September 27, 2012

Singing India: Karen Knorr's Photography

As September inches towards its end, I hope it treated you well. In our part of the world, the passage of seasons is indiscernible to the point that we are still experiencing flashbacks of the hot summer! My theory (and probably of most living in the Gulf;): summer ain't over until the AC is finally switched off:) Meanwhile, in more temperate climates, the leaves have begun to turn the colors of fire or falling, piling up on the sidewalks and street corners - and the crunchy crispness in the air allied with the startlingly bright blue skies makes for a stunning combination. (Yes, clearly, someone's getting nostalgic for autumn...or fall, if you please:)

For me, September was all about visual pickings and one of my lovely finds was British photographer, Karen Knorr's work via this image below:

Queen's Room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace from The India Song (2010)

To say the least, it was instant love upon encountering this image...the gorgeous aqua colored walls (bit like being underwater), the elephant-headed pillars, the co-existence of grandeur and decay, and of course, the peacock, which not only visually fits into the picture but also, its very atmosphere. There are also other little aspects to the picture that appealed to me: the numerous sheets of glass propped up against the wall (they could have been jarring elements in the picture but instead becoming one of its many story layers) and the black rings on the ceiling, reminding me of similar ones studding room ceilings in our family haveli.

The image's title is Queen's Room, Zanana, indicating that the room was part of the suite of rooms/chambers used exclusively by the women royal members. The notion of the zanana is something that has intrigued me since my student days, particularly vis a vis in terms of space. Several years ago, when toying around with the idea of working on a haveli book project, I had visited several havelis as part of research and observed that the zanana section was always that particular space in the haveli which embodied beauty, luxury, and refinement: exquisite carvings, dramatically frescoed walls, and other attractive accoutrements. It was then explained to me that as women were rarely permitted to leave the zanana, the zanana was effectively their world - and hence, it was consciously created as the ultimate site of aesthetics, possibly making the external world pale in comparison to this interior one...

Meanwhile, returning to Knorr's work, here is her artist's statement about this particular series; drenched as it is in the language of academia, I was quite tempted to bypass it and simply focus on the visual language of the images alone. Nevertheless, it still makes for a fascinating exposition as to what her underlying intention is regarding the project.

Here are a couple of the images from the series that struck me the most:

Light of the World, Zanana, Nawalgarh
You might think that I consciously chose yet another Zanana image! To be honest, the simple, clean lines and the triplet of stained windows were what appealed to me...the insertion of the bird meanwhile melds into the surroundings while still being conspicuous.

The Sound of Rain

This image was taken in Barsaat Mahal, or Rain Chamber, in Junagarh Fort, Bikaner. Considering that rain in Rajasthan could be erratic in the past and drought an inevitable feature of life, it was possible that years would pass before people witnessed and experienced rain. I love the story behind the room that the Bikaner ruler at the time had the walls so densely and intricately and blue-ly painted as to conjure up monsoon clouds and rain; it effectively conveys both the cool and the stirring drama of rain-fall, disassociating you from the scalding heat and desert outside.

The Blue Room, Samode Palace

The room's breathtakingly detailed indigo-blue ornamentation is essentially what made me gravitate towards this image. However, on second thoughts, I contemplated whether to choose this very image to place in the blog. On the surface, this image feeds into and reiterates the archetypical Indian stereotypes: the gorgeous palace and the cow; yet, India has become much more than these two quintessential symbols in the recent years. However, as I thought more about the image, it occurred to me that it was in fact a startling juxtaposition of two stereotypes - would a cow actually have ever found entry into these exquisite royal chambers? This image therefore represents the intersection of the zenana's self-contained, insular prettiness and the earthy reality of the outside world. (Or so the still thriving academic in me thinks!) Nevertheless, whatever the interpretations, it still makes for a powerful image. And as for Samode palace, I have been longing to visit it since I first discovered it in a Rajasthan coffeetable book years ago - there are several others images from Samode in this series and the images will simply testify to the palace's beauty.

Here's wishing everyone a great October!


  1. What beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing them. Reminds me that I MUST revisit India.

    Wishing you a great October too.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the photos, Sue! I too would definitely like to keep in touch with Karen Knorr's work.

      You mentioned that you would like to revisit India - where you did visit last time? Rajasthan figure on your itinerary?

  2. Udaipur is one of the most beautiful places I have visited and thanks for bringing back to me those lovely memories! Fabulous pieces of art I must say,"the sound of rain" feels like a poem isnt it? Your accompanying words make the pictures come alive!

    Please visit my blog when you find time, I would love to hear your thoughts on my work!


  3. Yes, these picture really perform an excellent job of evoking royal Rajasthan's beauty - I am happy that they brought back great memories and you enjoyed reading my commentaries on the pictures:)

    I shall definitely visit your blog soon, am looking forward to do so!


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