Review by Punam Zutshi
October 15, 2013


Inbetweeners; In the shadows in Tokyo and Delhi
Ishan Tankha

The Japan Foundation, New Delhi

September 24-October 26, 2013.

The show INBETWEENERS. In the shadows in Tokyo and Delhi on display at the Japan Foundation till October 26th is at its heart, a remarkable oeuvre in the making.  

One starts with a degree of unease. A quality of jaggedness: Occasionally dingy black and white and exotic colour, Japan, India… raising the question if there is not a need for greater curatorial effort  here,which gives way to the persistence of images that capture the so called ‘common’, even the commonplace. 

So I undertake an experiment:  first of all I frame away the punky or mangaesque Japanese birdwomen of an uncertain paradise,that  if they belong to Tokyo certainly emerge from the shadows in a spectacular way. They do however serve as a foil that brings into bold relief, what is at the heart of his work.  

I am no photographer but know the big and bigger names who photograph India’s towns and villages, even look at the underbelly of the town. Tankha’s  photographs here bear little in resemblance to the impressive, dramatic, eye catching, elevating frames or narratives of urban space. So are they mere reportage? More on that last thought later. 

In Tankha’s work black and white becomes the colour of the everyday captured without a hint of aestheticisation, an an-aesthetic look which is about the drift, the numbness , the banal, the down at heel framed  to  erase  the photographer's ego. 

This is a way of seeing, of capturing the ordinary, the real not even as reportage, but as a project of perception of what we unseeingly see in the world around us. Or take for granted as part of the non spectacular part of our lives . 

No attempt is undertaken to render the familiar unfamiliar here. 

The photo is a slice of life, frameless apparently, extending outwards as it were. 

The man against the shutters is not posing or making a statement or being made to say something unique...he is the visual representation of a facelessness that is part of the urban space. 

Tankha being a photojournalist as the handout says, seems to bring to his way of looking the discipline of a journalist but this time of the non spectacular, the world outside headline news. 

There are views from the tops of trees, there are built spaces, there is the ubiquitous spill and trickle of dirty water or urine headed towards us that we must negotiate... the beginnings of ‘keechad’, slush, which define public spaces.  

In the Japanese series of course the man slouching over his drink is ineffably alone and inaccessible.  

There is a large frame with paintings of balloon and men who could be painted and photographed who become part of the backdrop, dyed in its very tones and hues. 

The people do not tell their stories, they hold them within. 

Is there alienation, a blanking out of emotion and expressiveness in the subject or the photographer ? Or is it that the photographer tries to catch the outsiderness of a world that we are also insiders in? 

And now for the surprise: That  resort of all prayers for information since I had not seen Tankha’s professional work earlier – google provides a whole host of answers to questions I had not asked to begin with! And here I see that the professional photography that Tankha has undertaken for Tehelka and Open magazine and so on, not missing out the ‘fun’ or shall I say charming wedding photography that he has undertaken with another fellow photographer, show him to be quite the consummate craftsman and storyteller. Here the pictures, which Tankha takes are gripping, poignant, expressive, charming…following the norm of the aesthetic and expressive that is the basic requirement of his trade. 

One recognises a fresh, that here what we are viewing is an artistic experiment in search of a way of seeing with the accompanying uncertainty. An exercise in attending to the unattended to, that we have learned to frame outeffortlessly from our perceptual world. The photographs are at one with the world that Tankha experiences and attempts to give voice and image to. 

Does Tankha arrive at this way of seeing as a conscious and articulated act? No, I think that he is able to translate into photographic practice his experiences in the inbetweenness, the limbo, the shadows of two cities, his very technique and style arising from and subordinate to his perception of what constitutes these spaces.