JaipurPhoto is an international photography festival held in February every year in heritage locations across the Pink City. Its core aim is to explore the subject of travel in relation to photography.
For the 2017 edition, JaipurPhoto’s Artistic Director, Lola Mac Dougall, invited Federica Chiocchetti, Founding Director of the photo-literary platform Photocaptionist, to be the Guest Curator and respond to the theme of wanderlust.
As a Westerner, who works on the relationship between photography and fictions, images and words, and who had to ‘imagine’ and ‘study’ Jaipur and India from far away, Chiocchetti felt inclined to search for photographic works that subtly connected the notions of travel with ideas of the imaginary and the unexpected.
Working closely with the Artistic Director, she has taken the festival into new directions, addressing the following aspects:
* Questioning the very notion of travel and offering alternative ways of approaching it: through artificial paradises and the concept of fakecation, i.e. the fascinating habit of faking trips (Simao and Riedler); through the photographic studio backdrop as a surrogate for imaginary trips (Molloy, Prebois); through decontextualised and eroded cemetery portraits as a metaphor for the perishable journey of human life and memory (Vervaeke); through the anthropological challenge of being simultaneously an insider and an outsider in a foreign culture (Rothenberger and Barbon). How the notion of travel can degenerate in war and terroristic zones (Hamad). Travel photography as a way to make the otherness of a foreign culture more understandable (Costa and Sapienza). The intriguing relationship between the media, illusions and expectations (Hoek and Gelpke). And last but not least, travel through family and time as either psychological catharses (Sancari and Kambli) or as a vehicle to re-enact ancient literary texts (Yogananthan).
* Mass tourism today seems to have adopted digital photography as a filter for experiencing travel, vicariously, through the camera (Bowditch). By obsessively recording every aspect of a trip or a work of art, is our memory itself taking the shape of photographs (Pérez Río)? How are we to understand another related compulsion: that of travellers inserting themselves ad nauseam into memorable settings, which may have the effect of trivializing heritage sites (Lombardi)?
All the above can be found in and around Jaipur in 2017, for it is this city with its extraordinary architectural heritage that serves as a backdrop to the exhibitions, also inspiring several site-specific installations.
Priya Kambli INDIA /USA
“One of my most startling early childhood memories is of finding one of my father’s painstakingly composed family photographs pierced by my mother. She cut holes in them so as to completely obliterate her own face while not harming the image of my sister and myself beside her."
Two years after losing her parents, at the age of 18, Priya Kambli moved to the US carrying her entire life in one suitcase weighing about 20 lbs. Inside the suitcase, half of the family’s photographic archive –split ad hoc with her sister–made its way to America, where it would eventually become the backbone of a highly original exploration of a personal narrative.
In Kitchen Gods, she revisits and refines her mother’s habit of piercing the family snapshots creating a series that speaks of devotion, cultural and geographical distance, memory, ancestry and of the power of photographs to embody those issues.
In this unique family pantheon, Kambli labours to afford her ancestors the same treatment as given to kitchen deities. The act of transforming simple snapshots into gods that watch over the nourishment of the family makes this series–although aesthetically rooted in India- a universal story.
Flurina Rothenberger SWITZERLAND
I Love to Dress Like I Am Coming from Somewhere and I Have a Place to Go
2004 - ongoing
This series is a “tribute to ordinary life in Africa” and to the diverse and often misrepresented continent, “one which is neither drowning in collective hopelessness nor vibrantly rushing towards prosperity”.
Flurina Rothenberger was raised in the Ivory Coast and now divides her time between Europe and Africa, where she says she feels openly tagged as an outsider but welcomed everywhere: “remaining in-between worlds fills me not only with serenity but with what is closest to a feeling of home”.
While fashion photography tends to lack in freshness, the young Africans in this series seem to glow with a natural sense of style, which, far from being dictated by a multinational clothing company, speaks of creativity and attitude.
During her trips, Flurina gathered a number of intriguing quotes from her subjects. These have enriched the series, offering further -often witty-significance to the images. So much so, that one of them has become the title of the series.
