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Abul Kalam Azad


Fragmented memories and histories trapped in Kaleidoscope


Abul Kalam Azad started taking photographs at a very young age. Majority of his photographs from the seventies are shot in his native Kerala. In the early nineties, he moved to Delhi, where he joined the Press Trust of India (PTI) as a photojournalist. He was in the field of photojournalism only briefly but soon rejected this promising career path in favour of a more personal approach to the medium of photography. Since then he has never worked with any publications. He didn’t take up any commercial assignments as well. Instead, he continued his formal experiments independently, almost always using the print as the base medium. During the mid-90s, with the support of Charles Wallace and French Government scholarships, he travelled to Europe for higher studies. Returning to India after completing his courses in Europe, he continued working as an independent visual artist. His works are experimental and he often resorts to unconventional means such as working with found objects and images, scratching, doodling etc. His most notable series from this period (1990 – 2000) includes Divine Façade, Violence Undone, Cine cést ne', Trap, Still Life series, Painted Photographs and Goddesses. Between 2000 and 2010, Indian photography saw a shift from analogue to digital. Reluctant to take a complete swing, but at the same time trying to keep up with the technological advancements, Abul started incorporating digital technology in his works and the resultant hybrid photographic prints are unique in style and content. Over the time, his focus on micro-history, religion, politics and other recurring themes have only become stronger. Found photographs, re-usages of earlier works, multi media and various print techniques make regular appearances, a definitive presence in the photographic aesthetics and language of the artist. His most notable works from this period include Untouchables, Digital Moon, Senti-mental, Man with tools, Three Lovers, Red Room and Sema. Starting 2010, he uses different new media, such as smartphone photography, lo-fi digital and at the same time, continues to use large and medium format film cameras. His most recent works are Men of Pukar and War, Wedding, Widows - Thirdgenders from a photo-perspective. Abul's works have been exhibited in major cities across the world including London, Paris, New York, Delhi, Madrid, Frankfurt among others.


Fragmented memories and histories trapped in Kaleidoscope

"Let that be.

It can only be said that the pot seen by us was not there at the site where we were not present and not that it was there.

If on the other hand it was there we must have with us someone who was present there.

It is possible to say that the seer was there at the spot where it was seen and not where it was unseen.

If there is no such seer, nothing is seen.

It is thus clear that this pot was not there before but came to shine forth at this moment."

- Narayana Guru

I created this large body of work titled Senti-mental between 2005 and 2010. These images resemble fragments of psychedelic colors and memories trapped inside a kaleidoscope. I was tracing and chiseling the ever blossoming  childhood memories and its nostalgic narratives. Senti-mental is an amalgamation of traditional (analog) and modern (digital) photographs. To create these hybrid images, I collected old and discarded bromide prints/negatives from commercial studios, antique shops, and old markets of South India. I have always been interested in transforming such abandoned photographs. Through the use of discarded images, someone else's visual memory transgresses with that of mine; and these memory fragments become trapped inside a kaleidoscope. This construction and deconstruction of decades-old encounters get a metaphorical meaning through the Senti-Mental series. I have also included a few photographs that I had shot using a film camera. These fragmented moments from the South Indian analog memory lane blend with the magical touch of digital reworking, giving the photographs a sleek and contemporary look. The gaze, pose and firm grip of subjects in the early studio photographs are a reminder of the colonial memory. The comfortable and relaxed poses and the fearless gaze of the subjects I have shot and included in this series signifies the levels of popularity and affinity that this medium has gained over the decades. Time and again, history has proved that ideas that may not be valued at certain periods and may be lost/forgotten, only to be valued again, sometime in the future.

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