June 24, 2011

Jazmin Berakha: Embroidering Fashion

One of the first style blogs that I stumbled upon a few years ago - and which has remained a firm favorite since then - was The Clothes Horse; apart from her innovative styling and outfit shots, I looked forward to her thoughtful, contemplative textual descriptions. The locations and photos' often surreal and mysterious quality (beaches, abandoned houses, clearings in the forest, or lakes) along with the textual accompaniments have always made me look forward to The Clothes Horse's posts.

Alongside the blog's fashion quotient, The Clothes Horse has also introduced me to a host of amazing artists: photographers, visual artists, and collage artists and whanot, leading me to marvel at the sea of creativity - and the creating creatures lurking below!

Her recent post featured Buenos-Aires based Jazmin Berakha's embroidery illustrations and I could not help but admire both the finesse with which Jazmin had rendered these illustrations as well as the idea
itself. It reminded me of art works that my mother had purchased from Hong Kong years ago whose illustrations were minimalist, embroidery done upon paper: mountains, a weeping willow, a tree in autumn bloom, and few lines of blue to indicate water.

As I am not particularly inclined towards needlework (apart from the occasional period during my university years when I became interested in customising my clothing, my jeans especially being the site of my needlepoint adventures - although ultimately I had to ask my mother to take over, being much more accomplished than I was), I could not help but admire with great awe the intricacy of her work, each stitch as distinct as a significantly minor paint-stroke.

The controlled geometric patterns of her coat makes me recall a story of a similarly patterned jacket and how it represented an instance of an amazing art-fashion synergy that occurred between artist, Namrita Bachchan and fashion designer, Anamika Khanna (I read about the incident ages ago in Elle India so hopefully my memory transcribes it correctly!). Grand-daughter of acclaimed Hindi poet, Harivanshrai Bachchan, and graphic and visual artist, Namrita launched an illustrated version of his famous poetry collection, Madhuashala: House of Wine, the illustrations being her own art-work.

This is one of her works below:

The designer, Anamika Khanna instantly connected to the patterns and visuals of her work, identifying it with one of her jacket designs - and gifted Namrita the very same jacket. It was one of those rare and perfect instances where two artists - fashion designer and artist - saw an alignment and indeed, intermingling of their respective artistic visions.

In Jazmin's case, she has literally made fashion art, embroidering it into posterity.

Images courtesy: Jazmin Berakha; Santa Banta forum

June 22, 2011

Rajasthan ahoy...

Rajasthan time soon..

This picture below was taken on a rainy day at Meherangarh fort, Jodhpur; as I am usually in Rajasthan during monsoons, the picture is simultaneously an appropriate reminder of past travels and refreshing prologue to an entirely new journey. Even though I visit Rajasthan almost on an annual basis, each journey yields its own discoveries, haunts, and incidents. I wonder what awaits me this time - and I look forward to documenting it within the scope of this blog...

This picture instantly evokes for me the essential aspects about Rajasthan that are especially dear to me: its iridescent color-palette and its ancient, history-laden spaces. I also like the feeling of dampness that permeates the picture, the unseen gray clouds and drizzle of rain dulling the usual brilliant, almost harsh desert sunlight.* * Considering the temperatures are currently ablaze where I am and the sky woefully absent of the slightest sense of gray, the water-color like intermingling of rain and color will be a welcome sight!

** No wonder I gravitate towards this painting so much...

June 17, 2011

Don't Judge an Article by its Pictures?

When I first saw this picture below on the Guardian website, I thought the article it was headlining was focusing upon Indian fashion; the design that the model is wearing seemed reminiscent of Masaba Gupta, who has a penchant for flamboyantly mixing up colors with unusual, eye-catching monochromatic graphic prints. There was a sub-heading though which mentioned faith-based style and I was curious as to what relevance this particular design/Indian fashion had to do with the subject.

However, when clicking on the article link, it was focusing instead upon something quite contrary to what I had imagined; the article was talking about a team from London College of Fashion researching Modest Dressing. The issue is pertinent and relevant in itself but I am more perplexed by as to why they chose the image that they did for the article.

The model in the image is wearing a saffron-hot pink jacket, printed tunic, and electric blue churidar/cigarette pants. An enormous red bindi obscures much of her forehead, adding further drama to the hectic visuals of the outfit itself. I am just curious as to why the photo-editors decided to place this picture as the sole accompanying one in the article? True, the article focuses on modest dressing and it is largely in regard to modestly dressed Islamic/Christian/Jewish women and the impact their particular clothing consumer choices have upon the online retail world. The outfit in the picture is certainly modest, sticking to the general definition of the word. Yet, surely, would it not have been more appropriate to locate and place pictures of women/designers,style-houses whose particular look/style serves as inspiration for those women who would like to dress modestly and yet, still remain in sync with the season's trends and style statements? For example, one of the blogs mentioned in the article, Hijab Style talks about how this season's French Connection offerings will enable women to embrace the season's hottest trends (the maxi skirt/dress and palazzo trousers)without compromising upon their style principles and beliefs.

The blogger uses this picture below as an example:

I wonder what qualified the first picture as to be an apt accompaniment - was it the huge red bindi, which marked it out be the signifier of the Hindu faith? The representational picture totally misses out on the point of the article.

While submitting my articles, I am accustomed to sourcing pictures and choosing which ones will best represent and embody the spirit of the story: it is imperative that the pictures reflect the essence of the story. As a reader, I also find the accompanying visuals contributing towards a greater understanding of the story simply because the relationship between the visual and the written text imbues the story/subject with a certain texture that an entirely visual or written story could not have done. For me, as in this case, an image that distinctly jars with the spirit of the article definitely weakens the impact of the article.

Would you agree? How important are the pictures to you, as the reader - or does the written word ultimately hold precedence?

