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Ghosts of Bollywood

8 April, 2010

The Peabody Essex Museum prepares to celebrate all things Indian this week. So, with the opening of our ‘Sensational India‘ festival, a new Indian exhibition, ‘Faces of Devotion,‘ and a gorgeous new installation of modern Indian paintings from the Herwitz and Ambani collections, I thought it might be fitting to share the work of the young Indian photographer Nandita Raman. Nandita is just beginning her career as an independent photographer, but her pedigree is impressive. From 2007–2009 she worked as an assistant to photographers Robert Polidori, Fazal Sheikh, Kenro Izu, and Joni Sternbach. It is almost as though she has been triangulating on the Peabody Essex – all four of the artists she worked with have shown here in the past.

Nandita has been photographing old movie houses in India, some of which are defunct, others that are still going, for a project she calls ‘Cinema Play House.’ She has a personal connection to the material, as her mother’s family used to own the first talkie cinema in her hometown of Varanasi and some of her earliest memories are of seeing movies there. Nandita photographs all over the theater, in public areas and behind the scenes. There are times that her photographs call to mind the wonderful pictures of movie screens Hiroshi Sugimoto began making in the 1970s – time-lapse photos in which all the light came from the projection of the movie itself. But when Nandita photographs screens, they feel worn and loved – theatrical backdrops for the drama that played out in the seats, rather than the drama on-screen. Her pictures are formally very beautiful, and she is exceptionally good at handling light. The result is pictures that ooze with feeling, capturing the air of mystery that surrounds these places. Her pictures evoke the fading presence of the many people who participated in the life of the cinema, and who ultimately moved on.

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