The story is as simple as it's remarkable. The American photographer and poet Richard John Waswo, who now prefers to style himself as Waswo X Waswo, wandered into Udaipur in 1993 with his partner, Thomas. The two men were immediately seduced by its picturesque charms: the lakes, the splendid architecture, the winding lanes with shops that offered unexpected, wonderful surprises. It was to be the first in a series of visits that culminated in a decision to settle in the city where Waswo now has his studio and residence since 2006.
In Udaipur, Waswo did the usual tourist rounds of the silver markets, the shops selling the emblematic assembly-line kitsch—scarves, bric-a-brac, miniature paintings that appealed to foreigners looking for a slice of India to take home: cliched images of flora and fauna, erotic couples, eternally languishing court ladies.... Waswo was looking for a miniature artist to illustrate the book of India-inspired poems he wanted to publish. The shopkeeper he liaised with negotiated prices and did the job. Waswo next commissioned a boxed set of ten miniature paintings titled “The Secret Life of Waswo X Waswo”. When the paintings were delivered, Waswo’s trained eye discerned the manifest differences in style in the different works. The shopkeeper, who till then claimed to be a painter himself, then confessed he’d asked other people to collaborate. Waswo had set up a studio practice: printing digitised images of his photographs on archival paper. Rajesh Soni, a local artist he’d commissioned to hand-paint these images, told him the actual painter was a friend: Rakesh Vijayvargiya. And offered to set up a meeting.