From a City of Gods: Kaushik Sengupta
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
– ‘In a Station of the Metro’: Ezra Pound (1913)
It is difficult to pin down the exact relationship between pictures and words.
Words bring to mind pictures. The best pictures come to you from words that seem inevitable – coming at you like there had never been any other way to put them together. Like in the poem above, they form an exact, yet evocative snapshot of a scene. A moment, a continuous motion, quite ordinary, yet suddenly, unusually epiphanic, frozen in time and perpetuated for eternity. That may be part of what a good poem does. It tells you, for eternity, how people in a dark metro station may have looked to a watching eye, just for a moment, on certain a rainy day in London, 1913.
Similarly, pictures conjure up words. There are words that are often unexpected, yet strangely familiar. Words which arrive, channeled through images and colours, at the doorways of our minds, quite suddenly and without warning – from our memories, our childhoods, from associations that we do not ourselves consciously recognise.
Perhaps the best pictures and words in art are those which do not tell you everything, which do not describe what they seek to capture, but leave loose threads all over the place, on the canvas and on the pages of a book, for you to pick up, touch, recognise. And in doing so, they leave spaces wide open between yourself and the pages of the book you turn over in front of you. These spaces are then filled with ghosts of images, versions of yourself and the artist, floating somewhere between the realities of those two selves, separated by space and time.
When one plans an artistic interface between photographs and poetry, there are perhaps two primary dialogues being planned. One, between the image and the words next to them which seem to talk to each other, as in a private conversation where the reader/viewer eavesdrops. The other is a conversation between the watcher and the watched, contained in the space between what is shown or told and what is simply evoked, signaled at, left unsaid.
Kaushik Sengupta’s photographs seem to me to be trying to capture a particular untold essence of the strange city that is Kolkata, where tradition and modernity cohabit as strange bedfellows. It is a city of common gods, where all that is elevated and sublime inhabits the space of the spectacularly ordinary, the everyday, the commonplace.
One literally lives with one’s gods in this city. They are everywhere – in street corners, in chicken shops on display along with the meat, presiding over public toilets, lurking behind communist party slogans, sparkling and dilapidated on washed-out old walls.
This photographer’s brilliance appears to me to be contained in the merging of the fascinatingly ordinary with the surreal; in capturing the sudden, brilliant leap towards the unreal; in a kind of magic realism; in a certain constant yearning for the fantastic; in the sheer absurd irregularity of everyday images.
This is in evidence in Sengupta’s continual obsession with primary colours, especially with a striking cobalt blue that keeps returning in the images that he presents to us. Sengupta seems taken with the desire to capture the fragmentary, the half-in-motion, that which is eternally frozen-in-action – as in the image of the almost-severed hand that rises from the bottom of a frame towards the centre of one of his photographs.
As a writer, I find his images richly exciting to explore. It would be a challenge, as a poet, to come into dialogue with this veritable storehouse of experience – of what may simply be called an enthralling journey into the poetry of everyday urban life in the city that I grew up in.
Text by: Trina Nileena Banerjee