A young fashion photographer from Mumbai begins to search for another kind of space _ something less market-driven than of her staple fashion world. Intuitively, she begins to create it through a body of work that simultaneously contests notions of fashion and, to a fair degree, of what a photograph can be. Deepa Parekh, in her first solo show, Body Parts, at Delhi's Max Mueller Bhavan, is able to articulate interests that are restricted, if not decapitated, in the world of glamour photography.
That she has decided to publicly show her work, mostly shot in spritely spurts over the last year, scarcely indicates a renunciation of the fashion world. More accurately, it points to her need to oscillate between the two worlds, creating a cycle of exhaustion and rejuvenation. Shooting self-conscious models, it turns out, is not such a contrast to shooting self conscious amateurs.
The exhibition comprises a series of photographs, each a portrait, but also part of a larger, neatly planned exercise. The stark, monotoned backdrops help focus even harder on the image. Take the case of Actors Portfolio where Deepa has photographed the faces of two men, an actor and a director, as they enact a range of pre-decided emotions. The photographs become a documentation of sorts, of how two people choose to express the same emotion, of how they relate to their audience and perceive its ability to understand. The photographs also metamorph into the working of Deepa's mind: her gut feel, of how she reacts to these actors and decides while the shoot is happening which moment is important to her, to the work, and will strengthen the series. "I have to be quick," she explains, "despite having planned the concept ahead."
The black and white model series, where Deepa uses images of Mumbai models from her portfolio, to contrast (as it works itself out) with women merely modelling for the camera, takes the show further. In conjunction with chemically worked-upon photo-
graphs, she questions the construct of beauty as much as the notion of `ordinary'. In some senses, intentionally or otherwise, she takes the path of American feminist Naomi Wolf who, in her book Beauty Myth, challenged how women were taught to look at themselves by a host of market-driven interests. The Salon series, which came out of hours of "hanging around" a former room-mate's hip hair-dressing shop in Mumbai, is perhaps the finest in this context. Deepa works on a black and white portrait of a young woman and chemically draws wiry strands of hair, building it into hair styled differently across each frame, but similar in that they are imposed upon the face regardless of how they fit. The model and her face become metaphors for codification through fads and style.
In a related series, she contrasts the coquettish glance of a professional model with the frontal stare of a friend. "I like make-up, I like dressing up," she says, "but I don't look like that. It's about how self consciously you project yourself. It's the difference between being a model and being a woman who is not a model."
A photographer has power over whom she photographs, and in this case, several of the subjects are friends who have posed for her. How would they like to be seen by a sea of strangers? Deepa scarcely lets them be seen for paradoxically, she manages to obliviate the person while keeping intact the photograph.
Body Parts is Deepa Parekh's first solo show. It is not an escape from fashion photography, but an extension of her spaces as a photographer. The next step, logically, should come from an audience willing to explore from the possibilities on display.