Kochi: Delhi-based Chandan Gomes employs an intimate and narrative approach in his photo essays, presenting the series in a book format that lends the whole method a special meaning.
At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Chandan has presented three such works. On display at the main Aspinwall House venue, the 31-year-old artist lets his personal, intellectual and emotional curiosities function as the catalyst to his passion for image-making.
Titled ‘This World of Dew’, the work recreates landscape drawings from a found notebook. The images are the result of a travel Chandan undertook for four years. The journey was triggered by his search for the family of a deceased young girl whose sketchbook of crayoned mountain ranges he discovered in a hospice in Jaipur.
The work, in the form of a book, includes her drawings and his photographs of places she had imagined in them. It all began in 2011, when Chandan was commissioned to photograph a hospital in the Rajasthan capital. There he chanced upon an unclaimed notebook full of drawings of mountains.
“The hospital housed a hospice known as Avedna Ashram. I often visited the hospice to make photographs. On one such visit, I found a book of drawings of mountains. It had no name. Intrigued, I decided to hold on to it,” shares the artist. Eventually, the search led to the publication of a book. That came out, titled ‘This World of Dew’, published by PHOTOINK in 2015. This body of work fetched Chandan recognitions such as the Foto Visura Spotlight Grant and the INK Fellowship.
Another photo essay on display at Aspinwall is ‘There are the Things I Call Home’. It is a compilation of Chandan’s photos of objects in his childhood home. To the artist, it in an attempt to resolve the feeling of alienation he felt towards his family while growing up, says Chandan, a graduate from the famed St Stephen’s College in the national capital.
“I grew up in a single-room house in a relatively modest locality in Delhi. All the same, I did my schooling and college from prestigious institutions catering to the ‘elite’,” recalls the artist who currently teaches at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communications, Delhi. “Each day, ever since I can remember, presented me with stark contrasting experiences. That made it difficult for me to reconcile the identity of my two worlds.”
‘There are Things I call Home’ was awarded the Oslo University College Fellowship in 2012. “The essay is an attempt at reclaiming this intimacy, one to embrace long-lost memories, a forgotten childhood,” says the artist. “The objects in these photographs not only paint a portrait of my family, they also speak of the estranged relationship I share with them — of distances and uncertainties that separate us. Every photograph hints at a sense of tension, conflict; the pain of neglect can be encountered. It is my foray into my own house and yet I feel like an outsider.
Chandan’s third work is one that has the biennale as its first venue. It is a series of photographs he has been making on his phone for the last five years. To the artist, they echo the haiku ‘In this world; We walk on the roof of hell; Gazing at Flowers’ by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), a lay Buddhist priest who wrote over 20,000 such short forms of Japanese poetry. “Actually, the work was never intended to be shown together as a project,” reveals the lensman. “Over the years, the series went on to document Issa’s life through the themes of violence, mental illness and loss of memory. In them, I search for beauty in everyday spaces.”