Rameshwar Broota’s recent photographs reflect both a contemporary emphasis on the interiority of vision and translate the personal relationship between the photographer and subject in many ways that appear at once spontaneous and yet are shaped with extraordinary care. The dense grain of Haridwar city from a bird’s-eye view, invokes an abstraction, transformed as it is, into a textured terrain covering the earth. In its flattened informal geometry, it echoes the tenets of a two dimensional painting. Where does the Ganga Flow-2, another work that invokes the site, is a frontal view of Haridwar in vertical progression, highlighting the complex fabric of the congested settlement and the missing river.
The previous suite of Broota’s photographs showcased at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2007 radically altered the imperatives of photography, where the recorded images were completely restructured by the camera, the artist arrived at visual composites by juxtaposing two distinct images to draw metaphoric, poetic and symbolic associations. Broota gives us an example of such a composite in the current exhibit, where he works the surreality of an in-between space, by merging two separate images in a precarious suspension. His wife is lying horizontal in deep slumber, quite unconscious of what’s happening around her, while a jet in the sky leaves a vertical line as it speeds in the sky. The collapse of the middle ground is deliberated to bring the inside-outside in a dramatic relationship. Using the format of the diptych, Broota’s forays into photography as a creative medium of expression go beyond the documentative mode of an unmediated reality, seeking a dialogue between carefully chosen, edited and perfected images.
Wedged between human intention and technical invention, these artworks are exemplars of a constructed reality, with a shifting degree of treatment visualized for each one of them. Intrestingly, whether the photograph is an evidence of the real world remains open-ended, photography stands to continuously develop and change as a tool for artists.
Broota has gone back to privileging the basics of photography in his recent works, emulating the etiquette of the dark room and making interventions of a kind that do not disrupt or demarcate disparate images. He decides to keep the overall composition of the work quite straightforward, more in tune with the creative operation of the eye. In their overall coherence, the works camouflage the artist’s desire to bring clarity to a fading detail, accentuate a specific form or blur a part of the image for visual impact. A discerning viewer, familiar with the medium can discover Broota’s rather subtle working, sparse and meticulously woven into the received image.
Broota specialized in Painting while he trained in the Fine Arts but evolved as a self taught photographer who quite regularly used the camera to sharpen and record his responses towards the empiricism of everyday reality. In fact, he entered the dark room in his formative years, curious to comprehend the magic of converting a negative into a positive image. Over the years, the medium became much more creative for him than merely another technique of image making.
While shooting a photograph can be an instantly gratifying encounter, recorded with an urgency, for Broota, working the image on the computer screen takes long and patient hours, as he painstakingly explores attributes of opacity, saturation, intensity, erasure, layering, masking and superimposition. Earlier, he worked more with fracturing spaces, cropping the raw image and playing with contrasts that were boldly accentuated. Now the deliberation are more nuanced, graded and sharpened to represent complex negotiations between visibility and visuality.
Engaging the medium and the subject, Broota has photographed his own body almost obsessively, capturing its palpability, the breathing pores of his skin, the feel of its wholeness with focussed attention on the parts, especially areas of connectedness and disjuncture. Despite its precision and realism, Broota has never captured the body as an object of display but as a subject nuanced with its perplexity and inherent complexity. For him, the sensual and the grotesque strength and fragility, growth and decay all have been engaging aspects of the human (male) body that he has been preoccupied with for decades also through his painting.
With his techniques, patiently mastered over the years, Broota seeks the impeccable through the method of discipline and control over randomness or chance. His flawless captures of the corporeal world, has his eye and hand constantly challenging each other over textural and tactile observations. Broota paints, draws and photographs the body in almost a clinical manner, engaging its external and x-ray views, its tines an sinews its bony armature and naked flesh. More recently, keen to accentuate the play of light and shadow over the body, he divulges its bulges and hollows without overtly identifying its recognized shaoes and contours that previously demarcated the body as his site. Exploring the microstructure of the human hand in What lies Beneath, Broota portrays the flaked skin of the hand to echo the flaky earth, dried of all moisture and suppleness, bringing into awareness the silent workings of time on the mortal ground. The oozing drop of blood…or the fallen drop of water a tear perhaps, despite its transience, invests story in it forever. The varying treatment of the same image brings a shift to the context and meaning of the work. Often, the reversal of appearance or character turns ab ordinary feature into a monumental one and Broota perceives such possibilities of wonderment in everyday things.
