BRINGING THEN TO THE NOWBY RUCHIR JOSHI [INDIA TODAY]
The ruin of a temple stands on a tiny island of earth in the middle of shallow-flooded paddy fields, like the wreck of some ancient rocket that failed to take off many centuries ago. Its pointed top pokes up into the misty winter morning and two of its four side spires are missing, like engines that might have fallen off. The recently irrigated fields are covered in a sheet of water in which the struc- ture is reflected among the tufts of freshly planted rice. The contrast of old brickwork and the evidence of ongoing human activity asserts itself only after you've looked at the image for a while, as if two layers of time are peeling off each other in a decomposing palimp- sest. There are other images of ruins in this series (titled Jhirno) that work similarly—ordinary and straightfor- ward at first glance, but which then hook you into a longer engagement and meditation.
In terms of photographic images, rural Bengal and ruins are an old and well-worn visual pairing but some- thing in the way Sarker Protick frames and presents these images makes them quietly new and unsettling. The ghost of David McCutchion as well as those of Bernd and Hilda Becher wander through these pictures but without ever staying too long; Protick clearly shares some of McCutchion's' emotional connection to Bengal's old masonry as he does the precise, held-in stillness of the Bechers' gaze, but here, in the compositions and sequencing, a very different kind of looking emerges—the slow examination of the traces of a messy, sub-tropical riverine past by a native situated in an over-kinetic, chaotic, deltaic present.
This same sense, of under- statement arrived at after much filtering and distillation, is also to be found in the other group of photographs on display—Mr and Mrs Das— where Protick documents the last days of two of his grandparents who spent their lives working for the Baptist Church in East Pakistan/Bangladesh. Images of the ailing couple are sparsely distributed among images of their flat and medical paraphernalia, and all the more powerful for not being ubiquitous. A switchboard, a still ceiling fan, a picture of Christ with a 3-D crown of small, shiny balloons, the corner of a stairway, a pile of books echoing the pile of rotting volumes in the Jhirno series are all somehow imbued with love; unlike the photographs of the ruins and landscape these ones are in colour, but only barely so: at first you are reminded of old, hand-tinted photos, but then you see the chromatic signature that only digital working can produce and again, you find yourself walking on the liminal alkhet (as the raised earth boundaries between fields are called in Bangla) between different segments of time.
Do go and see these photos and the video work by Sarker Protick. Shrine Empire Gallery are to be lauded for presenting such a strong new ‘voice’, so to speak, from the churn of excit- ing photography being produced in Bangladesh. In these fraught and divided times work such as this transcends national borders and happily reminds us of our larger identity as subcontinental.