At a park in Lucknow, photographer Gayatri Ganju noticed a gazebo in a quiet corner, hidden from the public eye. She watched as several couples visited the little structure in search of a private space. Ganju was reminded of the multiple conversations she had had with her friends growing up. The problem was always the same – if they can’t afford to spend money every day at cafés or meet at each other’s homes, then where can one go off for a few quiet moments with their partner? In these moments, a public space – a hole in the wall, a deserted road – turns into a romantic getaway.
Ganju started noticing such spaces in her hometown, Bengaluru, on her return from Lucknow and over the next few months, kept her eyes peeled for an opportunity to document this phenomenon. Her series, Strictly Do Not Kiss Here, is about couples who find refuge in old monuments or at a park bench facing away from the evening walkers, for a date. One image from the series has been shortlisted for the Fòcas India 2017-’18, a photography competition organised by Fòcas, which offers emerging photographers a platform for international exchange, exhibition and training. In its first year, the contest has invited emerging photographers in Scotland and India to submit works that lend themselves to the theme “Document”.
Ganju’s shortlisted image for Fòcas India shows a couple in a park behind some shrubbery, carefully positioning themselves and turning their faces away from the photographer, but letting her capture their small intimate moment. “The series is like a tribute to my teenage self,” said Ganju. “Like a snippet from my diary from 10 years ago.”
All of Ganju’s subjects knew they were being photographed but all had one request – take the picture but don’t show our faces. “New social structures and values are fast making their way into the urban lifestyle. But the old ones aren’t disappearing,” writes Ganju in the introduction to the series on her website, referring to the incidents of moral policing in various parts of India. There have been instances of couples being harassed, beaten up and shamed for as little as holding hands in public view.
“I only go ahead and photograph them if they allow me to,” said Ganju. “I hang around them or with them till they become a bit comfortable with my presence. Sometimes it becomes like a little game for them of how they can best hide their faces while still expressing their love.”
According to writer and curator Katherine Parhar, who co-founded Fòcas with photographer Arpita Shah, the decision to work with a theme that is an extended definition of photography itself was deliberate. “We wanted to be as open as possible, to be led not by our own visions of Scotland and India, but by the visions of the emerging artists who submitted their work,” said Parhar. “In some ways it was a gamble. But it paid off. We received so many entries, more than we imagined possible, and we’ve had the honour of seeing surprising work from both India and Scotland – some of it difficult, some joyous, but all of it reflective, all of it compelling.”
Photographer Lucie Rachel sent entries from a series which documents her parents’ relation since they met, married and her father came out as transgender, Louise Kennedy captures the hyperreal Scottish Lolita community – a subculture that originated in Japan and is gaining popularity the world over. It reinterprets and mixes together Victorian children’s wear, French Rococo fashion and Gothic style.
Indian photographer Sutirtha Chatterjee’s shortlisted image is a portrait of a student at a school for the visually impaired in Kolkata.
“The project documents their reality and lives which can be so similar to ours if nurtured in the right way,” said Chatterjee. “The work is not an attempt to reveal the ‘truth’ of the students but is more about them being in the moment. It is an attempt to bridge the gap of inequality and inspire sensitivity towards the blind by showing how their lives are like ours if they are nurtured inside a healthy environment provided by specialised schools.”
During the time he spent with the children in his series, Chatterjee witnessed sweet moments between siblings, classroom activities and school ground chatter. He recalled a conversation with a student named Brihaspati Mahato, an art student who wishes to learn more about philosophy. “He explained to me how those who cannot see, dream,” said Chatterjee. “This deeply affected me. I understood how important and critical their other senses are. Mahato’s dreams are mostly comprised of feelings. His memories are constructed around the senses of touch, smell and hearing. He remembers a tree by how it feels and a flower by its smell. He remembers his visit to a beach in West Bengal by how it felt to step into the water for the first time. He recounted how he often dreams of that seaside.”
According to Parhar, the jury looked for artists who made brave images. “They looked at artists who took risks in their work to tell coherent stories that left them wanting to see and know more,” she said. “They found that the photography they saw was so varied that it made them reflect quite deeply on what kinds of photography they love and believe in.”