Institutions is a photographic series by the France-based British photographer Christopher Taylor, that explores the interior spaces of imperial buildings in Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkata). His most recent body of work, its eloquent depictions of some of the quintessential emblems of British rule consider the legacy of colonialism, its ambiguous meanings in postcolonial contexts, and impact on contemporary India.
A trained zoologist and self taught photographer, Christopher Taylor has travelled extensively in India. From his very first visits in the 1980s, he was struck by its architecture, and particularly fascinated by the manner in which the two cities featured in this series, once proud centres of the British Raj, serve as windows into history. Rather than functioning as documents of historical truth though, Taylor’s photographs operate as displays of an imagined past. Capturing the stasis of places ravished by the years, they expose the transformed faces of what are the last redoubts of colonial rule; accentuating the traces of glamour lingering in these structures, they traverse time effortlessly – underlining in a frozen moment, narratives of the missing and lost that nevertheless, resist being entirely dismissed and forgotten.
‘Institutions’ opens tomorrow, the 10th of October 2014 at the Harrington Street Arts Centre in Kolkata. The exhibition is organised by Tasveer and enabled by the support of Vacheron Constantin and The Singleton of Glen Ord and will be on view from the 10th – 22nd of October 2014.
Extract from the catalogue essay:
In Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,’ a film exorcising the quotidian patterning of the protagonist’s life, she restricts the camera relentlessly within the interior of a very precisely arranged apartment. It is busied with Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), performing the diurnal ordinariness of existence. Her movement and handling of things brings the unnoticed objects and spaces to center stage, the repetition embues that mundanity to an anticipated expectation of something portentous: the ‘break in the routine’, the lead up to the real thing, her search within. Confined to the interior for most of the film, it’s a world she builds, that is at once hyperreal and unsettling, of a definite ‘identity’ or person and place, the film’s title being specific of location.
In Christopher Taylor’s photographs of interiors, in homes and institutions in Bombay and Calcutta, though the location is known, identity is slowly wrought: there is never a ‘protagonist’ in the frame. Unlike Akerman’s frenetic reiterative use of space and object through the movement of Dielman, (the preciseness of self and setting is embedded in real time), Taylor’s photographs lie in the swampy land between art and documentary. While ‘documenting’ the real, his images unravel in quiet and in slow time – in suggestion they tell the story, the resolve postponed.
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time…
– John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
Like Keats’ urn, it is the edifices and things in Taylor’s world that capture time, not literally like Akerman, but in the stasis of ravished interiors of bygone eras. It’s not the brick and mortar that is center stage, but the space within; in that, he catches the ephemera of past and present, the aura of temporality that slows time down, taking the image beyond just representation. Taylor’s photograph of Belgachia Mullick House, shot in natural light, captures this idea of ‘slowed time’, through a long exposure of the drawing room. But what time is this? It could be any time at all. Style and objects meld, the colonial (the classic architecture, the Chinese vases) and the vernacular (inserts of baithak seating, figurines of Indian women on a marble mantelpiece), arches and fans evoke the hybrid nature of a still unsure postcolonial identity. Nothing seems to have changed since a nation emerged to its tryst with destiny: a rich patron once chose Western artifacts in a classical shell, then inserted his own way of living.
Taylor’s photograph, shot half a century after independence captures this frozen setting. What does one make of this stagnation of an anachronistic lifestyle, in its very preservation a window to not just the diorama made decades ago, but of the now – the clinging to past glory/history in a decaying surround, as seen elsewhere?
– Deepika Sorabjee
To read the rest of this insightful and evocative essay and more, order the exhibition catalogue priced at Rs. 1500 and published by Tasveer in conjunction with Vacheron Constantin and The Singleton of Glen Ord. To order online, contact firstname.lastname@example.org