Last year, I went to a photo exhibition. There is something quite absorbing about an exhibition. You gaze long enough at a photo taken by another person, you add your own meaning to the scene, you build stories about how the photographer reached the place, about the life of the people in the picture, about the relationship between the photographer and the photographed and you spin webs around many other aspects.
Yet, there is another dimension to the exhibition. There is a life happening right at the venue – life of each of the people, life of the buildings, life of the organizers and a life outside the venue. It was on one such day that we went to the exhibition. It was one of the days of festival in Heidelberg. The hauptstrasse was lined with stalls on either side. We walked through one of the side streets, passed a square of festivities and returned to the cross the hauptstrasse into the detour to the gallery until we spotted the signs indicating where we needed to go.
We walked in, bought the tickets from a young girl at the entrance. The wall behind her was lined with photographs, all arranged systematically. She was cheerful and friendly. The sunlight fell on the photographs giving them an additional framing effect of the shadows of the windows opposite. I had already started weaving my stories in my mind.
Having been to this gallery on another occasion at another time of the day, for another photography exhibition, I was prepared for the vastness of the gallery. Yet, the effect of a gallery also depends on the environment of the day. Having come at night, into a gallery lit with fluorescent lights, the harsh lines seemed to have been enhanced. During day time with sun streaming through some windows while some parts remained protected in the shadow, an emptiness enveloped me. Was it the lack of people or was it the type of photographs? I could not really tell. Even the props, though very quaint and painting like, seemed to have been left by someone who was in a hurry to go somewhere.
As I wandered along the walls downstairs, I noticed people walking up the stairs – unlike last time, I could not see any pictures there. There seemed to be some type of non-photo like activity going there. Thinking there might be some voyeuristic pleasure for my camera from a bird’s eye view – to take pictures without being noticed by my subject, I walked up. A beanbag faced a screen – headphones seemed connected to some audio. As time passed, visitors, who had more time than others, took seat one by one on the bean bag, pulled the headphones over their heads and listened. Others stood with the headphones pulled over the ears, listened for a few minutes and left.
In the main hall there were still some people at one corner still assembling some chairs. It almost seemed like an altar where the choir was about to take their position. The atmosphere seemed serene and holy broken only by the shuffle of feet and the drag of the chairs. A piano and the note stands indicated the possibility for a concert. The photograph that served as a backdrop to the orchestra might have induced the sacrosanct feeling – on the other hand the elements in photograph struggled against the atmosphere. How should I interpret this – as love being god given or as a rebellion against the sanctified?
As we came away, I was struck by the myriad of emotions captured in different corners of the exhibition gallery. On one side was calm, on the other side was loneliness, on yet another side was rebellion and yet there was the togetherness of a family all kept together in hundreds of small frames. The welcome signs hardly referred to this opulence of sensibilities that would be generated. The turkish wedding video playing in one of the anterooms seemed an anomaly against the silent tongues all around trying to tell me something. Housed in a dark room, it seemed to want to take you away from those mute conflicts outside.
As I stood at the small hundreds of frames and tried to map the people across the photographs, new wonder set in. With the pictures set in Japan, a country I have always wanted to visit, I tried to understand how many families were represented here. Unlike other pictures in the gallery, this seemed to be the only wall where a normal life seemed represented. All the other pictures could be “modeled” for the purpose of the picture. These ones did not need to be “posed” though some of them were – just like when we take family pictures in studios – just as in normal life.
As we left, we found that there would be an opening concert and a party the next afternoon – unfortunately we were already committed elsewhere.