimiko Yoshida’s works fall within the genre of portrait photography, which is often a site for manipulating public identity. Yoshida taps into this transformative potential of photography in her stark Cindy Sherman-like self-portraits, posed as famous art historical characters: Picasso’s mythological minotaur, the female character from Vermeer’s “Officer and Laughing Girl” and the Emerald Buddha from the Royal Grand Palace, Bangkok. Kitano’s mysterious, blurred “metaportraits” share these social and political overtones, but evoke the quality of early portraiture. There’s a uniformed soldier standing at attention in Tiananmen Square, the face of a Chinese day-labourer, a burqa-clad woman from a Bangladeshi village. These “individual” portraits are actually composed of multiple negatives of different members of an ethnic, social or religious group, painstakingly superimposed during the analogue printing process. They are part of Kitano’s “Our Face” project, which seeks to “create an icon of a particular community” (as Kitano wrote in the concept note), and which includes “metaportraits” of over 150 groups from Asia shot since 1999.
Kitano’s series is compelling, though its inclusion illustrates why it can be handy to have a theme as catch-all as “light” for a group exhibition. What is common to all of these photographers is a playful disregard for reality – the idea that truth isn’t necessarily expressed through physically accurate representation. “The photographers in this exhibition each consider their medium much more openly,” Gaskell said. “They are not documenting the world as it is, but rather the world as it exists through their interjections, performances, ideas and embellishments.”
By Sonam Joshi on September 14 2012 7.34am