“I suspect it is for one’s self-interest that one looks at one’s surroundings and one’s self. This search is personally born and is indeed my reason and motive for making photographs.”
– Lee Friedlander
Driven similarly by the deeply personal, Santanu Chakraborty’s much-acclaimed photographic series, Death and Deliverance in Kolkata, is threaded by a narrative of time, space and non-intersecting, but interplaying, lives.
The night comes alive in Chakroborty’s images, as does the Ganga — and his documentation of the people and objects that thrive and unravel in its proximity and its embrace, is a touching tale of human triumph and tragedy. Much as his title suggests, this series pushes us towards a dual vision: of love and loss, courage and fear, hope and despair, life and death.
Chakraborty’s black and white photographs make full use of the textural possibilities that the medium offers, playing with grain and edges. The subject of his frames however are sombre, sometimes reflecting a sense of melancholia and sometimes a sense of secrecy afforded by the dark, but all reminding us of the ephemeral nature of the moment. In many ways therefore, transience becomes the constant refrain of his images: the transience of light, the transience of the ever-flowing river, and the transience of life.
DEATH AND DELIVERANCE IN KOLKATA
– Santanu Chakraborty
I have tried leaving photography but it doesn’t leave me. In the process of pursuing this life I have lost many others. All my close human relations have now come to an end. I am increasingly ill from long periods of fieldwork and stress. Increasingly alone from constant work I wonder if it all has been worth it. Yet what I seek most is solitude. I struggle to work only for myself but am not free from the lure of recognition. I am repeatedly struck by the intensity and hardship of creative work. And yet I cannot stop.
To rest and reflect, I go to an embankment by the Ganges and sit there alone, often in the darkness watching the river flow relentlessly. And peer into myself, my past and wonder about the future. Will my work move others? Will my work be known? Will I have the strength to continue irrespective?
Looking behind one night, I am startled to find that I am watched over by a mural of Kali, the Goddess of death for some. But she looks increasingly benevolent to me. I choose to sit under her watch every night watching lovers and loners.
People come and people go. I stay late until the locals tell me I will miss the last subway home. I have missed it many times forgetting about all, in pursuit of a calling I do not understand.
Sitting here I catch myself having increasing difficulty photographing people and instead being drawn to objects that have reached the end of their life; those that have been used and discarded. They will soon be swallowed by the rising tide. Perhaps they too reflect on life and death for a few final moments as they rest alongside me by the Ganges in Kolkata.