Time & Tide // Karan Kapoor // TARQ

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Andheri, Bombay; Silver gelatin print; 1981© Karan Kapoor.

In collaboration with Tasveer, Tarq gallery in Mumbai hosts an exhibition “Time & Tide” by renowned London based photographer Karan Kapoor. Debuting with his first exhibition in India, the photographer pays tribute to the dying Anglo-Indian identity in Calcutta and Bombay, and the Catholic community in Portuguese Goa during the 1980s. Born to Anglo-Indian parents himself, Kapoor’s work is more than just an effort to induce nostalgia, further tracing how overtime these communities continue to survive in a considerably different social milieu and number today. The photo exhibition captures a series of rare, personal memories combined to tell an extraordinary tale.

An outcome of the colonial legacy in India, the term Anglo-Indian refers to the children born out of intermarriages between Britishers and Indians. However, by the time colonial rule had come to an end, the Anglo-Indian identity had become stigmatised. Soon, names like “half-castes” and “blacky-whites” become synonymous with their identity. Thereafter, left with a distinctive culture which was neither British nor Indian, the Anglo-Indian culture started to fade into oblivion.

The remarkable breadth of the exhibition features 45 monochromatic photographs done over a period of 12-13 years. The photographs are produced in silver gelatin prints and portray a distinct presence of a fast disappearing community. The first half of the exhibition is devoted to Kapoor’s interaction with the older generation of Anglo-Indians who resided at one of the premier country clubs of India – The Tollygunge Club in Kolkata (Calcutta). Kapoor writes, ”I was more interested in the older generation as they seemed to be the last remaining remnants of the British Raj – people who remembered the railway cantonments, the Marilyn Monroe look-a-like contests, the ‘Central Provinces’, and so on, a world long gone.”

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Mr Carpenter, Tollygunge, Calcutta (1981). Photograph by Karan Kapoor

Kapoor’s subjects are iconic in their own way. There is a subtle, yet an affective quality to Kapoor’s black-and-white study of what appears as ordinary portraits. That is certainly true of Kapoor’s image of an old Anglo-Indian couple titled “Mr and Mrs Carpenter”. The image shows an elderly man playing an instrument which seems to be a banjo. Jazz was played quite frequently during the British Raj at Calcutta’s clubs and hotels. The musicians who performed at such elite institutions tended to include members from the Anglo-Indian community. Perhaps the banjo could symbolise the passing down of western instruments to the generations of a post-independent India.

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Lovers Lane, Byculla, Bombay #2; Silver gelatin print; 1982 © Karan Kapoor.

Each of Kapoor’s protagonists are mostly framed in a threshold space, a verandah, or a window, a point of link between the domestic and public space. While each picture strikes a different emotional note, so does each facial expression, offering a unique insight to the photograph. Some shots evoke laughter, some melancholia, the collection has something for everyone. In a partly candid party staged photograph titled “Lovers Lane”, Kapoor captures a middle aged man gazing upwards as though he is blending his historic past and living imagination, weaving a thread of stories to tell the photographer. Kapoor’s photographs seem to be defined by a liminal moment, where the subjects are caught in-between an Anglo-Indian identity of a collective imagination and a transforming identity of the 21st century.

The second half of the photo series documents the radically changed social landscape of Portuguese Goa. The photographs let the viewer move along the sands of time, identifying a commonality in all the photographs — vestiges of a glorious past in Goa. The audience gets a glimpse of some of the ritualistic traditions of the Goan Catholic community through images of young boys dressing up for a church fete, musicians performing at a local feast, a bride wearing a traditional Goan Catholic wedding dress.

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Rachol Seminary, Goa #3; Silver gelatin print; 1994 © Karan Kapoor.

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Emiliano’s House, Loutolim, Goa #2;
Silver gelatin print; 1994 © Karan Kapoor

Currently, Baga beach in present day Goa is a much known haven for hippies and travellers. However, the Baga beach through Kapoor’s lens shows a troupe of fishermen dressed in traditional loincloth casting the net as the only human presence on the secluded beach. Kapoor’s photographs of Goa can be perceived as an effort to hold on to a piece of his past. “Nobody knew things were going to change so much in Goa, but for, instance, the picture of the fishing boat coming in, that no longer happens. That part of my village no longer has fishermen. They’re taxi-drivers, work with tourist operators, they work in shacks.”

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Joseph fixing a net on our verandah, Goa;
Silver gelatin print; 1981 © Karan Kapoor.

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Baga Beach, Goa #3; Silver gelatin print; 1982 © Karan Kapoor.

Unlike the Anglo-Indian community which is fading into history, the Goan Catholics are not a dwindling community yet. However what is fading are old ways of living. From the exterior facade of the ancestral Portuguese Goan homes, to the exquisite rosewood furniture, to well preserved dining rooms which boast of a spectacular collection of blue china ceramics, all are till date kept alive by the inheritors and the local Goans themselves. Even though the vintage architecture represents a beautiful melange of Indo-Portuguese History, the Goa reminisced by the photographer is a heterogenous culture before it became a commercialised tourist destination.

A series capturing a time travel through portraits of Anglo-Indian and Goan Catholic communities, the exhibition truly exposes an intensely personal relationship between the person behind as well in front of the camera. Kapoor, who photographed his birth community, took a dual risk — he could have either distanced himself too much becoming an absolute outsider, or got involved too much, getting caught in an emotional web. However, Kapoor worked his way around by maintaining a healthy distance, thereby counter-balancing the ethnographic gaze : portraying the subjects as active participants living in a social landscape of a transformed Bombay, through everyday social interactions. Moreover, Kapoor’s show promises to highlight the fact that dwindling communities in India are very much a part of the nation’s collective past, and must not be overshadowed.

Photo courtesy: Tasveer