By Erin Campbell
I first heard about Photographer Abhishek Bhonsle through a mutual friend who suggested the two of us meet for coffee to discuss Abhishek’s artistic career and his thoughts on the Indian art world. Abhishek began his art career in the Bangalore theatre scene. He was a part of organised theatre jams and performed regularly. He later became an amateur theatre photographer, which gradually led to him to use the camera to explore the stories he discovered on the streets.
I met Abhishek at a beachside café in the steamy heat of Mumbai to learn more about his perspective and his creative practice.
What drew you to photography?
I started in theatre and puppetry and was intrigued by the raw emotion that we could display on stage as actors and directors. I wanted to capture the emotion, to duplicate it. I began as a theatre photographer and then wanted to expand into capturing real emotions rather than those created on the stage.
What are some ways you expanded from theatre photography?
I’ll tell you about some exhibitions that I have done. The first one was in Bangalore, called Streets: Paths of a Bygone Era. In Bangalore at the time there was a lot of new construction happening. People were seeing all the modern things like malls and tall buildings and wanted them for themselves. So many malls were being built. We photographed the old buildings and streets to show the beauty of the old environment. The photos were displayed in two places—in the normal gallery and in the street. However, rather than the physical location of the exhibit I was more concerned with the differences in audience each space provided. There were two completely different sets of people. The first was artists and art enthusiasts, and the second was people on the streets—shopkeepers, pedestrians and those who don’t have access to the art inside galleries. The reactions of each group were very different.
The second exhibition was at the Seed Fest show in Singapore. My series there was called Rang: Slice of Life. Here I wanted to show India the way I see it. I wanted people to experience India the way an Indian does.
You say people’s reactions were different in the streets. In what way did those viewing on the street differ from those in the gallery?
Well, I guess I would say those in the gallery were prepared to see art in some way, so the reactions of people on the street was much more raw and interesting. I like to see people’s reactions to my work.
What kinds of reactions do you try to get?
I don’t try to get a particular reaction. Every person’s own reaction is legitimate and how can I decide what isn’t? However, if I think a person looking at my photographs should feel A and they feel B then there is a problem. I have failed as an artist then because these are too different. But if I intend A and the person feels A+ or A- then it is alright. They are all shades of the same reaction.
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
I don’t like to limit myself to one style. If I do I am limiting my potential to grow as an artist. Style for me is not really important. I like to use whatever style I think will help me speak and express my thought best.
What is important then?
What the audience sees, thinks, feels and experiences matters the most. I think art must be accessible to all people; I try to display my art in the streets so that everyone can experience and have access to it. I think visual art and photography is a medium where audience reaction adds a new dimension to the piece.
What are your future plans?
I am working on a new series where I photograph the architectural structures of Bombay. Most of my work has been in South India— Bangalore, Tamil Nadu and Kerala—and I want to get into the art world here now that I live in Bombay; I especially want to get back into theatre and performing. I also want to continue to explore styles and to learn. I feel that I still have so much to learn, not just in photography but in other art forms too, so that is my main goal right now.
To read the first in the series of Mumbai Diaries on the Kala Ghoda Festival by Erin Campbell go to: https://satellitegallery.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/mumbai-diaries/