Two wiry pre-teen boys. They wear bell-bottoms with flares wider than shararas. They look defiantly at the camera, gathering their bushy brows to the centre. The adolescents don wedding finery complete with fake garlands and turbans. Gee, it’s a pre-wedding photoshoot—this time from Nagda, Madhya Pradesh, circa 1987. You almost squeal with excitement but then the realization dawns upon you. Both of these boys are having their weddings together.
This photograph by Suresh Punjabi of Suhag Studio, Nagda, western Madhya Pradesh, is from a collection of analogue prints salvaged from a storm-devastated godown. Recovered by art historian and academic Christopher Pinney, these images provide a glimpse into the vast scope of lives in central India in the ’80s, the visual representation styles of the appearance of economic mobility decipherable through that image-making, and the outward perception of their subjects’ identities much before Instagram gave us a chance to do that.
This set of photographs can be viewed at an online exhibition being held at the Museum of Art and Photography, Bengaluru. But that’s not our point. What’s important is that the larger project has gained the attention of a new platform called ASAP Connect. The mobile application, an “editorially driven” project for “lens-based practices with a focus on South Asia”, has a webzine format with dedicated microsites called Stories, Events, Grants and Albums. The app is available on Google Play Store and is free to use at the moment.
One of the recent stories on the platform is about rediscovering and giving identity to the South Asian-American road-trip experience and in essence questioning the nature of travel, and the liberation it is said to bring about, specifically in the American context. Called Road Trips Project, the project discussed in the story documents accounts of road trips undertaken by South Asians and the cultural specificities of their travels by way of image collection—from seemingly trivial details like making preparations and packing and enjoying typically Indian snacks on the way, to encountering racism and other forms of stigma. By extension, such a project also deconstructs the colonialism and patriarchy of the popular discourse.
Photography is an endlessly fascinating practice. It not only gives form to memory and freezes forever-moving time, but is a tool to assert identity and give evidence of existence. But like most inventions, it has been available to certain sections of people throughout history. Economic ascendancy and various structures of exercising supremacy have ensured that while some were subjects, others were made the objects of their images. Even in travel photography, the gaze is reserved for those that we travel to—a lot of unfortunate instances prove that that has not turned out too noble in the past.
In that sense, the new platform can be interpreted as an attempt to undo some of that damage and rescue alternate voices from South Asia from the exclusivity and frivolity of the contemporary “brown people” discourse. Photography, the visual arts and contemporary image-making combine to produce an experience that was so far nonexistent in the public domain. The centralized nature of the app means that those interested in exploring the multiplicity of the South Asian experience no longer need to subscribe to a wide variety of sources—journals, zines and social media pages.
It would be pointless to go on and on about it. Check it out yourself.