Looking Beyond the Frame: An interview with Pankaj Mistry

This piece appeared in the Asian Age on July 30

“Silence is more profound that sound,” says Mumbai-based photographer Pankaj Mistry, 49, on the sidelines of his show in New Delhi. Having seen his photographs at the show, his remark comes as a reiteration as Mistry’s latest works, shot Sufi shrines, are manifestations of that reality: Silence — emanating from corridors, walls, sidewalks, windows, crevices, tombs, domes, et al — seemed to you to be more fascinating and

profound than sound.

As a photographer, Mistry has the eye of a mystic, attuned to the vagaries of light, both
inner and outer. His frames are acts of worship, with light, like a deity, caught in a deep
communion with his subjects; in his hands, images become portals to meditation.

In his latest solo show, titled “Sound of Solitude”, that opened, courtesy Art Heritage, at Triveni Kala Sangam on July 27 and continues till August 22, Mistry explores traces of light at the Gol Gumbaz shrine in Bijapur (Karnataka). Deeply meditative and suffused with an inherent sense of tranquillity, these images aspire to make the intangible

tangible, the mundane mystical and the everyday sacred.

Photographs are but moments frozen in time. And Mistry is an accomplished chronicler of moments. But there is something transcendental about his captured moments; they are not mere frozen moments, but powerful pastiches of things that urge you to look beyond. It is as if there is another layer of image that lies beneath each of his image that Mistry wants you to see, a layer that eludes all forms of conception and visualisation.

His photographs — an interplay of light and technique, perception and presentation —  are stunning, arresting snapshots frozen in time and, often, sacred space. In these photographs, Mistry comes across as both an enquirer and an analyst, an artist and an engineer. The composition and texture of his frames are so overwhelmingly seeped in the honesty of a particular moment that the experience of absorbing them is immensely ennobling. And uplifting. The light both touches the surfaces of Mistry’s subjects and eludes them. But this elusion could hold the key to the door of some kind of an inner enquiry.

Mistry lives by Pablo Picasso’s credo: “I don’t seek, I find.” He doesn’t seek to shoot a particular image. His images are his findings. Mistry says: “If you like doing something, you form your own language of doing it.” Mistry likes photography. And, over the last two and a half decades of industrial, advertising, corporate, travel and product photography, he has found his own language.
A language that, like any other verbal language, has communication as its core: Evoking viewers’ feeling is the overriding impulse and, even, objective. “This is what I can do better. This is what I know better. I’m not cut for anything else,” Mistry says, talking

about his art that seems to forever searching newer forms of aesthetics.

Also part of the show is a seven-minute AV, uncut and unedited, of sounds and shadows lurking in the whispering dome of Bijapur, the second biggest dome in the world after the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome.

As you enter the basement gallery of the Triveni Kala Sangam, the echoes of sounds made by people thronging the dome seem to be coming from the tombs, domes and crevices hung on the wall. The shouts, whisperings, murmurs and songs (someone sings Babul ki duyaien leti jaa..,) form a delightful welter of sound.

Amidst this welter, Mistry stays calm and serene, holding forth on his art and craft. He talks about his father, a photographer, who trained him since his childhood. At 14, he started working for the corporates. He travelled, he shot, training his eye to “look at the moment” well. But, many years later, in 2007, drained and “burnt out” by the demands of commercial photography, he ventured into art photography.

In the last five years, he has explored the “extensions of going in a dimension”, doing a
show on Muslim butchers titled “Draft of Shadows”. As an art photographer, Mistry refuses to be hamstrung by norms, declaring, “I’ll not follow any norms”, vowing to break away from all perceived notions of form or frame.

“But to break away from a frame, you’ve to know a frame first,” he says.

Mistry, like all good artists, makes a virtue of “looking beyond”. But this is something that comes from within. “It’s a part of my upbringing. It’s a part of who I am,” he says. Art is his language of communication. Somewhere between seeing an image and recording it lies an entire evolution of aesthetics.

Artists, Mistry says, should try to rise beyond the frame. “There’s something beyond that takes you to a level where you feel you’re complete. Let there be no parameter. Go beyond your own self,” says Mistry. The ultimate aim, he smiles and says, is to be the
Buddha. That aim is definitely profound. Images, for Mistry then, are forms of meditation.

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