There are two things that define Sutirtha Chatterjee and Trina Sen’s What Does It Take to Live? – that make it particularly interesting. One, the obvious melding of two different mediums; not simply as aesthetic pursuit, but in order to create unique and new meanings. And following from that, a truly collaborative spirit that the image ‘Lightness’ (seen above) from their first set in the series, seems to perceptively prophecy, and perhaps declare.
In their artists’ statement, Chatterjee and Sen note that their original motives behind producing this series, are rather hard to pin down. But that perhaps it was propelled by a mutual desire to push the boundaries of storytelling – to see if new stories may be painted over the initial photographic narratives, perhaps in confrontation, perhaps in conversation.
Sutirtha would talk to people who he encountered on the way during his travels. And Trina would sit with these stories in her head and stare at the stories that the Polaroids were telling her. Could these stories be made to talk to each other?
The artists note, that this series “is organic, in the sense that the visual treatment changes across each set from each travel. The first series born out of [Sutirtha’s] trip to Assam and Meghalaya, has only white paint on it. By the next series born out of a Coorg trip, Sutirtha’s colors had come back brighter. [And it] was only fitting that Trina would respond with a more vibrant brush.”
Polaroids are historically not the most common instances of painted photographs, more often using text—a tool also employed by Sen, in the second set of this series—to manipulate meanings or create new contexts. Exceptions however, include a set of painted portraits of Patti Smith, among Mapplethorpe’s early Polaroids – that use paint in a manner similar to early painted photographic portraits, relegating its photographic base and nature to the background. In What Does It Take To Live?, however, even an image that presents more painted surface, than photographic paper, redirects the viewer to the photographic base, imbuing it with newer and different meanings.
These works therefore, veer closer to Marc Quinn’s photographic practice in their use of paint on Polaroids to build a particular configuration, not achieved in singularity by either medium. In doing so, the series presents objects that are twice-unique – since the corollary of the Polaroid’s immediacy is a unique print, without a negative; and each single, unrepeatable image is then uniquely hand-painted by Sen. The mixed media provide a lively interplay of surface, creating dual planes of not only meaning, but also perceptive form.
But what strings these images together, and what meanings do they serve? The artists note that its hard to define the connections between the photographs, of what are essentially simple images from everyday lives. Yet, they “become parables of simple wisdom learnt from ordinary strangers, met and lost while travelling.” The second set in the series particularly emphasises this idea, with Sen not only using her brush to build an allegorical picture-story from the original image, but also cementing it with her one-word captions – Zen-like in their brevity and profound insight into human nature.
Plus, as their artists’ statement notes: “…each image is still deeply personal. Somewhere, the artists’ own stories creep in too, whether consciously or subconsciously. As twenty something artists, both are at an age where they are navigating their own meanings of life. So What Does It Take to Live? is a collaboration, also because Sutirtha and Trina, as two individuals, are constantly trying to help each other make sense of this question. It is [a] collaboration, in the [same] sense in which all friendships are.”
Sutirtha Chatterjee is a photographer based out of Kolkata. He has works have been published in many national and regional publications which includes The Times of India, Quartz, The Wire amongst many. His first documentary project was selected for the evening screenings at the Kathmandu International Photo Festival in 2015 and he was awarded the Tasveer-Toto awards for Photography in 2017. Presently he is working as an independent photographer on long-term projects.
Trina Sen is a visual artist and poet based out of Kolkata. She studied English Literature and went on to study Design Research from NIFT. She paints from the age of three and is obsessed with both words and images and how they interact. In pursuit of the same obsession she has recently finished a book design course from the Seagull school of Publishing and hopes to help make books throughout her life among other things. You can find her on Instagram against the handle @trinasen17.