sepiaEYE gallery presents “Bhupendra Karia / India 1968 – 1974”, an exhibition featuring the photographic oeuvre of educator, theorist, curator and artist Bhupendra Karia.
Launched on 4 February, and running until 19 March 2016, New York-based sepiaEye gallery presents the work of acclaimed Indian photographer Bhupendra Karia, in an exhibition which features select works from two projects – Selections from the Portfolio and Population Crisis – as well as images from the Karia estate.
Of the twenty images selected for “Bhupendra Karia / India 1968 – 1974”, some were created for a project called Population Crisis, commissioned by the Cornell University’s International Population Program and the International Fund for Concerned Photography founded in 1966 by Karia’s friend and mentor Cornell Capa. Capa, in a search for a permanent home for the International Fund for Concerned Photography, created the International Center of Photography (ICP) in 1974 with Karia’s collaboration.
Over the course of his career, Karia would serve as curator, Director of Special Projects and Associate Director at ICP. This newest exhibition includes images that reflect Karia’s unique manner of reconciling his formal artistic training, photojournalistic style and genuine interest in the social, political and economic upheaval taking place in India in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Bhupendra Karia (1936-1994) was most widely known as a photographer but his early training at Sir J.J. College of Art in Bombay concentrated on painting, graphics and history. After his graduation in 1956, he continued his studies at Tokyo University of Fine Arts, where he studied history and aesthetics. It was in Japan that he first developed his taste for photography jointly with studies in ukiyo-e woodblock printmaking and Japanese architecture.
Karia returned briefly to India working as a freelance photographer and eventually ended up teaching. He headed photography and graphics arts departments at the University of Southern California and the University of Barroda in India, and by the mid-1960s he had begun to focus almost exclusively on photography. In the later half of the 1960s and early 1970s, Karia travelled extensively across rural India covering 80,000 miles.
As the press release for this exhibition states,
Karia’s early motivations for these trips seem to have been fueled by an anthropological impulse to explore and record rural India and its native creative traditions–textiles, pottery, and architectural decoration. As he spent more time in the villages and countryside, Karia began to broaden the context of his work, weaving together observations of rural and small town Indian life with larger concerns about social, political and environmental challenges facing contemporary India.
Though Karia was intentional in his depiction of specific social aspects of Indian life in the 1960s and 1970s, his rendering of his subjects retain an ethereal quality not typical of most social or anthropological inquiry. He was interested in a broader scenario, and the things and routines that comprised the lives of Indian people. In several photos Karia centres items such as a lamp and an umbrella, or a turban and a shot gun, thus allowing the viewer to enjoy the subtlety of his considerations, without downplaying the intensity of his message.
As a recent article in Hyperallergic states,
Uncluttered by the intimacy of close-up shots, Karia’s objective stance stays clear of chronicling individuals. He avoids dramatizing the lives of peasants and manual laborers, or giving heroic stature to his bedraggled subjects. Contrary to Cartier-Bresson and Rai’s emotionally fraught images, empathy in Karia’s photographs is not drawn from juxtapositions of ominous clouds over a toiling laborer or crowds with extended, begging hands. Instead, the quiet decorum of his pictures exudes deeply felt involvement.
The images selected for this exhibition are twenty of an original 74, shortlisted by Karia from his personal archive of over 250,000 photos, which he described as ““the meager harvest of my first 20 years in photography”. Meager it was not. Bounty is the more apt word as Karia approaches his home country with respect for the circumstances that created the Indian post colony, while maintaining a dedication to his craft and his sensibilities around photography’s role as a story teller but also as a medium brimming with aesthetic possibilities.
Negarra A. Kudumu
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