To put it bluntly, I haven’t really been a fan of Matthieu Foss’s choice of photographers. Before he opened Matthieu Foss Gallery in Ballard Estate, he’d rented spaces for shows and with the singular exception of a Bharat Sikka solo, pretty much everyone else he showed verged on ghastly. The show by a chap called Baba Anand was so hideous that just remembering it makes me break out in hives. In his own premises, Foss has had a mixed bag of exhibitions. Peeps like Pat and Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi are neither photographers nor artists to my mind. Fabien Charuau is but really, just how insensitive do you have to be to call a show of photographs taken in India “The Great Unwashed”? Especially when you’re white and European.
There was also “Notes from a Desert” by Gauri Gill, which is the work of a very dedicated photographer. The photographs from that series are moving, especially if Gill is around to tell you the stories of the different characters that she’s photographed (they’re all from one village in Rajasthan), even if the photos don’t always make the most novel imagery. The Charles Fréger’s “Introduction” was also interesting, although I have to admit my postcolonial hackles were at 90 degrees just at the idea of a European photographer photographing soldiers from the Sikh regiment. Actually seeing the show lowered the hackles. In general, however, when I get the email for a new show at Matthieu Foss Gallery, I’m not raring to go.
Which is why I didn’t land up at “Surfacing Over There” (March 4-April 2) by photographer Alain Paiement with any kind of urgency. I landed up at the gallery because I had a meeting in Ballard Estate and there were a few minutes to kill. Not only did I end up being late for the meeting, I came back to the gallery as soon as the meeting was over.
Montreal-based Paiement photographs interiors, but they’re not straightforward shots of lived-in spaces. For one thing, they’re cluttered with the mess of things that personalise a space. Some, like the pictures from the Shower Series, have people in them (top shots of people showering that give you the perspective of a voyeur or a spider; interesting but not outstanding). Others are like extremely sophisticated collages. Each item in a room/area is photographed individually and then pieced together, creating something between a map and a completed jigsaw puzzle. This sounds a little futile at first. Why not just take a picture of the room, rather than shooting the objects individually and then piecing the room together? Because it lets Paiement recreate the space, play with perspective, and tell a story through the little pieces.
The one work that made “Surfacing Over There” worth all the trouble that comes with trekking to Ballard Estate was “Pane Mundial”, a beautiful, complicated and fascinating piece that must have taken forever for Paiement to put together. “Pane Mundial” stretches wide and offers a panoramic view of a building that has a bakery in it and the streets on either side of the building. It’s got the kind of detail and precision that would make a miniature painter’s heart soar. From cyclists, to a guy waving a Brazilian flag, to every individual piece of bread, to the irregular line of garbage cans, it seems as though every element of the neighbourhood is in this picture. It shows you what happens in the place from the morning when the bakery begins its work till the bread is loaded on to the van. This was a brilliant, beautiful piece. I spent a good 20 minutes staring at it, delightedly noticing how neatly he’d sectioned the different areas and following the little stories crammed into this work.
It’s beautiful enough to almost forgive the gallery the entirely missable show that has followed Paiement’s (“Pratibimb and Showtime” by Vidisha Saini). Almost.