Andreas Volwahsen produced these photographs at a time when he felt reluctance in others towards studying cultures outside the classical Mediterranean world. An understanding of India’s complex religious and social history fed Volwahsen’s work and his strong visual eye was able to utilise his expert knowledge in creating this extraordinary body of work.
Shot in and around 1960s and 1970s, Volwahsen’s photographs show influences of the ‘New Objectivity’ movement in which modernist photographers had turned their attention towards the depiction of common objects. The isolation of details, focus on forms, symmetry and balance is also evident in Volwahsen’s compositions. Especially apparent in his close ups, the refined use of light, contrasting tonal fields and use of angles takes the subject matter of archways, domes and columns towards pure form and abstraction. Perhaps these formal inclinations explain why he was so drawn to the simple geometric forms of Maharajah Jai Singh II’s observatories.
Volwahsen’s photographs of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain architecture are a result of the balance and order that allows the decoration and embellishments of the temples to resonate, without being overwhelming. The structured compositions emphasise the methodical design within many of the buildings. Through his analysis of Hindu temples, Volwahsen was astonished to encounter simple regular forms within their design. In almost all temple layouts, he found the square and the equilateral triangle, arranged within a strict grid plan. Hindu architects kept to these ancient forms, repeating them for centuries and Volwahsen suggests that the profusion of forms might only have been possible because of the rigid grid; such variety can only grow out of order. Volwahsen’s structured compositions and objectivity give the iconographic sculpture and embellishments the necessary space they need to be truly admired. Despite depicting the temple’s abundant decoration, the photographs are foremost a celebration of their geometry, which was religious in origin. Similarly, Volwahsen’s photograph depicting the stupa in the prayer hall at Ajanta is particularly graphic. The focus on form, at the expense of context, makes for a very striking image, which moves towards abstraction.
While Volwahwen’s photographs aid his exploration of architecture, the structures in turn provide him with the formal qualities he is so inclined towards representing visually. Volwahsen’s German modernist aesthetic is most evident within the entire set of his architectural photographs, which appear more akin to a 20th century creations. The isolation of details and formal arrangements, which focus on symmetry and balance, certainly move the subject matter towards pure form. Despite of purely academic and educational intentions, Volwahwen’s architectural photography is flexible enough to satisfy architects, historians and artists. It supports his findings and conclusions on some of India’s finest architecture and going further than mere illustration, invites comparison with some of Germany’s forefront modernist photographers. In other words, photography’s ability to objectively represent reality and simultaneously present itself as an artistic form is effortlessly realised by Volwahsen.
‘Andreas Volwahsen, Living Architecture’ tours Tasveer’s gallery spaces in 2013 – 2014, the exhibition is organised by Tasveer, in partnership with Vacheron Constantin and is sponsored by Zuari Cement.
For more information visit : www.tasveerarts.com