Mumbai Mirror, Friday, July 6, 2007
A picture is worth a thousand words. Documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain demonstrates in her City of Photos
Nishtha Jain in her documentary City Of Photos takes a journey with her viewers to photo studios in Calcutta and Ahmedabad to understand what people seek in their pictures and what the age old tradition of being photographed signifies. Ordinary people in pictures that she explores begin to seem like artists projecting themselves as an idea, experiencing with sensuality the world of their desires which exists ahead of their ability to fully comprehend it. The edgy existence of unmade mental images with crisp memories translates into portraits that become a strong edifice of the cities, and their social history. They are also symbols of the dignity and pathos that harmoniously co exist in the human life, so boundlessly capable of imaginings and so hopelessly bound by shortcomings. The photographs in this film are not high art but when looked into they bear testimony that a good photograph is about depth of feeling, not field. These photographs transcend their reality but do not deny it. They are the one opportunity to outlive even death but might just as well bear witness to how much is lost. In the sudden joy of a lover united with his beloved by photoshop lurks the shadow of a doomed romance. These documents accurately record age, fashion and expression against backdrops which fictionalize the cityscape and ameliorate its harsh realities. Their invaluable role in marriages, travel, evidence and death is duly acknowledged but they achieve their full potential in providing a world, delicious with desirable “sin” for women who indulge in their hobby of being photographed as their only escape from preordained mundane destinies. Jain’s tribute to these still images in motion picture, an irony she consciously emphasizes, is enhanced by humour, nostalgia and surrealism. The film is approached emotionally but does not lack intellectual fervor or study. The psychological and social aspects of photography and the ability of its history to become a commentary on the way we are, surface strongly but quietly.
It is in its ambiguity and subtlety that the film triumphs. The mood captures the romance and morbidity of the subject under consideration and the narrative and soundtrack sift the layers gently. Someone once said, “Every picture has at least two people in it, the subject and the photographer”. The filmmaker is similarly palpable in this documentary. Instead of dishing out a presumptuous treatise on photography, Jain simply captures what fascinates her personally and presents it such that we might be able to see bits of our own selves in it. She respects the ambivalence of the concept at hand and does not bother with sharpness which Henri Cartier-Bresson once called a “bourgeois concept”. Strong tensions between the pleasurable and disturbing pervade the film as they do our lives and aesthetic orders and by allowing them their space and expression, the filmmaker celebrates all three.