Panaji, Dec 5 (IANS) Known in the 1960s as the original abode of the hippies in Goa, the beach village of Anjuna is no Casablanca.
But, ‘Artjuna’, one of Anjuna’s more popular cafe’s and a watering hole for expats in a state of physical or emotional transit, as well as for tourists and the local swish set, has emerged as a backdrop for a unique photo exhibition ‘Notes from the Black Room’ by former designer and photographer Maria Philipose.
Fifty-four faces, many of them scarred by time, vulnerable by experience and predominantly European by origin and all of them regular visitors at the cafe are the subjects of the gritty photography exhibition. All of them were photographed in the intimacy of a dark room with the spotlight trained on them and their vulnerabilities.
According to Philipose a former branding and design specialist, who originally hails from Delhi, the ongoing exhibition began with her curiosity being piqued by the comings and goings of travellers of all hues at the al fresco cafe over nine years.
“It began with my curiosity for people, for they seem to have lived they lives differently from me. The travellers coming into Anjuna, living in the moment, taking radical risks, not knowing where they are going next. I was curious what made them do so, what did they believe, what drives them, what concerns them, who are they?” Philipose told IANS.
“My camera is merely an excuse. These faces called me with an irrepressible urge to know them, truly know them. To get deep. To the darkest corners and brightest spaces,” she also said.
All the photos were shot in what would seem like an interrogative environment. A black room with a single spotlight trained on the subject; a setting, where both Philipose as well as her subject, would discuss wounds of the past and vulnerabilities if the present.
“I only nudged them. And when it became sensitive or personal then I told them my grief too. We bared our wounds. There’s a magical chemistry which happens because the room is black and everything is dark. At some point they can’t see me even. They start talking to themselves. The light is on them,” Philipose said.
“The camera is silent, so they do not even know when I am clicking. And you realise some people actually want to explain themselves. They want to validate themselves… That would not have happened if there was light, if there were people buzzing, music and sounds because there’s pin drop silence,” she added.
Among those photographed includes a Swiss woman, who aids people preparing for their death by choice- euthanasia is legal in Switzerland – and is a regular to Anjuna and the cafe.
“Once she was in the black room, I asked her, what is the one thing you say to those who are alive. She said, ‘if you have hurt someone you can always say sorry before you go’. But if you have regrets in life, you cannot absolve yourself,” Philipose said.
Other subjects at the exhibition have landed or ‘passed through’ Anjuna, include those from New York, Israel, other places around Europe, some hedonist, others from perfectly ‘normal’ backgrounds.
“Some are starting out starry eyed. Some are still not done with the partying. Some would tell me they did not run away from anything. New York was at its peak at the time in the 60s. We ran towards an idea of freedom and peace and love. And somebody from Israel would tell you that they ran away because they were done with the army,” she said.
For Philipose, convincing the 100-odd persons for a stint in the black room located in the cafe wasn’t easy.
“It would take months of friendship to get to them and I was greedy. I am willing to bare all. It is not just that they told me their stories. I have told them my stories too. I have confided in them as much as they have confided in me,” she said.
Asked why the subjects of her interview were predominantly white, Philipose said, that the concepts of race, gender, sexuality were a blur to her and irrelevant to the exhibition.
“There are two Indians (subjects) here, but I don’t see myself as Indian. I do not understand, that is where this whole thing began for me. I don’t understand sexuality. I don’t understand gender,” she said.