In A Clash of Kings, the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, now adapted into one of television’s most popular shows – A Game of Thrones, one character poses a riddle to another, Varys asks Lord Tyrion Lannistor:
‘In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. “Do it,” says the king, “for I am your lawful ruler.” “Do it,” says the priest, “for I command you in the names of the gods.” “Do it,” says the rich man, “and all this gold shall be yours.” So tell me – who lives and who dies?’
At a later time Varys provides a solution, ‘Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law… Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less’.
‘So power is a mummer’s trick?’
‘A shadow on the wall,’ Varys murmurs, ‘yet shadows can kill. And oft-times a very small man can cast a very large shadow’.
Concerned as it is with kingdoms and monarchs, A Song of Ice and Fire is inevitably also a study in power — the way it is constructed, the way it is perceived, the way it is wielded and the way it changes people. With his photographic series, High Noon in Lucknow, Ryan Lobo, makes a similar study with very different material.
His examination of power, as Lobo notes, is also that of its passage through space and time, revealing history, might and vulnerability in stone, pillar and marble. All photographs that form part of this series were made in Lucknow at the Dalit Prerna Sthal, Lucknow museum and a warehouse for removed statues — and through their juxtaposition with text and quotes, Lobo unveils the monumentalisation of power, its cyclic nature, its inescapable violence and inevitable fall.
– Ryan Lobo
As the cliché goes, power corrupts. But what is seldom realised is that power also reveals. When a person is in the act of attainment, subterfuge is necessary. But as he or she achieves power the need for concealment diminishes, and in time, monuments are built to honour the powerful, the wise and the heroic; and so it goes on, the older monuments are replaced, treated by what lives on and what has risen from the ashes of the past.
All empires perish, and not for lack of power, but the opposite. They lose discipline, and are one day replaced by those who have known less, want more, and who have yet to consider the need to rise above their own desires and selves. The rise and fall of empires have been going on since the first ape-man usurped his brother’s position.
Savagery. Ascendance. Decadence.
The great rise because of Savagery and need. They rule in Ascendance. They fall because of their Decadence. A cascading process through space and time — the eternal Ourobouros eating its own tail, its darker aspects alive within the heart of man — whose existence we often reject and allow to manifest in so many ways.
We want to believe in universal peace and justice and our own individual ideas of the world. The truth is that our existences are circles of shadow and light, greed and transcendence, peace and war. It will always be, no matter the utopias we imagine – history being more gigantic, relentless and terrifying than what we think we know of ourselves.
Occasionally, a sage.
And that too shall pass.