> Photowallah

Waswo X. Waswo

09 March - 08 April, 2017

Photowallah, an exhibition of limited edition photographs by celebrated American-born, Rajasthan-based photographer, Waswo X. Waswo showcases his signature studio portraits — hand-coloured by his longtime collaborator, Rajesh Soni.

Waswo X. Waswo first visited India in 1993; after several trips in the intervening years, he finally moved to India, renting a home and building a studio in Udaipur in 2006. Photowallah presents for the first time, a survey of Waswo’s hand-coloured work through a wide selection of photographs produced in this studio – including prints from three series: A Studio in Rajasthan, Gauri Dancers and New Myths. Playfully examining the genres of both the ethnographic photograph-as-document that is linked to the colonial era, as well as the fantasy-inspired make-believe that emanated from traditional Indian portrait studios in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Waswo creates a unique brand of contemporary photography that is an inspired mix of homage and critique. Ranging from shots of single figures to theatrically arranged tableaux, these photographs feature everyone from Gauri dancers to flower sellers, the incarnations of mythological figures, farmers and school children. In the tradition of pictorialism, Waswo’s carefully crafted images with their pastoral backdrops and hand-tinted processing resonate with a romantic sensibility, while yet remaining humorously self-aware and self-reflexive.

Eschewing the idea of his work being predominantly nostalgic, Waswo writes, “I embrace a certain element of nostalgia in my work, which is quite a daring thing to do when the very word ‘nostalgia’ is thought of as negative in the world of contemporary art. But for me, we must always look backwards as well as forwards, and nostalgia does play a role in helping us remember the positive in the past that we may have forgotten in our present, and lose to total obliteration in our future. So for me nostalgia becomes just another tool for making contemporary art.” Moving far beyond nostalgia, Waswo’s works then resonate within a contemporary moment, not only by highlighting the inherent class hegemonies of the history of the posed-and-paid-for portrait, but also as astute and witty commentaries on the nature of stereotyping, temporality and representation. Through their paradoxes and parodying, they compel viewers to rethink their initial perceptions, question the dialogue set up between photographer and model, and eventually challenge the viewer’s own preconceptions.

In another sense, these photographs also form an essay in syncretistic processes and alternative artistic practice. Though Waswo remains the key photographer and director of these images, he consistently calls attention to the multiple agencies and complex collaborative processes that enable their production. The backdrops have been painted by Zenule Khan, Chiman Dangi, Anil Atrish and Dalpat Singh Jingar, and he notes that they all work with teams of their own assistants. His own assistants often help with bringing the models, and they in turn, participate in their own imaging. Last but not least, after the photographs have been taken and printed, they are tinted by hand-colourist, Rajesh Soni.

Photowallah is produced and curated by Tasveer. A selection of the photographs in the exhibition was shown at Paris Photo in November 2016.

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Waswo X. Waswo

Waswo X. Waswo has lived and worked in India for over sixteen years. He studied at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Center for Photography, and Studio Marangoni, The Centre for Contemporary Photography in Florence, Italy. Alongside his books, India Poems: The Photographs, published by Galerie Publishers in 2006, and Men of Rajasthan, published by Serindia Contemporary in 2011, he has had several solo exhibitions and been included in multiple group shows world over. Waswo extensively collaborates with several local artists in Udaipur including the miniaturist R. Vijay.


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