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Visual flashback

This exhibition on India is culled from a lifetime's work


HIS IS a Renaissance spirit - Alain Danielou has the heart of a painter, the eye of an anthropologist and a compelling sense of history. Added to which he is a superb technician of his craft considering the stupendous results he achieved in the mid-1940s on a piece of film. This is photography at its best - as art and social document. A French writer and Indologist, Danielou captured the wonder that is India in his pictures. `India through the eyes of Alain Danielou (1935-1955)', a photo exhibition hosted at the Alliance Française, Hyderabad till July 22 is a display of some of Danielou's Indian moments.

Together with the Swiss photographer, Raymond Burnier, Danielou established himself with Rabindranath Tagore who appointed him director of music at Shantiniketan. Appointed professor at the Benares Hindu University, Danielou travelled to Central India and Rajputana deeply drawn by the beauty of the temples of Khajuraho, Bhubaneshwar and Konarak. Overwhelmingly convinced of the importance of culture and religion as presented by Hinduism, Danileou always considered himself a Hindu and long after he left these shores declared that "India is my true home."

The sub-continent is an assault on the senses. Through these photographs of India and its people, Danielou conveys the tenacious diversity of cultures, religions and ethnic groups across the Gangetic plains, creating a panoramic yet intimate picture of India that challenges many of our conventional assumptions. Danielou activates the belief that photographs tell a story where words are sometimes at a loss.

All the black and white photographs on display centre around Rewa Palace, Benares and the foothills of the Himalayas.


The sequence begins with the scene that has little changed since the years before independence. It is a boatload of women about to come ashore at the ghats of Benares. Equally remarkable for its superb technique, composition, frugality and rendition of natural light is the ancient balcony with carved balustrades. His pictures of people are not intrusive and definitely not posed for. Sadhus, acrobats, a young brahman, a pair of flautists, Bhutia children, handsome shepherds from Almora and even Rabindranath Tagore and D.K. Pattamal - these are people in their milieu - their easy body language confirms that.

What stays with you is a certain timeless quality in Alain Danielou's photographs. Like his picture of a courtesan from Benares in which there is a play of naiveté and seduction in her eyes. Danielou looks through the soul of his subject and captures its very essence.

When looking at south Indian peasants or a coconut laden boat in Kerala making its way up the backwaters there is a visual recall of innumerable such moments.

The picture of a street in Benares evokes the same instant recognition - the smoke from cooking fires, the sadhu and the narrow cobbled streets. You can almost hear the temple bells and smell the incense.

The exhibition, which marks the tenth death anniversary of Danielou has a timeless quality and aesthetic sensitivity to it. On at the Alliance Françoise, West Marredpally the exhibition is open from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

DEEPA ALEXANDER

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