9th edition of much-awaited Indian Photo Festival awes with visual splendour

We assess India's longest-running international photo festival; how it acts as a catalyst for cross-cultural flicker by employing the art form as a familiar jargon

Chokita Paul Published :  17th November 2023 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  17th November 2023 12:00 AM
Fernanda Soto Mastrantonio's 'The Cumbias'

Fernanda Soto Mastrantonio's 'The Cumbias'

Photographs record information. They are not powerless but are quite the opposite. Over the last eight years, the Indian Photo Festival (IPF) in Hyderabad has become one of South Asia’s premier photo events, featuring rigorously curated exhibits and high-spirited discussions about the medium’s place today. It is a beacon for advocates of greater inclusion in the visual world, as well as those seeking freedom of discourse.

In its 9th edition, artists are working on intimate stories as they use innovative visual approaches that stretch the boundaries of traditional documentary photography. The display will be more about metaphors, and feelings than facts through which we experience collective anguish as well as the love that binds us.

Although a local event in Telangana, IPF has become a worldwide sensation. A renowned European photography magazine has bestowed its seal of approval, labelling IPF as a must-visit event on an international scale. In another one, an esteemed travel magazine recognises the festival as a convergence of unparalleled dexterity from India and beyond. Organised by the Light Craft Foundation as well as supported by local institutions and the State Art Gallery, IPF, a nonprofit endeavour, consistently draws a crowd exceeding 500,000 people annually, showcasing a diverse spectrum of Indian and international representational genres.

For the festival’s art director, Aquin Mathews, dedication fuels photography, and passion kindles verismo. Events, workshops, and conversations are a rich soil for growth. Artists express, connect, learn, evolve and thrive in shared narratives. Craftsmanship, raw emotion, and striking philosophies are the currency. In every click, there’s a story; in every frame, a universe.

“It’s important to stay passionate about your art and let your enthusiasm shine through in your work. Authenticity is crucial in photography. Don’t be afraid to express your perspective and emotions through your photographs. Events like these provide excellent opportunities for networking with fellow photographers, industry professionals, and potential clients or collaborators. Engage in conversations, attend workshops or talks by renowned photographers, and seek feedback on your work from experts to grow as an artist,” Aquin tells us.

Kolkata-based visual storyteller, Supratim Bhattacharjee will uncover climate change and its deadly impact on human rights. He can be seen weaving bonds with locals. Throughout his work, he has used strategies that are as much of the art world as definitive documentaries, including a process steeped in understanding, empathy, and respect for the environments he captures.

His ongoing projects, Sinking Sundarbans, undertaken in 2009, and The Curse of Coal, unveiled in 2014, unfold as poignant narratives chronicling the relentless march of environmental degradation. In his storytelling about the communities entangled in the clutches of distress, he stirs a deep-seated awareness about the pressing need to combat global warming — a powerful call to action, an unyielding reminder of our shared responsibility toward our planet and its people. Despite winning the prestigious UNICEF Photo of The Year 2021 award globally, excitement mounts as the project gets ready for its first-ever exhibition in India during the upcoming festival.

“IPF is organised by some of the most talented individuals on the planet. Whenever your work is selected by them, it assures that you are on the right track,” begins Supratim. He also tells us that navigating the equilibrium between artistic expression and commercial viability in his work is a natural progression after nearly two decades in the industry. It becomes an instinct, a nuanced understanding that evolves with experience.

“For me, it’s about finding the sweet spot where my creative vision harmonises with the market demands. It’s a constant exploration of innovative ideas within the boundaries of market trends. Over the years, this balance has become second nature, shaping my photography into a fusion of integrity and market appeal.”

Similarly, Sharafat Ali on his IPF debut, also takes a significant step into his art. He actively participates in scouring the festival’s compelling portrayals. He illuminates the personal challenges he faces as a journalist in Kashmir, and, in some ways, represents the unflagging integrity and resilience of those alike, who also document the region’s rugged realities.

Hopeful that his photographs will resonate with viewers, telling them about Kashmir, Sharafat adds, “IPF distinguishes itself through its cultural focus and commitment to social impact. It provides crucial support for emerging artists like me, fostering a sense of community and collaboration. The festival’s emphasis on education, community engagement, and international collaboration amplifies its significance in photography.”

Independent photojournalist, Masood Sarwer has always looked up to IPF. He is currently working on his long-term community project back in Murshidabad in Bengal, while also trying to add different dimensions to his photography; the only challenge is to submit a cohesive story which can translate and serve its purpose in catering to a global audience. That apart, he shares, “In one word, if I need to describe what sets IPF apart from other photography festivals, it would be authenticity.”

Mysterious images of Vesuvius, Europe’s largest active volcano by Giovanni Ambrosio exemplify how photographers are finding ways to illustrate a community’s inner emotional and spiritual life. Through the medium, the Italian visual artist who resides between Paris and Napoli ranges over, learns about and introspects the sense of belonging to places where he has, or is yet to have found a home.

Regarding the festival, his enthusiasm gets bigger as he turns his lens towards India, appreciating the opportunity to gain fresh stances. Recent encounters with talented Indian photographers have contested the belief that photography is solely a European and American domain. Giovanni expresses that Indian photography has ignited a fresh wave of inspiration within him. His photo series, Ius Soli which roughly translates to ‘right of soil,’ is an image archive, documenting the present-day archaeology within the red zone of Vesuvius.

“I think what differentiates IPF is its international, and at the same time, local character. I love how these two worlds can coexist and generate this exchange between cultures that may seem very distant, but that share certain characteristics that enrich the conversation,” says Fernanda Soto Mastrantonio.

When this 34-year-old photographer from Chile finds something intriguing, it becomes an irresistible obsession. Her curiosity doesn’t just pique interest; it sets her soul on fire. She dives headfirst into every story or concept for an awe-inspiring exploration and understanding. Research becomes a crucial phase in her questions, extensive reading, and conversations with numerous individuals connected to the topic. She loves the freedom in contemporary documentary photography and the way the medium blends art with reality.

“As a photographer from a small South American country, I want people to connect with my pictures, to feel intrigued about what these pictures tell. I believe that when working from a continent with a history of colonial oppression, there are many pending issues, and there are stories to be told. Chile and India have that in common, and I think all of us can relate to that matter. Of course, India is a much larger country than Chile, with huge cultural differences, but both of us have urgent needs for basic rights and the need to continue advancing on our path. I think IPF opens a door to many interesting conversations, and I’m delighted to be a part of this event,” she tells us.

Marylise Vigneau thinks IPF is a poetic festival. During a sleepless night before her journey back to Pakistan last year, she found inspiration for her display, Sehrabandi.

Based between Austria and Pakistan, she dreamt of the images and the people she could involve in this project while mentally wandering the familiar streets of old Lahore. Her vision came alive with the faces of passers-by and dedicated artisans, making it her most playful work yet. “This is my fourth participation at IPF, and I’m always happy to be selected for their exhibitions.” Unfortunately, it’s complicated to get a visa for India because of political reasons. We doubt the possibility of an in-person meeting.

Regardless, she believes that people are hungry for stories. “These stories raise questions, open up horizons and broaden perspectives. Photography, for me, is a way of being in and going into the world. It allows me to transmute my obsessive relationship with time, live lives other than my own, meet people, tell their stories, and transmit emotions through the evocative power of images.”

Free entry. November 23, 5.30 pm. At State Art Gallery, Madhapur. —  chokita@newindianexpress.com @PaulChokita