A quiet picture of the unquiet

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When J.R.R Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost”, he may have have very well meant photographer Richa Arora. An IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus who discovered that photography had crept a little too deep into her bloodstream, Richa now specialises in capturing the peculiarly quiet nature of places that people believe to be the most un-quiet.

A recent exhibition of Richa’s work at the Piramal Gallery in Mumbai showcases precisely this capability of the artist. From a boat on the Nile, a lone figure in a monument, to a crowded railway station, Richa has managed to freeze moments of peace and calm that come off the frame and enter the psyche of the viewer. But unified as these images are, they certainly didn’t owe their existence to one conscious idea.
“I was looking over what I had shot over the last eight or nine years when I realised that subconsciously, I had captured a lot of faces and places which reflected peace, quiet and tranquility. I built on that by actively seeking those same qualities whenever I travelled to a new place,” explains Richa.
A traveller she certainly may be — if the varied locales explored in her images are any indication—but she shrugs off the “wanderer” tag. “Wandering gives an impression of aimlessness,” she says. “I’d like to think of myself as an explorer. Perhaps the places that I go to are well-known, but I do try to look at them from a different angle.”
On what guides her search for the tranquil, she is a little less assertive. “I think my images echo the ‘feeling’ of a particular area, rather than the actual physical space,” she muses. “Often, when a place is familiar to us, various aspects of it are overlooked. Like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. I visited it on a Sunday when there were relatively fewer people and discovered an entirely different place.”
The search for tranquility is a universal, she says. “Everyday life can be like a bit of barbed wire. Somewhere deep within, all of us are looking for the same things — peace and tranquility. Fortunately, everyone who has been to the exhibition has said that they felt they had achieved a certain measure of it just by looking at the images,” says Richa.
Solitary figures occupy many of Richa’s images, and the sense of their aloneness can be overwhelming. Differentiating between “the solitary” and “seeking solitude”, Richa says, “A crowd is not company. However gregarious we may be, we need our own space. I remember seeing a man on a boat on the Nile — so many of us were on the same boat, but he was in his world.” Solitude, the artist defines as “being in a particular moment by yourself, with the same intense enjoyment that you get from being with friends, listening to beautiful music or looking at a great work of art.”
Besides the solitude, Richa’s work draws on two tactics: one is the use of an expansive frame even when the place being depicted is narrow or cramped. The second is the construction of several frames-within-a-frame. The first effect, the artist says, is subconscious. “When you gaze into the ocean, you get an immense sense of tranquility. The greater the depth, the more it gives you a feeling of looking far beyond the horizon. That’s why I try to give my images a certain depth.” The multiple framing in most images however, is a conscious choice. “I like the repetitive patterns formed by arches and frames. And I love shooting in monuments, which have arches and corridors in abundance!”
Most of Richa’s work is in black and white, but she is yet to find a limitation with the medium, she says, “In a way black and white takes away from reality, lifting an image beyond the physical place.”
The Ansel Adams, Raghu Rai-aficionado is now ready to move on to her next project — documenting the lost monuments of Delhi. Among the picturesque structures, Richa’s search for solitude may receive a fresh frame.

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