The University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, is host to the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. The Centre collects, exhibits, researches and occasionally commissions new works.
I was in the area so took the opportunity to see what was happening there. Alongside the permanent “glass cased” exhibits there are three displays that would interest photographers: Bill Viola’s ‘Submerged Spaces’, Anderson & Low’s ‘Manga Dreams’ and the surprise (for me): recently-commissioned work by American Avi Gupta’s ‘There is Here’.
There is Here compares the domestic interiors of family houses in Kolkata, India and Washington DC, USA. Apart from the introductory text and a couple of brief explanatory captions, the photographs stand witness without words to the cultural similarities and differences between the homes.
We are left to observe, compare and listen to the messages in the photographs. The lack of captions is well-judged by the curator/artist: the images speak for themselves.
The photographs are intimate without being intrusive. There are no people directly depicted but there is evidence of life everywhere. It is as if we had been welcomed into the room and briefly left there while the host went to make tea.
Avi chooses his focal length and uses shallow depth-of-field to concentrate our attention on intimate detail or take in the whole scene in a controlled but not imposing way. Viewing these photographs as single images is a contemplative exercise made richer when considering them as part of the whole. It is a fascinating microcosm of cultural borrowing: what changes and what remains the same when we up-root and move to somewhere different.
An idea that I’ve been working on recently is what I call “the animated still”. That is, a picture that is composed as a still image but which gains another dimension by having some movement. Avi Gupta has had the same idea, and presents a short video of just such images. Air movement animates interior details in a simple contemplative way. My particular favourite is a cushion that moves as if it has a pulse – a beating heart that turns it into a living thing. This could easily be read as a metaphor about turning a house into a home.
Avi’s work alone is worth seeing, but combined with the other temporary and permanent exhibitions makes it an experience that is well worth the trip to Norwich.