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Aperture Matters

Patrick Faigenbaum: Kolkata/Calcutta at Aperture Gallery

Kolkata/Calcutta, an exhibition of new photographs by Patrick Faigenbaum, inaugurates the newly founded alliance between the Hermès Foundation and Aperture Foundation. The opening reception will be held September 16, 7:00–8:30 p.m. Faigenbaum will appear in conversation with Chris Boot at the gallery on September 22 at 6:30 p.m.

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In the Santiniketan Express, the train that connects the station in Howrah, Kolkata, with the city of Bolpur, May 2014. All photographs © Patrick Faigenbaum

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Dover Lane, Ballygunge, south Kolkata, October 2014

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The great crossroads of Gariahat, which is straddled by the city highway, south Kolkata, October 2014

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The folk singer Saurav Moni at home with his group, Dum Dum, north Kolkata, July 2014

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New Market (a British construction) seen from room 239 of the second floor of the Oberoi Grand Hotel, during the monsoon, central Kolkata, July 2014

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Mrs. Kalyani Ghosh, Banamali Sarkar Street, north Kolkata, October 2014

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Display of watermelons, neighborhood of Rajabazar, north Kolkata, July 2014

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View of the Lake Town neighborhood (in the north of the city) from the apartment of Shreyasi Chatterjee and her husband, Mrityunjoy Mitra, Kolkata, March 2011

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Patrick Faigenbaum, Shreyasi Chatterjee at work embroidering, Lake Town, north Kolkata, March 2011

By Imogen Prus

Paris-based photographer Patrick Faigenbaum pushes and stretches the limits of documentary photography in his work by entangling many parallels: reality and fiction, memory and possibility, object and transience. In 2013 Faigenbaum won the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, enabling him to create a major photographic project in India, titled Kolkata/Calcutta. This body of work will be the subject of an upcoming exhibition at Aperture Gallery, curated by Jean-François Chevrier, marking the first joint project of the newly formed alliance between Aperture Foundation and the Hermès Foundation.

Kolkata/Calcutta was previously shown at the Fondation Henri-Cartier-Bresson in Paris. As well as playing host to Faigenbaum’s exhibition this fall, Aperture Gallery will become the American venue for the Henri Cartier-Bresson International Award, as the Hermès Foundation partnership bridges the photographic communities in the United States and France. Future plans include a set of exchanges, residencies, and publishing projects for contemporary working photographers, bridging the photographic communities in the United States and France.

Faigenbaum’s first trip to India was in 1995; on his departure he hoped to return, and this project records his first trip back in 2011. In Bengali, Calcutta has always been pronounced “kol-kata,” but over time this was tailored to the English tongue. The Anglicized name was replaced in 2001 when the Bengali pronunciation became endorsed. This decision highlights the pivotal shifts that have occurred in India over the past decade, where national identity has been renegotiated with rapid modernization and an economic boom. The dual name of Faigenbaum’s exhibition, Kolkata/Calcutta, refers to both India’s colonial past and also to the country’s detachment from it.

During his stay, Faigenbaum set out to capture the life of artist Shreyasi Chatterjee in her neighborhood and in the local countryside. Faigenbaum was inspired by Chatterjee’s work, which includes painting, collage, and embroidery. “As a whole, the images will constitute both a portrait of this artist in her family and professional settings and a free description of her larger urban environment,” he writes. “In this way, I intend to produce a complex image of one region of the Indian subcontinent which renders both its historical depth and its most vivid features.”

In linking up with the artist and her family, Faigenbaum was fortunate enough to gain access to sessions of folk musicians, jazz guitarists, and an elderly singer from the Bengali school of dhrupad song. Saurav Moni, a folk singer from North Kolkata, relaxes in his home, an instrument resting lightly on his knee.

The exhibition leads us through the city streets, but the compositions speak directly to the trajectory of Western aesthetics. In one street scene, a display of watermelons’ sharp geometric cuts reveals the pink flesh acutely counterpoised with deep green rind. The composition lends itself to the polished fruits of Western still life painting. We move on, through a set of images that mimic the grand portraits of colonial and military history: a seated woman draped in an armor of richly patterned fabric, hands loosely folded in her lap stares out past the photographer. A set of images taken from the window of a Grand Hotel surveying the street scene below is a direct nod to Pissarro’s evening scenes of rainy Paris. Faigenbaum, and, by proxy, the viewer, take on the role of the Baudelairean flâneur, simultaneously enchanted by, as well as at a remove from, the city. These images are the products of the experience of place, where dialogues are set up and cultures fuse.

Patrick Faigenbaum: Kolkata/Calcutta will be on view at Aperture Gallery September 17–November 7.

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