Travel photography has its own unique charm and magic. Unfortunately, like many other aspects of photography, the power of travel photography has not been tapped by its practitioners who are content with capturing eye-catching images. An expert travel photographer seldom depends on the clichéd imagery of monuments or landscapes, but attempts to either re-interpret them through his lens, or look for some unexplored facets. For instance, documenting that moment of joy of a pawn-chewing bangle-seller in Agra is more interesting than a hackneyed image of the Taj.
“Backpacking through Europe at 22 was my graduation into the real world,” says Shibu Arakkal, who is currently holding a solo exhibition of his travel photography titled Been There. “I would be much less of a person if I hadn’t travelled… From having been robbed by a couple of burly blokes at knifepoint in London to nearly having my cameras stolen in Brussels, from having gone through a month-long journey of Rajasthan with barely Rs. 2,000 to swaying in the wind on the tip of the Eiffel Tower, from driving a buggy on the grand prix track in Macau to sailing through the land of Zorba the Greek, I can say with great contentment that the journey thus far has been most colourful.”
Shibu’s love for travel is evident in his choice of pictures shot in different parts of the world over the years. About 10 of the 20 photographs on display are images of Rajasthan, while the rest are images of Rome, Hampi, London, Hong Kong, Macau, Florence and Dubai. Among the eye catching Rajasthan images are the well-composed picture of an open window in a fort, and dazzlingly sunlit palaces along the rippling waterfront. Hard rock formation at Hampi with its reflection in placid waters and a panoramic view of Florence also impress by the moods they create.
Inanimate objects such as a ceiling fan (Macau,2000), a set of rifles arranged neatly (Rajasthan, 2000) and a surreal image of Chinese letters (Hong Kong) arouse curiosity. In contrast, some pictures of the forts of Rajasthan and night images shot in Dubai and Hampi look stolid and undistinguished.
The young photographer, who has a yearning to see more, seems to be on the right track, though he has a long way to go. The show at Galerie Arakkal concludes on April 3.
‘Been There’ is a travel retrospective and shows a selection of Shibu Arakkal’s travel photography over the years, from all over the world. It is a snapshot of how a twenty two year old perceives the world as he steps into its realm. Through ‘been there’, he shares some of his moments with us and explains his photographs with zest.
If people, think of it to be another set of picture perfect postcard, I hope that they would take some time out so they would see what their naked eye would have missed.
The colours in all the photographs have been underplayed as if to make sure nothing stands out. They are pictures through the eyes of someone eager to capture the moment.
The picture of a fan (Macau 2000) at first instance appeared to be just another fan, but on second glance you could see the details in clarity. The offset fan was coloured in different shades of beige and each shade was distinct from the other without blending in. One wonders why it was offset?? The pillar from Greece 2002, pierced the sky reaching out towards the clouds and the palace in Rajasthan 2000, looked like they were made from ral gold.
The pictures are not trying to make a statement; they are reminiscent of a young man’s perception of the world. What stands out are clarity, freshness, and subtlety, its unexplainable, you have to see it to feel it.
Shibu Arakkal in all probability will not ever wear a T-shirt saying Been There Done That. That would be too obvious a statement for someone whose craft is as discreet as he perhaps is. His camera however says just that. Its been Here, There and Everywhere. And yet the camera is not a stamped tourist. Neither is it an intruder.
It is an intimate accomplice. A fellow traveller. Part of the Florence skies. It does not ever bite more than it can chew. In the excitement of discovering a great visual moment, it does not become self-conscious or hurried. It turns Florence into an aged lithograph, a pale patina coated etching that reminds us of how old the city really is. Florence becomes a snapshot from a Merchant Ivory film and without saying a word, the camera captures its history and its expanse.
Rajasthan on the other hand, having been depleted by memoir hungry photographers, is saved from predictable postcard angles. Arakkal sums up its essence with the succinct visual of a ring of weapons possibly decorating the walls of some old Rajput Haveli. We just see a circle formed by bayonets and arrows and the visual immediately brings back folklores of Rajasthani warriors and militant kings.
Show less. Convey more is the hallmark of Arakkal’s photography. Even when he photographs an old architectural marvel, we are immediately intrigued by the blue shadows in the lake that strike a whimsical note in the otherwise staid composition. Hong Kong comes alive in the Oriental calligraphy captured on the silken folds of a flag. An architectural detail looks like a lit up key board. Arakkal’s camera travels all over the world but what it captures is a unique vision of clichéd world. In Arakkal’s photographic memoirs, old becomes new and new becomes newer. What is missing is a Pavlovian conditioning of the eye that sees only that it is supposed or expected or conditioned to see. The result is an unfettered exploration of the world. Both in form and essence.