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A look around (the world)

Akshay Mahajan

 

Young wavering photojournalists, such as myself, often go in search of pictures with a sometimes wanton thirst. I moved cities — Bombay to Bangalore —, living my days out of cheap bus-stand lodges or friends apartments, and nights drinking outside cheap standing bars on Church Street: anything that provokes narrative. I thought like Nan Goldin or Anders Peitersen: I’ll make pictures representing the transgressions of young urban dwellers. Faltering, I met Joshua Muyiwa, a half Nigerian — one-fourth Malyali one-fourth Nepalese — queer poet and dance writer, and found a subject.

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Initially I fell into the classical tropes — most photojournalists do, one of story-hooks, who, when and where’s — Indian urban queer living in the post 377 world — section of Indian penal code, which criminalized gay sex —, etc. I realized that if I pigeon-holed the people I took pictures off, in the delusion that I am some purveyor of truth, it would have been such a simplification of the truth that it would moved me away from it. So, I abandoned the approach fairly quickly. Instead, I just concentrated on them as people who happen to be queer — in many ways this is how they wanted to be perceived — who wants their body politic sewn onto their breast like a badge. Moreover, there so much more to shoot than the obvious — the obvious things to photograph are the most boring too.

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Over the next year — furtive conversations over cheap whiskey at watering holes, words punctuated by drags of cigarettes and post-ganja confessions in bedrooms — I made pictures of his friends — who were now my friends —, teasing out nuggets of a story. Rolls of film fed by curiosity. As Goldin put it, “It’s the form of photography that is most defined by love. People… take them to remember people”.

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Lines blur when you immerse yourself in the thoughts and emotions of your subjects. At first you are a stranger and the camera is viewed with suspicion, but people are naturally curious of you, so they let the strange kid with the camera be. After a while they don’t even notice it: “Don’t mind him he’s a little weird, he takes pictures of everything”. By the time, it’s hard to separate the self from your subject and, in the end, you yourself become indistinguishable to yourself.

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There was a love there, born out of a long-standing relationship between the observer and the subject. One of those destructive loves that fed on the act of creation. I had my photographs, Joshua had his poetry — once the pictures stopped so did the poetry and love lingered for a while, and then slowly dissipated. It’s one of the reasons the body of work is called “I don’t want to sleep alone” — an Indian ballad of twenty something emotional and sexual dependencies.

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A look around (the world)
www.akshaymahajan.in