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   Painting, I have never understood... (July 18, 1996)

Painting, I have never understood. May be a Jehangir Sabavala, who paints mountains and seas and trees and sometimes people sitting under the trees, but not somebody like my friend Lakshman Shrestha, who takes one basic colour, or two, and applies different shades of it on the canvas. I do not say, I can paint like that also, I say, I do not want to paint like that. Unless a Jehangir Nicholson or Dilip De guarantees to buy them off me. But then I am philistine, somewhat gross.

Photographs are different. They tell a story. A good photograph, it is said, is equal to a thousand words. I say, it is equal to the entire 20 valumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Exhibit A', the exhibition put up by the group of fashion photographers at the Jehangir Art gallery, I would rate as equal to the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

Yesterday, lunchtime, I went across to see it. Basically, it is a gallery of portraits of Indian models. And I would like to say that our female models, from the jasmine-eyed Aishwarya Rai to the sculpted-in-almond-chocolate Madhu Sapre, are the nicent looking in the world. They are shown embossed in banyan trees, under sparkling jet showers, giving sultry books from behind latticed eye-lashes, passing through the wind like fine muslin. There are also studies of the female anatomy, they look like line drawings. Amazing that the camera can be made to do, and, according to some, should not be made to do.

Gautam Rajadhyaksha, who is a portrait photographer of some repute, has done other than models. Noble visages of prominent men, you can identify them all.

And then there are abstracts. There is a large blow-up of hand with fingers chopped, drops of blood or red paint around. The phantom of the opera at a fashion show.

There are several photograhers involved and each photographer has a separate section, with a table and chair, where he is normally sitting. It is a pity their subjects, the models, are not there. They are all busy starring in films, and the best of luck to them.

It is an impressive show, but I do not whether it is art. I understand that the authorities at the Jehangir Art Gallery, among the more sticky officials in the city, had to be convinced that photography, even though most of it may be of fashion models, may be treated as a branch of art.

If you ask me, photography is not art, at least not fine art, as journalism is not literature. My evaluation is simple. What I understand is not art, what I do nto understand is art. Laskshman Shrestha is art, R.K. Laxman is not art. And ‘Exhibit A' is worth a visit. See the exhibition, have lunch at Mrs. Khanna's Samovar.

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