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Ajay Jain’s representation of the black-and-white, albeit vivid, Indians borders more on what qualifies as the fast-disappearing ‘exotic’ for the alienated viewer. The pictures are intimately ambiguous, deconstructing subjects and trading information for opinion, concrete truths peeking through stories ever so often, of a very timed period and geography. One might consider his collection of portraits vaguely remindful of sets by August Sanders. The difference, however, is in the overwhelming flood of parallels in today’s date. True, an individual cannot help but feel like an abscess in the country’s billion-strong, and a representation of the masses being mundane, the intent should equally be not to restrict oneself when identity issues seem to be the next controversial benchmark down the road. The rural continue to lead and bifurcate themselves from the very Westernised identity of their urban counterparts, and this ever-increasing gap has far-reaching consequences, the most evident the abandonment of the generation (and by extension, heritage) gone by, and the blind youth migration trends to cities.
The shortcoming is merely in the hurry involved, on more than one occasion, expelling the reader with another facet of an already immense gamut the country has to offer, just when things begin to get interesting. Raghu Rai’s India catered to a unique set of frames immortalised by them being sole records, but his frames and Sunil Janah’s Nehruvian years have given way to the prowess of the mobile phone as a tool for information. The emphasis today also needs to be laid on summative representation; our exoticisation needs no further proof, the current actualities do. If the intent lies in piquing curiosity, it does so if you don’t mind peeking through a window ever so often.
The colour-stripped photographs spanning a decade of Jain’s journeys from Kashmir, the Himalaya belt, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, while maintaining the stark visual absurdity and character, continue to harbour the warmth his anecdotes provide. I would look no further for a companion over coffee, the stories vanilla, the emotions a hot espresso shot. Having said that, affogato might not strictly be coffee, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.
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