Sunday, July 19, 2015

Touching heart and eye

Kumar de Silva is a busy man. He's hard to catch, naturally enough. One wonders how he found the time to organise an exhibition, especially an exhibition as carefully planned and structured as this. "Nostalgie05", a virtual trip around daily and routine-filled Paris, opened on Friday the 10th. It closed on the 12th. I went on both nights. It caught heart. And eye. Like all photographers who privilege the "how" of what's being taken, his work bore witness to sensitivity to mood, fidelity to life, and economy of style. Impressive.

I ask what moved him. He explains. There was life and he felt the urge to record it. That sensitivity to mood isn't coincidental, after all. There was planning involved. Meticulous planning. Framing, angles, curves, even silhouettes: these come together so seamlessly.

But it rarely shows. For all his planning, everything he takes and exhibits seems effortless.

Each photo tells more than just a story. It opens an entire world, free of frill and as honest as it can be. Even more impressive considering what Kumar used for his snaps: a palm-sized camera a bystander (not exhibitor) would use. I ask him whether he uses any manipulation techniques even those with professional equipment tend to exploit to the hilt, and he denies it at once. I'd usually be sceptic at this point. But then I remember that art without artifice requires or rather depends on simplicity. That's what his work touches on. Simplicity.

And in the end, this works. None of his photos is complicated in any way. They reveal life in Paris for what it is. There are people eating at restaurants and poring over newspapers. There are organists playing nonchalantly. There's even a woman seated on a bench, right after a drizzle, an exceptionally bright sun casting a shadow in a way photo-editing techniques can't emulate. No artifice here. Thankfully.

Perhaps it's all to do with Kumar. He mentions "Bonsoir". Of course. He wasn't only a presenter in that show. He handled the camera. As he admits, that acquainted him not just with the Paris he grew up with but with a city seen through lens after lens. All that experience and thirst shows. Remarkably. That's what whets our appetite, our longing to go into what is exhibited. Yes, imagination works in different ways. Nostalgie's lesson may well be that.

There's another reason why it touches heart. All proceeds obtained from "Nostalgie05" will go to a fund. That fund is dedicated to two kids, their father being Rukshan Abeywansha of The Nation. The exhibition last year was dedicated to him. In a way, the message it embodied continues even now. Explains Kumar's enthusiasm as he tells me how he plans to sell his work, with nothing for him in return. Explains how readily he gives credit to those who've helped him along the way.

What of the photos themselves? "I didn't want to bring out a foreground and leave it at that," he tells me, pointing at a photo with two pigeons caught mid-frame and a chair and table at the top. That speaks volumes about the sort of photography he treasures. The foreground isn't privileged: those little details surrounding it have a story to tell too. Maybe that's why and of course how he's more a painter than photographer.

"Nostalgie05" didn't jar. It didn't disappoint. There's a reason I went back to it. The first night wasn't for photo-viewing. It was for hobnobbing. For chatter. And gossip. The last night was more open. There was space for scrutiny. Close scrutiny. Relishing photo after photo, savouring the play of shadow and light in simple yet diverse ways: all this added to my enjoyment. An amateur myself, still being tutored in the finer aspects of "taking snaps", this artist's simplicity moved me.

Kumar's work didn't merely embrace eye. It also touched heart. Pretty rare, you must admit.

Written for: The Nation INSIGHT, July 18 2015