Sonja Hamad SYRIA/GERMANY
Jin - Jiyan - Azadi « Women, Life, Freedom
In Hamad’s series, the notion of travel acquires a strong political connotation. At first glance, travel can appear to be a bourgeois privilege. But in war and terrorist zones, it can degenerate into an unexpected movement where the aim is to escape death. Islamic State’s persecution of women is a known fact: IS has kidnapped and sold women as sex slaves in markets, raped them, and even beheaded them. But what do we know about female Kurdish fighters? Sonja Hamad, a Syria-born Kurd based in Germany, managed to establish strong relationships with female Kurdish fighters in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) and in North Iraq (Southern Kurdistan). The cultural background she shared with them allowed her to immerse herself in aspects of their lives that had never been touched upon before, and to gather impressions of their living conditions in all their complexities. Hamad’s project shows these women’s passion for their homeland and their brave and powerful refusal to succumb to a double oppression: the IS’s threat and, more generally, the prevalent patriarchal views that suppress women worldwide.
Marco Barbon ITALY/FRANCE
El Bahr explores people absorbed, as they contemplate the sea on the Moroccan coast, from the extreme south to the border with Algeria. Shot from behind, we can only imagine their faces and their eyes, which are turned towards the vastness of the horizon. In Arabic the word El Bahr means both ‘sea’ and ‘beach’, and is far from the Western notions of places to go swimming and get tanned. People seem to come here in search of intimacy and nostalgic moments. El Bahr appears as a space for the soul, a space to drown one’s sorrows and liberate the imagination. Yet it also resembles, symbolically, a painful barrier that separates these people from their beloved ones, who left to seek better luck elsewhere. Behind these enigmatic and solitary silhouettes we perceive a sense of wait and hope that challenges the limits of the visible. Presented inside the Hawa Mahal, a building designed to house the women of the royal household so that those inside could look out onto the street, while remaining concealed to passers-by, El Bahr creates a new tension with the venue’s history. Barbon’s hidden gazes subtly echo those unseeable eyes of the royal household women of the past.
Simone Sapienza ITALY
Charlie surfs on Lotus Flowers
2016 - ongoing
Fascinated by the contradictions of post-war Vietnam, a country somewhat in limbo between free-market capitalism and the strict rules of the Communist party, Italian photographer Simone Sapienza embarked on a journey to explore the country beyond its perfect travel photographs. Almost 40 years after the victory of the Viet Cong troops against the USA, modern Vietnam has radically changed its ambitions and dreams. Populated by a young and energetic new generation, the country is likely to become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. However, behind this illusive economic freedom, the Communist government still holds absolute political power. Departing from the conventional photojournalistic approach, Sapienza crafted Charlie surfs on Lotus Flowers as a sequence of metaphorical responses to notions of power, economy, energy, exoticism and politics that characterise the current Vietnamese society. Like its national flower – the Lotus – Vietnam is going to rise above the surface of its recent muddy-water past to blossom with remarkable beauty. Allusive and ambiguous, Sapienza’s images prompt the viewer to question their presumptions about a country that is still ruled with order and control, yet eager to ride the wave of economic freedom.
Kris Vervaeke BELGIUM
Kris Vervaeke re-photographed thousands of small portraits affixed to tombstones in cemeteries in Hong Kong. He then isolated them from their original context, and from the suggestions of death, to compose a photobook where these anonymous portraits shine in all their fading and abstract beauty. Worn away from exposure to rain, sun, extreme temperatures and humidity over time, they have gained a certain aura that invites the viewer to reflect on the relationship between photography, memory and death. By reading Fox Talbot we learn that photography was invented to satisfy the “charming” obsession of causing “natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper”. Ad infinitum is a painful reminder of the limits of photographic memory. For Vervaeke, these eroded cemetery portraits, “never meant to be used as a memorial, yet selected to convey a whole life”, also epitomise the perishable journey of the human life: “we will be remembered only by the children of our children. Then our image will fade and only stories will remain. As the faces fade further, anonymity returns and once again we become part of nature...ad infinitum”.
Reiner Riedler AUSTRIA
The United States does not monopolize the global marketplace for vicarious travel experiences available at a cost. Austrian photographer Reiner Riedler has photographed unreal environments, visiting around 50 theme parks worldwide. Fake Holidays reveals the absurdities of the world's artificial paradises: indoor skiing in burning hot Dubai, Tropical Islands in Berlin-Brandenburg and Niagara Falls in China. By showing holidaymakers who pay to pose in front of a copy of the original, Riedler’s brutally ironical images invite us to question notions of authenticity and originality, which allegedly play a crucial role when choosing a holiday. As pointed out by Jens Lindworsky: “when wishes are out of reach, simulation is taking over our leisure time and our holidays. Imaginary worlds are created, often under massive technological exertion, in order to offer us experience as reproducible merchandise. Although the quality of these adventures on demand sometimes proves to be rather dubious, the boom does shed light on one thing: the yearnings and dreams underlying people’s daily lives”. An eccentric combination of the fantastical and the mundane, Riedler’s compilation of kitsch locales highlights the disconnection between our desires and our reality.
