ON AJITH NEDUMANGAD‘S PHOTOGRAPHS
It is the sheer absurdity of the sculptures created and photographed by Ajith that hits the viewer right from the off – juxtapositions (reminiscent of the Dadaists and Surrealists) in which materials and the forms they are used to create are often in conflict with each other and, at other times, are self-referential in a darkly humorous manner. Ajith creates his sculptures from found objects, “found” objects (like water, blood, hair, cigarettes), found “objects” (light, textures, spaces, fire), and his own drawings. He manipulates them physically at first, and then through the introduction of the camera’s gaze, by which flatness and a single perspective and magnification are imposed on the sculpture, with only a few hints being left suggesting its original shape and size; in essence, it becomes a still life. However, it is illogical and counterproductive to reduce these images into sculpture or still life photographs, since their communication relies on the traditions of both.
There is hardly any traditional sculpture-material used – the closest things we can see is perhaps rusted iron and pieces of wood. With materials which are perishable or have perished, Ajith creates images which do not have the possibility of being transferred or stored without damage; and therefore, photographing them becomes as much a necessity for preserving them as it serves an embellishing role.
“Diary” is too rigid a concept to use to describe this series of images, but the personal quality that most smartphone photographs possess is seen here too. Instead of photographing what he encounters on a day-to-day basis, which in many cases turn out to be too mundane to be worthwhile, Ajith seems to create or find physical manifestations of his fantastic objects of contemplation and then photographs them. Most of his creations seem to exist only to underline their own uselessness and transience – for example, a legless chair and a slice of bread that has been drawn upon with water colour – much like existence itself when seen from a distant enough point of view. At this level, the images literally do not mean anything, but are simply concoctions of an imagination engaging with the world around, and the meanings of which the viewer must derive from the simple fact that such concoctions exist. As with all thoughts, dreams, and ideas, there are meta-ideas here which govern the direction of Ajith’s thoughts as well. One cannot help but notice the running theme of violence, often overtly expressed through blood and models of guns and blades (sometimes with real blades too), and at other times, less obviously expressed through the manipulation of natural life forms. The continuous obsession with petals (torn from flowers), both fresh and dry leaves, seeds, human and animal forms, and elements like water can itself be considered a meta-idea. But a synecdoche for the whole series may be found in his representations of vehicles, all of which exist in conditions which negate their very purpose – none of the vehicles seem to be in a condition to significantly move around. The boats are often close to a body of water, but in a state of so-close-yet-so-far-ness; they have to be content with a smaller body of water or water-like material (in one image, the boat rests on the artist’s own flowing hair); and an aeroplane is enclosed within a plastic container.
Photography functions primarily as an enabler in these imagers. It is because of the power of a photograph as a document that Ajith is able to use his sculptures to communicate with a viewership that is widespread, and able to expand further the arsenal of materials available to a sculptor; and as such, photography here plays a role that is different from the one it plays when a “traditional” (referring to the tradition of creating long-lasting objects) sculpture is photographed – such sculptures are conceived as three-dimensional objects, and one dimension has to be sacrificed for a photographic document to be created. Ajith often creates his sculptures with a photographic end-product in mind, and is thus able to turn the loss of the dimension of depth into an advantage. Further, he is able to extract hardness and rigidity from materials that are flexible or flowing, and use them as part of his sculptures.
The process of mechanical reproduction of images as prints took a leap with the invention of photography, and later, again with the onset of digitalization. Images can now be converted to lightweight files and shared on the internet, although with a loss of quality and texture. The nature of image-sharing today has changed so much that it has overturned our viewing habits, and it is into this relentless flood that Ajith sprinkles his photographs with no explaining texts. In among the thousands of images one comes across in social media, most fitting into a few categories like selfies, touristic images, and food photographs, these photographs stand out as ones that reject the conformity that so ironically characterizes the internet users.
Apart from utilizing the particular qualities of photography, Ajith uses the medium in a quite self-referential manner. The absurdity of his images, the unnatural juxtapositions, and the placeless-ness of his objects in the “normal” world, clash with the popular understanding of photography as a technique that objectively captures the real. This supposed objectivity of photography is often used as a cover to present fetishized objects tantalizingly close to the viewer, but here, we see a direct reversal of this – Ajith’s photographs of his fantastic objects make the viewer question the objectivity of the photographic image itself.