Monday, September 8, 2008

India in San Diego.

San Diego in California, USA is a big city right at the Pacific Ocean.
It has a beautiful area called Balbao Park and over there several museums are at walking distance of each other between old trees, lucid lawns and fabulous fountains.

One of the museums at Balbao Park is called “The Museum of Photographic arts”.
A puzzling name, because there is art and there are art-forms.
Like for example painting, sculpting and designing.
This is why museums are called: museum of art.
Like the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
If the San Diego museum had in mind to show different kinds of photography with a high artistic value, the name should have been:
The Museum of Photographic Art Forms”.

But what the heck.
It is a beautiful museum in San Diego with three large exhibition spaces, an enormous entrance hall and a shop.

Yesterday one smaller exhibition was about the landscape showing images from the collection of “The Museum of Photographic arts”.
From their own collection and it is always a marvel to see prints from the old masters like Ansel Adams.
Those were the days that a photographer was not only able to make an impressive picture but was also able to make a beautiful print.

The second exhibition was by a fellow called Gary Schneider who has the body as a theme.
A show without any interest because who wants to see 50 very similar images of his body looking like X-rays?
But most peculiar was that he also had 5 pictures of people nude.
Posing in a simple way without expressing emotion, sensuality or any other provocation.
These images could only be seen by entering a special room and after reading a text warning one was to see nudity.
Honest nudity seems to some in the American society too shocking.

The third exhibition was of a man called Frederic Roberts.
A big show with many large pictures and two photo books.
The subject was India.
But not India as it is.
India from its colourful side.
Like one sees on postcards: many greetings from India with a picture of a woman smiling in a colourful dress.
The real India was completely avoided, banned and eliminated.
Nothing of the rich people one sees in India.
Nothing of the poverty one sees in India.
Nothing of the chaos.
Nothing of the architecture.
And most of all, nothing of the joy and bliss one can see meeting Indian people.
The exhibition shows only passive and emotionless people in colourful clothes, staring into the lens condemned to be the subject of Frederic Roberts.
And this way of documenting people in India has been done in a most embarrassing way.
The images are simply all of a very low quality.
Often the image is out of focus.
Badly printed.
The picture not made at the right moment.
Clumsy of composition.
Everything one learns in a good school for photography was missed by Frederic Roberts.

But he has not hesitated to sign each print prominently with his name.
Like a real artist.
Sometimes putting an edition number as if these images had collector’s value.
Trying to sell his prints for prices up to $ 7.500 and of course the Indian person in the image gets nothing.

The man is not even a professional photographer.
He is an amateur.
He has been an investment banker in New York for 30 years.
Retired in 2000.
And still he is a businessman running two companies.
One of them Tween Brands: a specialty retailer of apparel, lifestyle and personal care products for fashion-aware young girls ages seven to fourteen years.
Obviously Frederic Roberts went in his spare time with his camera to India to make o so pretty but nonsense pictures.

Frederic Roberts is not really to blame for the embarrassing show in the “The Museum of Photographic arts” in San Diego.
Everybody is free to do what one wants.
But he has been selected and chosen to have this show.

For this a woman is responsible.
Her name is Deborah Willis.
She curated this exhibition in “The Museum of Photographic arts” in San Diego.
And shame on her.
A curator working for a museum for photography, and therefore for the audience, must be informed.
Must know the history of photography.
Must be aware of the photography that has been made in the past.
To have a reference when deciding to show new images of contemporary photographers.

Many photographers have been working in India.
Many in the style copied by Frederic Roberts.
Accentuating the beauty and colourfulness of India.
There are unforgettable pictures made by photographers like Werner Bishoff and Edouard Boubat.
When one sees the images of Frederic Roberts compared to these masters, one understands immediately what a tragic mistake it was to have this show in “The Museum of Photographic arts” in San Diego.

Must we come to the conclusion that the curator Deborah Willis is incompetent?
No doubt.
She is.
There is no artistic nor technical criteria applicable justifying this show unless one is uneducated, ignorant and inexperienced.

This is no surprise.
Deborah Willis is working at the Department of African American Studies of the Harvard University.
She claims that she is an art photographer herself and a historian of African American photography and curator of African American culture.
Not exactly convincing qualifications to curate a photography exhibition on India.

It is a mystery why the management of the “The Museum of Photographic arts” has accepted to show the Frederic Roberts images curated by Deborah Willis.
The reason cannot be found in the quality.
Have there maybe other powers been working to present this horrible show?


To learn more about Frederic Roberts, click on:

To learn more about Deborah Willis, click on:

To learn more about the Museum of Photographic Arts, click on:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

congratulations on your exhibition. well done.

well, india is always the flavour. but you know as well as i do how people who cant write become writers, those who cant paint become painters and those who cant take pics become photographers, and so on. its all about hype. media makes monsters out of molehills.

so many foreigners come here and write about india as though they know it all. even we who live here and write about it all the time hardly get a whiff of india!

why dont you do an india book?

cheers..rajendar menen -