Vasantha Yogananthan FRANCE
Early Times, from the project A Myth of Two Souls
2016 - 2019
A Myth of Two Souls is Vasantha Yogananthan’s response to the epic tale The Ramayana, which has been continuously reinterpreted since its first apparition around 300 BC. Drawing inspiration from the imagery of this myth and its pervasiveness in everyday Indian life, Yogananthan is retracing the legendary route from North to South India. Informed by the notion of a journey in time, Yogananthan’s eclectic series of landscapes, hand-painted portraits and illustrated black and white photographs, offers a modern retelling of the tale. Yogananthan invites inhabitants of his mythical landscapes to stage scenes from The Ramayana that have left a mark on their imagination. An Indian artist subsequently colours these black and white portraits, using the ancient technique of hand-painting, traditionally reserved for wealthy patrons. By using passersby as actors and applying this art to depict the whole of society, regardless of caste, Yogananthan subverts the privilege, also expanding it into new territories of the countryside. In the illustrated photographs, two artists intervene on the images in the tradition of Madhubani painting. A Myth of Two Souls will be published in seven photobooks between 2016 and 2019. Early Times is the first chapter.
Tim Bowditch UK
Leaf Peeper explores “Momijigari”, the Japanese tradition of visiting scenic places in autumn to see the leaves of trees, as they turn red. The most popular and stereotyped knowledge about the Japanese on the move is that they are believed to photograph everything they see. Intrigued by a Japanese man, as he takes endless pictures of the darkening leaves, on the tourist trail around an Imperial villa in Kyoto, Bowditch decided to follow him in his innocent obsession. The project was initially conceived as a book, published by Rokov, with a text by Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau. In response to Bowditch's images, Giraudeau wrote a story of insight, ignorance and blocked sinuses. Here is an excerpt: “The dream is really about the feeling - I have no idea why he is Japanese - the feeling that he is going to turn around at any moment and the situation is going to be embarrassing and hard to explain. Actually, maybe there is something about how I’m in his country and I’m acting wrong. Like doing something that is customarily incorrect.”
Mariela Sancari MEXICO-ARGENTINA
“Moisés is a typology of portraits of men aged 70, the age my father would have been had he been alive”, explains Sancari, who lost her father when she was fourteen. Her family never let her see his body. Determined to find closure through photography, she devised a plan from her home in Mexico City. She placed an advertisement in a Buenos Aires newspaper asking men of her father’s age and appearance to meet her at the square where she used to play as a child and to allow her to photograph them.
The result is a particularly poignant reflection on the cathartic powers of photography. Sancari’s mastery lies in her ability to distance herself from the project while simultaneously being intimately involved - as the enactment of her father combing her hair shows: “Fiction can help us represent our unconscious, our desires and fantasies, and that is what I tried to do – to use fiction to deal with my ideas of a father figure.”
Moisés stands out as a clinical and yet stirring study on the process of ageing: “I realized my father could have aged in many unpredictable ways”, suggesting that imaginary pasts, projected in our present, can create bodies of work which are both art and therapy.
Jan Hoek THE NETHERLANDS
The “Real” Somali Pirates
During the peak of the Somalian ship hijacking crisis in 2010, Western journalists would often travel to the capital of Kenya to interview ex-pirates. It was much safer than traveling to Somalia, where they were likely to come to harm themselves. However, as no ex-pirates in Nairobi were willing to talk, some Nairobi locals of Somali origin, decided to fool the Western media by pretending to be pirates.
Dutch artist Jan Hoek became infatuated with a one such group. He photographed them acting out their fictional personas.
Hoek has an uncanny ability to find provocative themes that undermine stereotypes: he has photographed homeless Ethiopians as royalty, a heroin addict who dreams of being a model, Masai people as a modern urbanised “tribe”, or individuals whom he has simply met through advertisements on the internet.
The photo shoot subverts the expectations of both model and photographer: the model hopes for romance while Hoek only wants to shoot the model’s dog. The model tries to be as glamorous as possible, while Hoek hopes to picture the decay.