Images courtesy Guardian and Hijab Style

June 10, 2011

The Wall Project: Fear, A Wall in the Temple

Excerpts from an image-text piece I created about a wall that I photographed in a Jain temple in Jodhpur, Rajasthan:

This image above is of a wall in a Jain temple in Jodhpur an hour before twilight. I took the photograph when I was inside the temple. The wall was newly painted white as were the shards of glass protruding from its upper surface. If I had gone at noon, I would presumably have had to shadow my eyes from the glare of the white and the glittering glass pieces themselves, the latter reminiscent of a sea surface during the day. At dusk, the wall was calmer, more plangent, shadowed a warm gray. Even so, usually, when I take a stand-alone photograph of a space and then view it after some time, I am mentally able to jigsaw the image into the larger picture of the place of which it formed a part. Here, I have to remind myself that I have photographed a wall in a temple and that it essentially functions as a fortification of stone and glass, both warning and forbidding. It is a different matter altogether, though, as to whom it forbids and to whom does it warn: those on the inside or the outside?

* * * * * *

When I look at this photograph, I first see a canvas of white, the inflections of light not withstanding. My favorite color happens to be white: it represents peace, stasis, and calm to me. For me, staring into white is akin to drowning in nothingness: a white black hole, you could say. Eventually, as my gaze reluctantly travels upwards, I encounter the glass shards, thickly and bluntly littered across the wall surface, as if someone had shredded a square of glass over the wall. Whoever painted the wall also thought it wise to paint the shards in white. If the shards had not been painted, the juxtaposition of all that variegated color against the unrelenting white would have formed an arresting visual contrast though. In the photograph, the fact of the shards being white renders them paper-like, investing them with an origami beauty. There is a delicate fragility to the wall in the image that is notably absent in actuality. In reality, despite being cloaked in white, the glass shards still glitter gray-green, reminding you that theirs is a functional, not aesthetic, presence.

June 9, 2011

Dayanita Singh: Spaces between Moments

The first time I encountered Indian photographer, Dayanita Singh's works was in the second issue of then newly launched Marie Claire India. There was a photo-essay about Singh's portraits of little girls and in which she narrated how involved the girls would become in the shoots, thoroughly immersed in the process of transforming themselves into alternate personae for the camera; I especially remember this one (below) from the essay, where the little girl is performing as a child bride:

Following that, I seemed to encounter her everywhere; I read about her in Suketu Mehta's seminal non-fiction book on Bombay, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found in which she appears as Hindi film actor, Sanjay Dutt's close friend and photographs one of the book's dramatis personae. One of her monochromatic images graced the Random House India edition of Jhumpa Lahiri's 2008 short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. As with the image on the cover of Unaccustomed Earth and all the other images that I have seen of her work, the photographs breathed a palpable presence and had so much nuanced texture, peopled or unpeopled. If ordinary photographs captured moments, ostensibly to commemorate them or simply pinion time within the camera's pincer-like lens, her images focused on the spaces between the moments. What happened when we looked away from the lens?

I recently discovered her Dream Villa series in the India issue of the cutting edge British design, art and lifestyke magazine, Wallpaper and these surrealistic, moody, nocturnal photographs were quite different to the work that I was accustomed to seeing by her. This image particularly stayed with me:

The British writer and author of the colonial Raj romance, Far Pavilions, M.M Kaye also authored a three-part biography; in the second part, she mentions an almond tree in bloom that she glimpsed en route to Kashmir. While writing her memoirs, though, she ponders whether the almond tree still exists after so many decades. She nevertheless feels that:

as far as I am concerned it is still there, exactly as it was when I first saw it, its blossoms looking like a milky way of rose-pink stars in the early morning sunlight. Only when I am dead will it cease to be real.

Glimpsing this Dayanita Singh portrait of a tree in bloom reminded me of Kaye's sentiments about the tree, the power of imagination to freeze and preserve an utterly beautiful sight for posterity...and the ability the camera possesses to do so as well. Yet, while most ordinary photographs resist changing interpretations, insistent on remaining as they are, Singh's photographs and the way you perceive them inevitably change over time: much like one yields a fresh, new reading every time you read a much-loved book, as a result of the different person that you are and have become each time you encounter the book.

Images courtesy Dayanita Singh and Wallpaper

June 1, 2011

Virtual Visual Conservation: The Hand Painted Type project

I just read about the project, Hand Painted Type over here. It is a fantastic attempt to what amounts to be a dedicated conservation of India's visual identity, specifically Indian street painters' typography. The quirky, individual hand-lettered and painted typefaces form an unique visual language of their own, animating the banners and signboards with a particular energy. Each strives to outdo the other and functions as an effective marketing tool, refusing to be mousy and preferring to be loud and spotlighting themselves instead. It is not surprising given the fact that wandering through Indian street markets is nothing short of experiencing a visual assault and an eye-grabbing, brassy sign is the only way to garner the buyer's attention. In a bid to prevent these signs from becoming a vanished cultural species, The Hand Painted Type project has undertaken the task of ensuring that the multiple typefaces across India are documented and preserved.

As it happens, I too have taken pictures of the various typefaces that I have encountered in old Jodhpur, Rajasthan over the years, the signs having been pleasingly old-school. Here are a few images of a particularly striking signboard I spotted:

Incidentally, the sign proclaims in Hindi: Liberty Kashida Center, Kashida meaning embroidery. Apart from the visual aspects, it's also interesting to 'read' English in Hindi! However, say, if you were not conversant with the written Hindi script, would you have preferred that I not have translated it? Would you have merely been content on focusing upon the visuals?

Even the stairs are advertisement spaces; I will leave this one untranslated!

These pictures were taken four years ago. I would be curious to return to this part of old Jodhpur once more and see if this family of signboards still exists...