Photography, literally meaning “drawing with light” from the Greek words photos (light) and graphos (drawing), has been profoundly challenged with the advent of digital image making, increasing our awareness of the degree to which photographic images can be manipulated and rephrased. Yet such manipulation can be found in photography from its origins in the nineteenth century, for instance, converting the day scene into a night scene, often retouching to make the image brighter, sharper of mysteriously dark. Digital technology has allowed for greater ease and enhancement in editing and improvising the image towards a desired end. In Broota, the final image is affected by subsequent gestures of evaluation and manipulation.
The grandeur of nature has been a consistent and universal theme in photography, where artist photographers capture its sensual, romantic and terrifying aspects. Broota perhaps make us confront nature not for its breathless beauty but for its mundane poetry, shifting the perception and place for the experience of the sublime. The far-off views of landscapes and topographies encountered during his many travels to different parts of the world invite his creative interventions so as to play on laws of distance and proximity or reverse the logic of clarity and fuzziness but never give away its synergic totality. Unbounded, these open enclosures bring forth a framework of relations that Broota is so passionate about – textures, structures and spaces. For instance, in the work Tactile Spaces, Textured Grounds, the title itself is suggestive of why he was drawn to the particular site. The infinite patterns and textures impressed by the calligraphic writing of Nature is interrupted by the imprints of a vehicle in the foreground. The horse and the tractor bring the natural and mechanical worlds together. But what is amazing is the clarity that Broota has brought to the far away tractor and the horse. Broota’s preoccupation with razor sharp edges and shadows in his paintings can be seen in the photographic print titles Shifting Sand. Expressive textures dominate the expanse with deep gorges and sharp angularities of the rocky mountains. The naturally rounded pebbles are in clear contrast with the cemented geometric blocks that demarcate the pathway. The movement of the shifting sand brings in a fleeting quality to the solidity of the landscape. Broota’s fascination with roots and veins also continues. His eye is drawn to Nature’s tapestries covering built spaces as markers of an emotional state rather than a physical location. He captures them in the form of an organic drawing highlighting a single strand in white amidst the dark earth tones of the photograph.
Interestingly, we come across an urban landscape with lines drawn for controlled navigation and surveillance in the work Between the Lines. The surprise element here are the stray dogs, inserted by Broota to disrupt the guarded spaces. Miniatures in Memory are works that highlight his memories and responses to the Indian miniature tradition, capturing the breadth of the visual field, moving the viewer into the traversed space of the distant view. Having brought clarity to their look, the toy-like white houses appear sprightly amidst the rocky hills. No Roadblock, is it? Introduces sharp contrasts between the superimposed image of the log of wood against another image shot while driving on the highway in heavy rains. Twin images of the boy watching the breathless cityscape is worked upon accenting the foreground in one and the background in another. In Reaching Out, the mechanical red crane rises high to suggest the forceful splash of the waterfall appropriate a bursting cloud. In another titled Cutting Edge, Broota accentuates a sharp and clean tapering edge of the monument by cropping its shadow.
Life in the times we live in is about fragmented experiences, fleeting moments and short term memories. In Broota, the fantasies of lost worlds, vanished empires, of abandoned and over populated cities, are invested with meaning and emotions evoked by the gestalt of formal elements and their desired correlations. While there are claims that photography is to witness, record, and document, Broota explores the transgressive possibilities within the visual, working with the awareness that the photograph is both, frozen in time, for time.