André Gelpke GERMANY
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
1972 - 1985
The series The Leaning Tower of Pisa, by German photographer André Gelpke, covers the period from 1972 to 1985 and anticipates what would be the consequences of mass tourism. It tells the story of a disappointed tourist whose expectations and illusions were nurtured by photography, travel agencies and advertisement. In 1975 he wrote: “The Leaning Tower of Pisa is not as crooked, the Empire State Building not as tall, and the beach of Ceylon not as white as countless photographs have led us to believe. The Eiffel tower is perceived as a bad copy of the poster one saw at the travel agency before the trip even began. […] Arriving, and perceiving the exotic as banal, the heat as burdensome and the encountered poverty as obtrusive. […]To feel that our world is round, and that every departure always also means an arrival at a place that one really hadn‘t sought. Our dream vacation, as promised by the advertisements, is the dream of a collage of popular happiness. We add together size, pureness, beauty, meaning and culture; the sum is called expectation. Dream travel only takes place at home”.
Paulo Simão PORTUGAL
Paulo Simão’s Goodbye Pyongyang presents a disquieting reflection on the act of seeing and believing, through a fictional trip to North Korea.
The republic is presented via a playfully coded visual game, which reflects on photography’s expressive privilege to make visible the hidden, to offer certainties that strengthen our desire to believe. Goodbye Pyongyang offers a singular enquiry that investigates precisely that force.
According to the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, the conquest of the world as picture constituted the fundamental event of the modern age. And yet, that fulcrum (which is offered to us) is not to be found in reality, but in its artificial reflection, in the symbolic reproduction of the image. The partnership between reality and truth, having lost its erstwhile hegemony, is intensely being questioned by photographers like Simão. This challenge to photography’s previous aspirations to objectivity, this offering of an illusion of reality that looks at the world from a fictional standpoint, is precisely one of the key issues that Simão addresses.
Goodbye Pyonyang offers observers the possibility to reconsider their visual codes, and revives a playful complicity between the image and the viewer. And we witness how that fictional trip, thanks to photography, has become real.
Dr. Ângela Ferreira. Artist & Curator
Artistic Director Encontros da Imagem, Braga
Matias Costa SPAIN/ARGENTINA
When we are all rich
Argentina-born, Spain-raised Matías Costa travelled to China in 2008 to find -in an uncharted territory- some of the issues that have preoccupied him as a photographer: capitalist progress, solitude, migrations, the lack of adequate living spaces and the search for identity through history.
When we are all rich focuses on the generation born after the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and subsequent massacre. We observe how the economic reforms are transforming the cities and the lifestyles of its inhabitants. Beijing’s metamorphosis occurs at such pace that maps become obsolete in a matter of days.
A colossal number of migrants from the countryside are expected to move to Beijing in the coming decades, ever increasing the strain in a city that was conceived for 10% of its current population. The city grows upwards, sweeping away the traditional low-rise neighbourhoods and pushing its inhabitants to the suburbs.
Beijing is presented as an unstoppable city which is devouring itself and spewing out cement, cash and people. And 'China will be even greater', say the youngsters glued to their mobile telephones, 'when we are all rich.‘
Antonio Perez Rio SPAIN
Art for Cyborgs
For the first time in history, millions of people visit the Louvre not to admire its legendary collections first hand, with their own eyes, but to seem them on the screens of their devices. Contemplation has given way to capturing, facilitated by all manner of digital devices. Genuinely Cyclopean, these machines roam the museum’s corridors storing everything they see in their seemingly inexhaustible memories. Art for Cyborgs is a hybrid project made up of photographs and texts, which together constitute the first guide to the Louvre museum to dwell on the visitors’ experience inside the institution as well as on the exhibited artworks. The focus on contemporary visitors’ experience inside the museum, with their yearning for visual consumerism, is a pretext to reflect upon the rise of a new species disguised as a contemporary tourist: the cyborg. A being with cybernetic processes integrated into its very organism that determine its perceptions and adaptations, thus engendering new ways of being in the world.
Julien Lombardi FRANCE
Playground is a visual investigation of mass tourism today. Julien Lombardi was interested in how people use photography to appropriate tourist sites, and chose the Giza Pyramids in Egypt as a case study. Lombardi collected these images from sites like Trip Advisor, Instagram or Google images and started grouping them around the attitudes of tourists. They appear as a distinct photographic genre, part of a new language -comprising hashtags- that relates specifically to sites of mass tourism: #kissthesphinx #touchthepyramids or -our favourite-#pizzapyramid.
The way travel is represented through photography can tell us a lot about our
times. And, interestingly, the manner in which photography is used today appears to have transformed the very way travelling is experienced and–crucially– the sites themselves: these pyramids, altered into settings where visitors insert themselves ad nauseam, no longer appear real, but instead seem forgeries of the kind one sees in Las Vegas.