JaipurPhoto 2018: Curator Aaron Schuman on how ideas of home permeate this third edition
At JaipurPhoto 2018, photographers' works are themed around ideas of home | #FirstCulture
“I like this idea of people bringing their home and placing them in public, almost sharing them with the public.”
Aaron Schuman is talking about curating the 2018 edition of JaipurPhoto, the photography festival held across public spaces in Rajasthan’s capital city in the final days of winter, and 'home', or as he puts it, “how people across the world, in different countries and continents, think about that idea of home” — the theme for this year's exhibitions.
Sitting in an empty auditorium between sessions during the opening days of the 10-day festival, the United Kingdom-based artist, writer, editor and curator looks like someone right out of an Allen Ginsberg photograph, with his cool, composed and casual mannerisms. Schuman, who attended the last year’s edition here as a speaker, talks about being fascinated with the idea of presenting works in public spaces and outdoors throughout the city, something quite different from the kind of festivals that he had curated before. “I thought that was a very interesting way of approaching a photography festival,” he says, while also adding how Federica Chiocchetti, the co-curator for the last year’s festival and a friend, had also recommended that he do it if given the opportunity, for the unique experience as a curator.
For the theme itself, Schuman says he wanted to move away from conventional travel photography and was really interested trying to think what the opposite of that would be. “Many photographers, particularly in the 20th century in the West… their careers were built around, not necessarily photographing their own place, but going to very far away places and making photographs about that. So I was more interested in looking at photographers that were almost doing the opposite of that. Initially, the idea was that I would specifically use photographers that were, basically travelling home… then the more I thought about the idea of what home is and looked at other bodies of work, I started to think it can be a lot more interesting than photographers who are making picture near where they live. So I wanted to kind of mix those things rather than just stay with one.”
The final curation is now themed as 'Homeward Bound', the name a reference to the 1966 track from Simon & Garfunkel, which Schuman drew inspiration from. Another point of reference was TS Eliot. More specifically, these lines from his Four Quartets,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
“Initially when I came up with the idea of home, it seemed like a very simple word and a simple idea. But the more I thought about it and the more I that I talked to other people, the more complicated it got. Well, for example, I grew up in the United States, and I moved to the UK, and now I have a wife and family there. But my brother would sometimes call me and say, ‘when are you coming home again?’, ‘when is the next time you are coming home?’ And I will be sitting in my home with my family, like, I’m at home! So these words, they change throughout people’s lives,” says Schuman.
“Also, some of the other photographers were talking about home being something as a state of mind or something that’s quite abstract or something that you carry with you. Maybe your home is you. So, at first, I thought... that this will be a simple idea. I can make a programme, an exhibition. But the more I thought about it, the more complicated it got. And I actually enjoyed that idea. So, it spread in really interesting ways.”
And spread it did. This year, the festival is showcasing the works of 12 photographers (Schuman worked with the festival’s artistic director, Lola MacDougall, in selecting them) from across the globe, each one adding their unique commentary on ‘home’ —
- Terje Abusdal’s Slash & Burn
- Arko Datto’s Pik-Nik
- Mr Chand & Christophe Prebois’s The Artist and the Photographer
- Salvatore Vitale’s How to Secure a Country
- Nola Minolfi’s The Man Who Never Saw the Sea
- Jason Fulford’s A Dozen Doors
- Asmita Parelkar’s Giraffe Behind the Door
- Sebastian Bruno’s Duelos y Quebrantos
- Tereza Zelenkova’s A Snake That Disappeared Through a Hole in the Wall
- John Maclean’s Hometowns
- Regine Petersen’s Find a Fallen Star
- Soham Gupta’s Angst
Schuman describes how it was like a journey for him to discover other people’s perspectives on the notion of home, what that meant and his desire to challenge the audience with the exhibitions. “I started out with a very simple idea, and it got very complicated. So I think the exhibition programme is quite complex. And is quite diverse. It’s very diverse in the definitions of home and in the ways in with people are using photography. And I like that idea,” he says.
“I want photography to be diverse, challenging, complex and not so easy. Because when you think about something like travel photography, or even the fact that everyone can make pictures with their phones now, photography is misinterpreted as something that’s quite easy to do or that there is a correct way to do it… I’m interested in disrupting that idea and challenging the audience to think about the many different ways that photography can be used to express or communicate what is it that the person wants to say.”
And if you looking for answers in Schuman’s curations, you are doing it wrong. “I don't want to (present) myself as an authority. I enjoy much more being somebody who maybe takes you by the hand and says, ‘let’s go on an adventure’ or ‘let's go explore something’, and it raises lots of questions, rather than saying that I will teach you this and that,” he says.
“I like that idea of it being an adventure with the audience or more of a journey that may raise questions rather than provide answers. Because photography has a long history of being used to provide answers, but in recent years, in the last 20 years, there has been a big shift because people became conscious of the fact that photography isn’t the truth. And photographs can be and are subjective. And so I’m interested in thinking about photography in that way, rather than think of photography as being something that shows the truth or shows fact.”
But as much as he would like his work to be open to interpretations and debate, there are a few things he wishes, in a perfect scenario, his audience would take away from the curations. “What frustrates me most is how the general world and the general public views and uses photography. As if there is an idea that there is a proper way to do it. That you take a camera with you when you have a special event, like birthdays or weddings, or you go on a holiday… these types of things. And I think, thinking about the theme of ‘home’ and ‘homeward bound’, I am interested in encouraging people to use photography to express themselves like they use language or they use writing, and express themselves honestly rather than trying to recreate something they have seen elsewhere.”
The venues for the exhibitions, spread across the city of Jaipur — a quintessential travel destination of the country — include two royal palaces, the oldest museum of the state of Rajasthan, an art centre designed by Charles Correa and an 18th-century astronomical observatory. The photographs themselves are presented in a large format in the open air. Under the unforgiving sun of the region and among the pastel colours and the architecture of various venues, some exhibitions seem to work better than the others.
Schuman feels that pulling off exhibitions in the setting can be quite challenging but at the same time a “really interesting experience”, and something he would like to explore further. “The challenge with it is that photography is also very much about, or it can be about, the object, the actual photograph, the print. And that can be a very beautiful object. So the challenge of working in large public spaces with these large types of prints is that they become about the image rather than the photograph. It’s very much about an image. And that’s a really interesting challenge cause it makes the work about the content of the image rather than the object,” he says.
“At first I found that quite difficult to negotiate. But once I started thinking how that might work, it became really really interesting. So, I like that idea.”
The third edition of JaipurPhoto is being held across six venues — Hawa Mahal, Former Police Headquarters, City Palace, The Albert Hall Museum, Jantar Mantar and Jawahar Kala Kendra — in the city of Jaipur till 4 March 2018.
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