Bougot’s photographs on the Indian city of Chandigarh designed by the French architect Le Corbusier show the encounter between the two cultures
The exhibition brings forth these schizophrenic identities. It evokes the emotion through buildings and physical spaces of a city and not through its people. Lifeless structures, thus, are rendered a soul in Bougot’s photographs. For example, there is a photograph of the old Neelam cinema theatre that shows blue, amoebic wave-like structures painted on the walls set against the half-broken and tobacco-stained chairs in the theatre. It gives an image of how people, nurtured by their local environment, engage with a building. At a time when multiplexes have left old theatres desolate, the picture not only evokes nostalgia but also forces you to think about subaltern cultures and their sense of belonging to a physical space. Looking at this picture, at least some people would assume a decaying modern culture where people have disrespected this public space. At the same time, an Indian labourer or a rickshaw-puller would see that place as their own where they can act freely.
What makes the exhibition interesting is the way Bougot looks at the city, which is not only the cleanest but also one of the richest in India. “In classical architectural photography, the purpose is to magnify the buildings and it is often done to satisfy the architect who commissions the pictures.... For this work, I’m the producer and I could do what I want. Mine is an artistic approach and I didn’t have to follow the ‘rules’ of classical architecture photography. The only rule I followed was that I took the pictures on a tripod to keep the vertical lines of the buildings/interiors really vertical. It’s finally a very classic photojournalism configuration, but I still work on a tripod with a level and take time to control the composition of the picture like if I was shooting with an analogue 4x5 inches technical camera,” Bougot told Frontline.
An essential part of the exhibition is the way in which Bougot has gone about distinguishing public and private spaces. While he captures public buildings in their own grandeur, he also has clicked private houses, all modernist in design. As against a decaying subject shown in public buildings, the interiors of the homes he has clicked are marked by cleanliness and order. The colourful interiors in a simple and unostentatious modern house give a sense of an individual’s wish to break the monotony of uniform planning across the city. They are unlike the public buildings made of stone and cement, a unique characteristic of modern architecture. Since cement, iron and steel were first used predominantly in modern architecture in the early 20th century, most modernist buildings have been left uncoloured as if they were painted in the colour of stone and cement. Chandigarh’s public buildings are no different.