“The most liberating thing about self-publishing is having full creative control, but it can also be very daunting, especially for a newbie bookmaker,” says Anurag Banerjee, photographer and author of I’m Not. Here. The book, released last month, depicts her relationship with her hometown of Shillong, through footage shot over eight years.
I’m Not Here was the first self-published photobook to receive a grant from the Nazar Foundation. The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts also provides such grants. Even with such help, it is not easy. Producing a photo book can cost between ₹2,000,000 and ₹15 lakh for a print run of 300-500 copies. Coping with design and distribution requirements can be challenging.
Yet more and more photographers are taking this route, reveling in the freedom it offers. For the Indian reader, this means a new genre of independent works that serve as immersive documentary and docu-fiction, exploring conflicts and cultures, audiences and personnel.
“There has been a definite shift in the range of topics over the years. One of the main reasons is the real change in the nature of photography books and the transition from coffee table book to photo book, which is also considered as an art object,” explains Prashant Panjiar, administrator of the Foundation. Nazar. So here are four photo books (and a zine) to follow this summer.
Narrative is the new war
(La Côte, 2019; Price: ₹3,000)
Set along the coasts of India, photographer Magnum Sohrab Hura’s book explores the undercurrents of religious, caste-based and sexual violence. The Coast is an iteration of Hura’s short film The Lost Head & the Bird, released in various iterations between 2016 and 2019. Like the video, the book is an editing masterpiece that uses found footage and own photographs of Hura to tell a story in 12 stories.
“In its original format, the story has the obsessive lover, the fortune teller, and the silly photographer, me, all participating in the violence in the life of main character Madhu. By the 12th iteration, all of these characters have been absolved of their role in any wrongdoing and the blame for Madhu’s circumstances was subtly shifted back to him,” says 40-year-old Hura.
The images oscillate between brutal, funny, dark and silly. There’s a picture of three kids on a beach, and it takes a few seconds to notice that one kid is about to hit another with a rock. Managing distribution is the hardest part of self-publishing, says Hura. The work was created in seven years. “It’s like Chinese whispers,” says Hura. “Every time we tell the story, something changes. It’s like the story is the new war.
A Rorschach test for #MeToo times
(In Today’s News: Alpha Males and Women Power, 2019; Awards: ₹2,200)
The first thing you notice about In Today’s News: Alpha Males and Women Power is how you feel. Hand-stitched and featuring an open back, this limited edition appropriates images from print media to offer a gripping commentary on predetermined gender roles and patriarchy.
Its author, Kaamna Patel, 34, is a visual artist and bookmaker who runs the Jojo photobook library in Mumbai. The visual language, in images collected from newspapers over four months in early 2019, reveals the limits of a society struggling to literally keep patriarchy at bay. One zooms in on an ad that puts women’s tired eyes to shame and juxtaposes it with an image of a woman doing weight training. “In 2019, the MeToo movement was fresh in my mind and the book was an answer, almost like a Rorschach test,” says Patel.
Memories in every fold
(Good Night, 2019; Price: ₹1,700)
Sanjeev Saith, 64, a photographer and book publisher, took a long break from photography in 2002 to become a full-time caregiver to his parents. Between 2007 and 2008, he photographed his parents using a simple smartphone. “It was actually over two nights and two days during this period that the photographs in the book appeared,” he says.
He lost his father in 2010 and his mother in 2016. Happy Goodnight is his ode to them and his relationship with them. The title was his mother’s greeting to his father at the end of each day.
The photographs are tender, moving between the interiors of their home, the textures of her parents’ skin, and the way the light falls on them. The pocket-sized book opens in an accordion fold that reveals both the monotony and the intimacy of a carer’s life.
“Accepting the idea of self-publishing wasn’t easy,” says Saith. “Even editors need editors, you see.”
Nowhere to go but up?
(A Still Year, 2021; Price: ₹700)
Technically a limited edition zine, Tito’s A Still Year is essentially portraits of people photographed during the pandemic, in December 2020. In his studio in Mumbai, he photographed friends as well as strangers who answered a call he posted on Instagram. Next to each image is a brief account of the subject. “I wanted the zine to be a memory of that year and offer hope for 2021,” says Tito, 24. Some of his subjects play in front of the camera, others seem comfortable with their vulnerabilities. One, Tanmayee (last name omitted), describes the lockdown as a time of gloom; she lost her job, stayed with her partner, escaped to the books, and cooked and danced together because there was nowhere to go.
A story still hidden
(Armenians of Calcutta, 2021; Price: ₹1,700)
Alakananda Nag has spent a decade photographing and researching the Armenians of Calcutta.
The aim of the book was to represent the community and to remain as invisible as possible as an artist, explains Nag, 44. As one moves, one encounters archival images from old directories, family portraits, images of spaces that Armenians inhabit in the city. . Calcutta Armenians was launched in Kolkata this month, at the Goethe-Institut (Park Mansion), which was built by an Armenian. Nag is also planning a Bengali version of the book.
(For updates on other such works, visit The Offset Bookshop [offsetprojects.cargo.site]. Founded by curator and photographer Anshika Varma, it stores and showcases photo books and zines from India and South Asia)
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