Photo Feature> Zubin Pastakia
*An Indian By Design Exclusive*
I came across Zubin Pastakia’s work in the Spade Journal. His study of Mumbai was refreshing, and refrained from talking of its old charm or it’s rushed populace, but seemed to focus on silent, perhaps unconscious conversations a city’s built strucures have with those who live in it or visit it. His work on Cinema Halls is alive. Like a commentary in the present, of things happening now. It does not attempt to romanticise their existence and leaves the viewers to make stories of it. Featured, The Cinemas Project and Built Landscape.
The Cinemas Project
Project: Built Landscape
Indian By Design: Why cinema halls?
Zubin: I felt that a Bombay-based, photographic exploration of cinema halls was conspicuous by its absence. Most of the work I had seen was usually in black & white and/or was concerned mainly with the architecture. Also, these buildings were always being looked at in a way which seemed to deny that they actually exist and function today (albeit somewhat anachronistically). I decided to explore the interiors of these buildings in colour. Colour implies an immediacy — a present. I did include the architecture, but I was interested in looking at these sites as lived spaces, which people have interacted with, and in many ways, shaped over time. The biographical time of these buildings was compressed in little nooks and crannies throughout their interiors.
Indian By Design:You speak of a man-altered landscape and how it reflects us. What did you discover in your research for the Built Landscape project?
Zubin:I always felt that a lot of the debates that we were having in terms of how the city reshapes itself physically needed to be explored visually. The photographic narrative brings with it its own way of telling stories, which not only have the potential to bring textual analysis into the public imagination, but have a way of operating within existing narrative vacuums. When photographing for this project, I have been contemplating the built environment and landscape as some sort of a physical manifestation of our ideals as a society.
The project is still finding its shape, but a lot of the sites I am drawn to so far — slum rehabilitation projects, housing colonies, the peripheries of planned business centres, suburban townships, sites of environmental degradation seem to me to reveal a story that is different from, on the one hand, images of a new “Shiny India” that is ready to compete successfully, no matter what cost, in the global economy; an India whose future is imagined in the glitzy skylines of Dubai and Shanghai. On the other hand, I am interested in looking at an India that is a contradiction to a pictured “India” that is still so inexorably entrenched in its traditions and past glories, that it lacks a visual present; as if India is all exotic colours and people bathing in a misty Ganges.
Instead of attempting to represent the city/country photographically, I would rather photograph sites that I feel are of contemporary relevance to us as a society, and hopefully add a visual dimension to the debate.
Indian By Design: What do you look for in a story?
Zubin: I think a good story is one where the narrative is open to interpretation and raises questions rather than providing easy answers. This encourages reflection and, one would hope, conversation.
Zubin Pastakia was born and raised in Bombay, India. After having studied economics and film in the US, he returned to Mumbai in 2005 where he currently resides and works. Commercially, Zubin has photographed for architects, interior designers and various publications. He blogs at http://peripheralvision.blogspot.com and his works are here – www.zubinpastakia.com
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