A photographer’s lens is often pointed outwards, but what happens when it is turned homewards? That’s the premise Bristol-based curator and photographer, Aaron Schuman, is playing with at the third edition of JaipurPhoto. Interestingly, the theme of this year’s open-air travel photography festival, which kicked-off yesterday, is equally inspired by Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 song Homeward Bound, as it is by Schuman’s need to buck the trend.

“Personally, I find travel photography limiting. It generally alludes to a type of imagery that’s rather simplistic, stereotypical or clichéd, like palm trees and beaches. So I tried to think of what the opposite would be — and that was the idea of focussing on home and the issues around it,” he says. “Rather than travelling to far-flung, exotic places, these contemporary photographers are exploring where they come from. They are bringing their ‘home’ to Jaipur.”

Home is where the heart is

Co-founded by Lola Mac Dougall — an India-based Spanish cultural manager — the festival, which takes place across six heritage locations, has positioned itself as a significant part of the Pink City’s art calendar. “We use large-format prints that match the (architectural) scale of the venue and synergise with its distinctive features,” says Mac Dougall, adding, “Each year, we explore new venues. In 2018, we have the pleasure of working in Jantar Mantar.”

But as with any public art exhibit, it comes with its own sets of challenges: like displaying works without damaging the structures, and, more importantly, engaging an eclectic mix of audience. “We are catering to Jaipur’s residents, tourists and international visitors, so the challenge was to find ways to keep the work accessible and not push people away with something that’s too obscure, but, at the same time, not to cater to their expectations,” says Schuman.

Occasionally, the curators have intervened, correlating artwork to the venue, like with Regine Petersen’s Find a Fallen Star, one of the festival’s highlights. The body of work explores various meteorite falls around the world — from a rock that crashed into an Alabama house in the 1950s, to two Rajasthani shepherds who stumbled upon one in the desert in 2006. “We have placed it within the context of the Jantar Mantar — so there is a relationship between the astronomical observatory and the idea of stars falling,” says Schuman. Mac Dougall adds the exhibition will be complemented by a conversation between the German photographer and writer Aveek Sen this weekend, on the more expanded notion of Earth as a home and the confusion when something unfamiliar interrupts it.

Visual learning

Among the 15 photographers participating, four are from India: Arko Datto, Asmita Parelkar, Soham Gupta and Ram Chand (who used to run a studio in Ajmer in the 1960s). “I was excited to work with Arko Datto. His work is stunning and we hadn’t crossed paths before,” says Schuman, elaborating that what struck him about the Kolkata photographer’s series, Pik-Nik, was the concept of temporary homes — of how families in eastern India travelled to the riversides to picnic, and created temporary abodes where “they cooked, drank and danced, rebuilding their own communities for a few days”.

The festival, which also includes movie screenings and talks, is key because, as Mac Dougall puts it, visual literacy, or the ability to make sense of images, is getting more important in our lives. “Moreover, photography, like literature, expands your imagination and gives you options to live beyond your body, your place of residence, your gender, your social class and your nationality. It makes you a complete human being,” she concludes.

Till March 4, across City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, JKK, Old Police Headquarters and Albert Hall Museum. Details: jaipurphoto.in

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