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THE MELA PICTURES

I

n the Summer of 2003 the V&A Museum commissioned a mobile studio which was set up at The Asian Mela Festival in West London. Visitors volunteered to have their photograph taken and were able to choose between a variety of backdrops. They also gave a short statement about themselves and received a Polaroid as a memento of the day. The process was repeated at three outdoor locations in South India with the support of the British Council (South India). In January 2004 the studio was set up on the Mahashivaratri Holiday at Lalbagh Gardens in Bangalore. In January 2005 two locations were found in Chennai during Pongal, one at VGP Golden Beach and one at Anna Nagar Tower Park. In both Bangalore and Chennai teams of students, some of whom are also represented in the photographs, conducted Interviews in English, Kannada, Tamil, Hindi and Telegu. The questions used in London “How would you describe yourself” and “What do the clothes, hairstyle, jewellery and make-up that you are wearing today say about you or your identity” were written by the Education department at the V&A Museum for the event in London and did not always translate well into some Indian languages: the word ‘identity’ was particularly problematic. A looser approach was adopted in India closer to an interview or conversation which took account of age and circumstances. The project is intended as a record of a particular time and place and makes use of the relaxed atmosphere of public holidays. I was keen for participants, as far as possible, to have some control over the manner in which they were photographed, or whether they were photographed at all. They could have their picture taken, or they could decide not to, as if they were to commission it themselves. On this account they are to some extent in a position of power, unlike many of the subjects of documentary or tourist photographs who are approached by photographers or tourists and find it easier to submit than to refuse. This is important as we wanted pictures of people inhabiting their own environment in a relaxed way, making their own choices about how to spend the day. The creation of this context and hence of the atmosphere is crucial in establishing a degree of naturalness and its accompanying sense of autonomy. The fabrics from which the backgrounds were created were obtained locally in each case. The use of these fabric backdrops refers to art historical styles of portraiture in which the background is given an almost equal importance to the figure in the context and composition of the image as a whole. To make an individual part of a considered pictorial composition is a method of enhancing their presence. The resulting tableau identifies the

sitter and the occupation of their immediate surroundings as a statement of completeness, and affirmation of their existence. As well as the formal appearance of the picture, the manner in which the individual appears in the image is also an important factor to the overall impression given. In this case people do not have to change the environment they are in for a new unfamiliar one, such as a photographers studio. The gardeners, who are on their way to work, are surrounded by people they know and do not have to put down the things they are carrying on the way to start their tasks for the day. Similarly, for other visitors to the locations the mood of the public holiday is largely maintained . VGP Golden Beach is a theme park near the film studio lots to the south of Madras and it attracts wannabes and film extras in equal measure as well as tourists and casual visitors. Here the mobile studio competed with the various rides, concessions and lookalikes who inhabit the park. The process of picture-taking here is assimilated into the every day life of the of the place. The everyobject.net website on which these images can also be found represents four museums in the UK and is designed to make their collections accessible to a wider public. A stand-alone computer at the exhibition in Chennai enabled visitors to submit their comments using a bespoke piece of software. The contributions were then uploaded on to the everyobject site. Visitors to the site are also able to post their comments, extending the notion of an exhibition by including feedback from participants, helpers and visitors to the exhibition. The imags and comments can be found at: <http://www.everyobject.net/search. php?params=mela>. The purpose of this is to obtain testimonies by those who were at the shoots or who have some connection with the images or simply want to comment about them. Krittika Arvind for example, a student from Bangalore now studying in London vividly recalls encounters with fortune tellers like Rossama Chakama while a teenager living in Chennai: she writes: “A nightmare to the unmarried adolescent girls whose marital future they are very keen to predict. Dressed in bright mismatched attire that makes interesting patterns and wearing different lengths of coloured beads and shells gives them a dramatic, theatrical appearance.” The photographs themselves are relatively traditional in execution and reference styles of portraiture familiar in India. The project as a whole, however, is intended as a kind of interactive artwork which makes use of the web to engage the reciprocal relationship between two countries.

