A black and white signboard and colourful cones hang behind an ice cream seller, who is holding up what seems to be a photograph framed in red wood. On closer inspection, you understand that he is actually holding up a mirror, reflecting a young boy having ice cream, probably one that he just bought from the seller.
In Magali Couffon de Trevros’ pictures, the subjects — in this case the ice cream seller — are often red herrings, tools to draw your attention to the men and women in the mirror. This collection of the French-expatraite photographer’s art has found pride of place at the Courtyard by Marriott, alongside works of German photographer Hellmuth Conz and British photographer Adam Barr.
The exhibition is a part of Courtyard’s Picturesque Brunch, held to showcase contemporary India through European photographers’ lenses. Curator, artist Jitha Karthikeyan, says, “We wanted to combine food and art, and at the same time, celebrate our differences. I thought these three photographers would be perfect for it. The photos you see are not by just a touring photographer. These are people who have been in India for years, so their photos have more meaning.”
Though born in France, Magali has been in India for the past 24 years. Her mirror series displayed here is a break from her relatively serious documentary work, to experiment with conceptual photography. “I like collaborating with painters, writers and other artistes, it allows me to push boundaries,” she says. The series, named, ‘The Other Side’, is also a collaboration with fellow photographer Christelle Flisch.
Downplaying any social commentary that her photos make, Magali claims her photos are open to interpretation. “I think showing reality in itself is very poetic, and do you need a deeper meaning for poetry?” she quips. “People can look at the photographs and create their own stories,” she adds, saying that nobody was asked to pose in front of the mirror. “I find that people in India are very cooperative, you start doing something on the street, and people will gather around to take a look.” The only difficulty? “The mirror was quite heavy!”
Adam Barr’s series of portraits — his field of expertise — on the other hand, removes the photographer from the experience. He turns his camera unflinchingly on the people he photographs, capturing them as they are, in their most natural state. “In that thousandth of a second before clicking a picture, a huge range of subtle emotions is painted across the subject’s face,” he says. “That gives an insight into who they are.”
Most of Adam’s photos displayed here are from his visit to brass musical instrument makers from Meerut. None of the makers seem to pay attention to the camera’s gaze, with their heads lowered in concentration. Having travelled the world extensively, the Pune-based photographer has been in India since 2017. “I have no plans of leaving,” he laughs.
For Hellmuth Conz, it was the fast paced life of Bengaluru that he wanted to capture. Using slow shutter speeds, he lets the city lights paint neon art. “We have no time any more to think, breathe… we have one appointment after the another, and no time to slow down!” says the 70-year-old who has been in India for the past 21 years.
Another couple of his photos are taken at Bengaluru’s dhobi ghats: the washermen surprised in the act of swinging the clothes — you almost expect the water droplets to splash out from the picture on to your face. Standing out in the middle of the chaotic pictures, is a woman at a Goan beach, her feet in the water, as if asking the others to relax.