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Photographer Gauri Gill’s images capture the quiet moments of life, whether intimate exchanges between people or cityscapes shot in the dead of night, which are often overlooked in the chaos of daily existence. At the same time, these photographs take on the mantle of microcosms that illuminate macro or larger issues like questions of rural and cross cultural identity, migration and assimilation, and urban transitions and decay. Although seeming to employ classic documentary approaches like working within genres such as portraiture and cityscapes, she often breaks these conventions - using a snapshot aesthetic, as seen in her work 'The Americans', or making references to local vernacular practices, as seen in recent work from Rajasthan, 'Notes from the Desert'.
Her second solo show, ‘Notes from the Desert’ was first shown earlier this year. The series was drawn from more than ten years of visiting her friends among nomadic and migrant rural communities in Western Rajasthan. The exhibition was primarily structured around portraits, some candid and spontaneous, many posed in collaboration with their subjects.
“To set up a photographic project in rural Rajasthan, in black and white, stretching over a decade, goes against the grain of several stereotypes; and signals the maturing of a ‘voice’ within the corpus of Photography in India. Defrocked of its color and tourism potential, Rajasthan, is scoured at the nomadic margins; revealing lives in transition: epic cycles of birth, death, drought, flood, celebration and devastation, through which they pass. The extremity of the situation requires no illustration or pictorialism- those vexed twins of the colonial legacy- especially from an insider, or the one who is led by the hand. Her subjects take her into their world, and she goes there like Alice. Her method embraces ‘Time’- which does not ‘naturally’ exist inside a photograph, beyond the epiphany and commemoration of a moment (photography’s melancholy and limitation is precisely this)- within a structure of intimacy and relationships that unravel their mysteries slowly.” (Excerpted from Anita Dube’s notes on the show in Delhi, published in Art India and Du magazine.)
Her first solo show, exhibited in 2008/09, and called ‘The Americans,’ was a diaristic account of Indian immigrants in the US, including her family and friends, as well as a retelling of Robert Frank’s book of the same name made in the 1950s.
“Given Gill’s explicit invocation of Frank (apparent, as I’ve suggested at so many different levels), how should we understand the object of her critique? Does she intend to present Indo-Americans as part of a liberating counter-culture? Is she mounting a critique in part of a US consumerist dream that fails to deliver for most Indian-Americans? This seems implicit in a number of powerful images which take the viewer very close to the quotidian routines of low-paid manual work (for instance the moving diptych showing Laljibhai and Pushpa Patel cleaning the Days Inn West in Mississippi). But is she also mounting a critique from within of aspects of the Indic tradition, of targets such as religious orthodoxy, Bollywood and patriarchy? The display of cut-out victims from a benefit function for the subjects of domestic violence suggests this quite clearly. The serried ranks of Bollywood videos with peeling labels set alongside racks of salwar kameez may be intended to communicate the routinized repetitive actions of diaspora nostalgia. Or it may be intended to record its tenacity – its steadfastness, and endurance, in this new context. Such ambivalence, of course – and the power it gives the viewer to come to their own conclusions - is a considerable part of the power that Gauri Gill’s project offers. Like Robert Frank’s work, her images are not easily “selected and interpreted”, but they speak of things that are there: “anywhere and everywhere”.” (Excerpted from Christopher Pinney’s talk at the show at Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago.)
Some of Gill’s other photographic series include one of urban landscapes taken in and around various cities in India, sometimes during the night; the work has been exhibited both as part of the series 'Nizamuddin at Night', and more recently, 'Rememory'.
Gauri Gill is a Delhi based photographer. She received a BFA in Applied Arts from Delhi College of Art in 1992 and a second BFA in Photography from the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1994. She received her MFA in Art from Stanford University in California. Her second solo exhibition has been exhibited at Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi, and as part of 'Docutour' at BMB Gallery, Mumbai, in 2010. Her first solo exhibition 'The Americans' was exhibited at Bose Pacia Gallery in Kolkata, Nature Morte in New Delhi, Matthieu Foss Gallery in Mumbai, the Thomas Welton Art Gallery at Stanford University, the Chicago Cultural Centre and Bose Pacia New York in 2008-2009, and is still travelling. Her works have been included in important group exhibitions including 'Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh' at Whitechapel Gallery, London, and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; 'The Self and the Other: Portraiture in Contemporary Indian Photography' at Palau de la Virreina, Barcelona; 'Public Places, Private Spaces' at the Newark Museum, New Jersey; 'Shifting Shapes: Unstable Signs' at Yale Art Gallery, Yale University, New Haven; as well as 'Rememory', a two person show with Tomoko Yoneda at Lucy Mackintosh Gallery in Lausanne.
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