Allan F. Parker 11/05


THE MELA PICTURES Allan Forrester Parker


Performers from Chennai Film Studios january

2005

CHENNAI – VGP GOLDEN BEACH


This is the age to be flamboyant and thats what were being. We feel happy in each others company, sisters always. We have lots of mixed experience in Chennai â&#x20AC;&#x201C; good and bad. Apsara and Haseena Shaik january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


The Raghunandan family january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


I am a masked dancer, I choreograph my own stuff. I have lots of friends. Hope to become a movie superstar some day Vimal january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


A star in a beautiful galaxy. Very lucky to be here, in this place. Simple Hairstyle â&#x20AC;&#x201C; like Gregory Peck Manek Lal and Sangoi august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


I am doing tailor work â&#x20AC;&#x201C; I wear what I feel comfortable in Devi and her sister january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


Young boy - normal little six year old Quasim Mahl august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


Have a house, a sister. What else do I need? I wear beads for divine blessing. Rajamma and Selvi january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


Murugesh, Gouri and family january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


Londoners Max Rademacher and family august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


The Dattatri Family january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


Priya - Bubbly personality, sociable Mark - Dreamy, lively, vibrant, active Nina - Young, courageous, outgoing Nina, Priya and Mark august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


Jelly! Life is to be enjoyed. Festival clothing. Pongal is here! The Bhobathy Sisters january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


I work with disability people and 60+ people as volunteer R. H. Ruhel august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


This accessory in my hand has magical power. I am a fortune teller by profession, I can see the future. Chennai is going to prosper Rosama Chakkama january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; anna nagar tower park


I am a dummy horse dancer, family profession. I feel good in the attire, brings out the colour in me Amla january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


We are the Hottest Japanese! End of summer! Miho Yoshii and friend august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


I look good – and I’ve learned to love it. I hate it when people burst my balloons. Ravindran and assistant january

2005

chennai

– vgp golden beach


I am a farmer, these are my brothers children. I like my uncles hat â&#x20AC;&#x201C; he looks good in it The Gangh Brothers january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


Try to be nice and good to people Amala and Nagama (Garden staff at Lalbagh) january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


I love where I come from, I am Telegu (from Andhra). I hate Chennai – got to get out of here. I made my whip myself… stop asking questions or I'll whip you Venkatesh january

2005

chennai

– annanagar tower park


Indian Origin Vasumati august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


The best part about the shoot was the people and interaction with them them. At both the locations we shot, one at a park and other an amusement park, People reacted very well to the concept and let us take their snap and interview them. I interviewed a few and I know for a fact they felt like some celebrity rockstar Aiyush, Sanish and Murtaza (Helpers) january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


I am a TV compere and I do Modelling. I am from Madhya Pradesh and Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve have been in Chennai for three years Dolly january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


Rohiniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cousins january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


Skilled and talented Dancers! Camilita and Cristina Budhu august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


I am a peacock dancer, I made the dance and the costume myself. I dance irrespective of the weather Veeran january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


We are village Dancers – we call our style Manju Shekar – the clothes make us feel different, so that we remain in the minds of people forever Shekar and Troupe january

2005

chennai

– vgp golden beach


Strong Feminist female with an adversarial streak… (that’s the lawyer in me…) Desi earings, mughal makeup with loads of Western fashion decadence

Zahra Andalusia Hamirani august

2003

london

– gunnersbury park


Happy and jovial! Steven Purmanan august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


Just try to be true to myself Huliaiya january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


Special â&#x20AC;&#x201C; personal styles Children of Mrs. V Singh august

2003

london

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; gunnersbury park


Happy with anything Padma and Sirisha january

2004

bangaloreâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


Very clean city â&#x20AC;&#x201C; compared to Gujurat it's good Vishal & friend january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach


In my job I teach young women about feminism in a western-university style institution. In my reasearch I try to understand why the western style of education has failed in india. (Polly Hazarika) Pallavi Raja Rao and Polly Hazarika january

2004

bangalore

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; lalbagh gardens


This is the age to be flamboyant and thats what were being. We feel happy in each others company, sisters always. We have lots of mixed experience in Chennai â&#x20AC;&#x201C; good and bad. Apsara and Haseena Shaik january

2005

chennai

â&#x20AC;&#x201C; vgp golden beach



The Mela Pictures