In the case of ‘Steel City’, the photographer is looking at the evolution of society as an unbalanced struggle between the capital and the nature. On a personal front, the photographer himself seems to have gone through a struggle to choose a path for himself. Even though a commerce graduate, Anandarup decided not to opt for a career in that field, and instead went on to explore the world of visuals. He looks at abandoned objects and spaces – old cars and other vehicles, abandoned buildings, halted construction works, etc – in both the works, as if pausing to wonder how civilisations pace forward across the world. Anandarup looks with curiosity at man-made objects, which are seen as an odd presence in the middle of an otherwise undisturbed nature; an abandoned autorickshaw in the middle of a thick growth of tall grass, a man sleeping under a concrete mushroom surrounded by trees, etc. It is as if these ‘unnatural’ objects are removed, those spaces will be restored to their ‘natural past’. We desire to stay modern by becoming the consumers of use-and-throw things, which in turn floods the natural space.
Another striking and common feature in both the works is the minimal depiction of human faces. In the case of ‘A Home of No Return’, the old photographs show close-up images of family members, while the new photographs show no identifiable human faces at all. This aspect is perhaps explained by the transformation in the nature of family life itself, and by the alienation Anandarup felt on either sides of the border as he grew up. ‘Steel City’, on the other hand, shows Anandarup’s concerns about the development paradigms chosen by the present-day governments. Instead of showing human faces, here he focuses on inert, half-constructed and abandoned objects to draw a contrast to his nostalgia (Is it his unconscious belonging in a green and misty homeland on the other side of the border?) about a greener alternative.
If our ancestors did not leave behind any proof for their existences, how could we have imagined our history? Most of us feel nostalgic about only an immediate past. It rarely extends beyond one’s own lifetime. This could be also because of the lack of enough objects to solidify the memories of our ancestors. Unlike the periods recreated through the memory projects, where only one or two grainy photographs, falling within a limited range of templates, are left to tell the entire history of a family, current technology allows production and storage of infinite number of photographs from multiple sources, creating a multi-dimensional history of a single person. These photographs don’t just belong to any family albums or a person’s collection, instead they survive as digital files in social media, online clouds or solid state devices. Nowadays, children can see the past of their parents more vividly as compared to previous generations, enabling them to feel nostalgic (more colourfully and vividly, but with less application of the imagination) about a past well beyond their generation.
One limitation of photography is that it cannot reify a moment in the past beyond an image. Memory projects are, in one sense, a rebellion against this limitation. However, they overcome this limitation to fall victim to another – the limitation of history. The history of India, as far as its people are concerned, is divided into two blocks with the date August 15, 1947 dissecting them. Before this date, nothing much is clear apart from the ambiguous, and often quite contradicting, ideas related to kingdoms, rulers, wars, freedom struggles, independence movement and its leaders. The history of the common people of India begins with Independence Day, or so it seems. It is here Anandarup touches upon something uncharted. More than the subjects of his photographs, it is the manner in which they have been photographed that stands out. His visuals are quite graphic with an emphasis on lines, structures and spaces. It is easy to write this aspect off as a matter of technique he mastered during his studies, but this is precisely the mistake we should not make. What he adds to this technique is a sense of history and an effort to reconcile it with the looks of his ancestors; he contrasts the primitive kind of graphic qualities he finds in his family albums with his own strongly graphic images. It is this evolution that might provide him an opening to escape the burden of the National History and come into touch with a larger history of the humanity, by framing a manner of looking that is not chained by nationalistic pride.
But one should nevertheless consider Anandarup’s images as organic extensions of a family album. It is a collection of looks that he puts together; the looks of his family through their camera(s), and his own looks through his camera. It is this quality of looking that defines periods in art history, and each period in history is characterised by an overarching logic of looking. Anandarup’s gaze has broken free from the narcissism in one’s own culture, the pride of being part of ‘The Family’, that characterises family photographs. His works show a transition from the nationalistic pride to the awareness about the capitalist reality that structures society. One could well imagine a third, fourth, fifth generation depositing their looks in this Album of Looking, and contributing to this recorded history of looking. In their images, we might see what reality they were aware of, and how they drew from Anandarup’s images to inform their own. Indeed, one might as well imagine Anandarup taking this much forward in the rest of his career, building an aesthetic of photography that is not merely an imitation of the snapshot culture, but yet retaining its roots in the gaze of the common man.