Tamed by Culture, Resisted by Images: at OED Gallery Ernakulam, Kerala 2010

 Gireesh GV prefers to call himself a documentary photographer and inspiration for training his camera at the images that comes from his social and professional role as a photo-journalist. However, he is conscious of the news angle when he places himself as a journalist. The major challenge that he handles during his innumerable journeys between newsworthy spots is his subjective positioning behind the camera; as Gireesh knows that a news photograph could supplement a written news story as well as it could operate independently as an image. But, as a trained artist, Gireesh’s subjectivity is in contestation with the professional demands and based on this conflict, and he automatically positions his subjectivity as a camera wielding person who registers images not just for attaching with a written story for embellishment, but also for imparting aesthetic autonomy to the image.

This aesthetic autonomy that should be natural to the documentary photographs in which the artist supposedly takes a very objective and impartial stance for bringing out the truth of the ‘event’ which has been photographed, however should be seen as a deliberate negotiation of the artist/photographer between the image and the event that caused it. The truth value of the event could be manipulated (using technological devices) or it could be artificially manufactured (by creating the very event elsewhere in a studio as seen in advertisement and cinema stills) while even the documentary photographer is left with nothing but with the right to choose an angle within the given time and space. Hence, the objectivity of documentary photography becomes as debatable as the subjective interventions that automatically happen at least in the choice of angles.

Gireesh GV operates on this thin line between news photography and documentary photography. But according to him, it gives a fair amount of freedom as he could decide (as he becomes the authority of the images taken) on the pictures to be given as a part of the news assignment and the rest of pictures that has been saved for a different use. In this sense, what we witness as Gireesh’s photographs are the images that have been extracted after a serious (ideological) self negotiation. So, what interests one as a viewer is the quality of these images as images that resist their possible newsworthiness. Or else we could say that these are the pictures that Gireesh chooses for a different audience with a different sense of aesthetic discernment than a regular weekly/newspaper reader.

The resistance to newsworthiness is an interesting concept that operates throughout in the photographic images of Gireesh. Their autonomy as aesthetic images excludes the possibility of a spicy narrative (as in the news) at the same time as documentary photographs with aesthetic values, they demand a special reading from the viewer, which could facilitate a demand for building up a narrative which is, if not akin to the news stories, at least parallel to them. So we see a galaxy of pictures that operates in a constituency of autonomous narratives, which resist their entry into news and at the same time generate similar desires not only amongst the viewers but also in the artist himself.

What do we exactly see in Gireesh’s images? Are they just abstract pictures of light, shade and colors whose jumbles would eventually create an image? Are they just photographs of events that Gireesh feels important to be clicked? Are they just registration of moments that would create sentimental resonances amongst the viewers? Or are they just photographs that would perhaps serve the illustration purpose of a graphic novel/narrative about a city on move? Interestingly, these questions contain the answers also. Each question exemplifies one particular characteristics of Gireesh’s photography. They are about light, shade and colors, they are about abstraction, they are about events, they are about sentimental moments, they are about images that have illustrative potential.

But at the same time they are about contemporary life in which conflict of interests features in a major way. One striking image of Gireesh is that of a traffic roundabout where a public sculpture stands witness to the daily grind. While the momentum of the city is palpable in this work, in a very special way Gireesh has tried to exclude the presence of human beings from the picture frame. Here, we see culture taking over and going round in a city, while the natural component of it, the human beings are pushed to its innards, to negligence or absence. The same exclusion of human beings (nature) by culture is seen in another photograph where Gireesh captures a moment of building culture/architecture; what covers the process is an artificial façade that collapses the difference between the real and the manufactured.

The exclusion of human presence from most of his works emphasizes how cruelly culture takes over the areas of human presence in the name of progress and development. And Gireesh takes a mock ideological vantage position in some of his works, from where he ‘looks down upon’ the images only to reveal the dizzying heights, spectacles that our society creates in order to frighten its own children. There are poignant moments of loneliness and isolation in Gireesh’s works. There are moments from rituals and journeys in his works. And whenever Gireesh trains his camera at an event/image, he does it with a sense of negation; negation of all what tames him into the zones of so called culture.

Johny ML,New Delhi, August 2010