MONALISA IN TOWN
This book is a document of photographs from an old photo studio, Studio Monalisa that was set up in 1977 in my father’s village, Rairangpur. I remember seeing it around the corner from my grandfather’s house when I visited as a child. Each time it looked a little darker and a little less crowded.
The images span a period two decades, from about 1969 to 1989. Through interviews and discussions with the photographer and residents from the town as well as textual references, I attempt to resurrect the heyday of the studio as well as the place in which it is located. Mr. Chhutu Pada Modak, a darkroom enthusiast and the original owner, recounts the days in which the studio became a household name, which today, sadly, only receives the stray customer. In time, his nephew will perhaps be able to revive it to its former glory.
Q. How has educationlmentoring changed your practice over time? What were your expectations of the course, workshop?
Applying to NID, I was aware that I would get to learn and practice analogue photography, something I was very keen for a long time. What I didn’t expect was, how this design institution would change my overall thinking and approach. I was able to experiment with various approaches to arrive at the one which most suited the context of the image and what it needed to convey. A mentor here has a huge role to play, as they recognise your intent. It puts him/her in a good position to analyse your approach from an outsider’s perspective and to help you think through the project at hand.
Q. Why is photography the medium of your choice and what are the practical and theoretical challenges you have faced?
My interest in photography comes from my love for visual design and, quite honestly, my lack of skill with painting. I began photographing what I couldn’t paint and with time, it became an aid or tool for the stories I wanted to tell. One of the initial challenges I faced was not imagining the final outcome right at the start. I come from an engineering background where one is conditioned to be clinical, with more of a problem-solving approach. It took a lot of unlearning to allow my work to develop organically. For example, with Monalisa in Town, the sheer size of the photographer’s archive made me question what I wanted to do with it as all of it seemed relevant and worthy of preservation or reproducing. Be it journalism or studio portraits, each spoke about the time and culture of the place. The decision to restrict the scope of the work within a timeline while also narrating the story I intended to tell became a crucial process-maker.
Q. How do you think photography will change in the future and what will be the role of the University/ Festival/Workshop?
I feel that the future of photography is quickly moving towards mixed media. It has come a long way from taking minutes to create and produce a single positive, to taking hours to make multiple negatives, to now being able to produce hundreds of digital copies in no time at all. In a future time when photography would be incomplete without an element of video or music or something yet unimaginable, it may resurface in a classical sense such as in alternative printing processes.
All images from the series Monalisa in Town 2016-2017
Front cover of Shampa Kabi’s Monalisa In Town
LEFT: Hand coloured photo 1. RIGHT: Hand coloured photo 2.
LEFT: Kids photo 2. RIGHT: Kids photo 3.
LEFT: Photo exposed under hand cut paper frame 2. RIGHT: Self Portrait. 1984.Exposed under hand paper frame 3.
LEFT: ”Witch” killed by decapitation 2.c 1983. RIGHT: ”Witch” killed by decapitation 3.c 1983.