The deceptive lens

Brahm Maira’s first solo show is striking evidence of a sharp, fresh eye, says Aradhna Wal

Image builder Glowing Eyes Purple Haze by Brahm Maira
Image builder Glowing Eyes Purple Haze by Brahm Maira
Photos: Arun Sehrawat

A PANORAMIC blue-green background looks like sky and water meeting. A woman kneels in supplication and prayer. The images have been superimposed on top of each other; a vibrant figure standing out against breathtaking colours. This is Humility, one of the images in Brahm Maira’s upcoming show Traverse. All set to open on 8 September at Delhi’s Stainless Gallery, it is the 26-year-old art photographer’s first solo show.
Traverse has been in the making for years. The art consists mainly of personal work Maira has done while juggling commercial fashion/industrial work, other commissioned shoots, group shows, and studying at the Sydney College of the Arts. “I spent five years in Australia, so I’ve shot the East coast. I travelled the States, so there is work from there. I’d find myself in random industrial towns in India on work,” he says. His images, too, come together post production, where he combines scenes captured from different geographic spaces to create a complete picture; there is an Australian landscape, trees from Kerala backwaters and the Chattarpur Mandir in Delhi. All combine to evoke the serenity and the macrocosmic scope of devotion in Humility.

Maira’s willingness to experiment keeps his art from becoming just another imitation

The medium is called photo manipulation. The words themselves could cause people to doubt its merit. Is it meddling with or taking away from pure photography? Maira seems unfazed. The art is popular in galleries in US, Europe and Australia. It is, however, small in India. “I don’t know how people will respond to it. That remains to be seen.
People are slowly becoming more receptive. So let’s wait till they see the work,” he says.

Brahm Maira
Brahm Maira

Maira’s images are trippy. His influences in colour and style can be seen clearly — Alex Grey and Ansel Adams, respectively. Grey’s kaleidoscopic canvas has been invoked in the image Patience. The image of Buddha from Ladakh is depicted in a tunnel from a Scottish castle, that has a floor like a seabed, and its walls are rings of green refracted from the literal light at the end of the tunnel. And the landscapes try to be as sweeping as Adam’s famously were. As the photographer admits, landscapes are his favourite subject. However, Maira’s skill with colours and his willingness to experiment keep his art from becoming just another imitation. Though some images have a lot of components to them, they are not cluttered. A case in point isGlowing Eyes Purple Haze. It could easily be so overwhelming that one cannot take it in as a whole. However, there is a certain cleanness to the lines. The image of the face is sharp, yet if looked at closely, the lines on it form a sort of optical illusion. Playing around with pictures, people and places has taught Maira some tricks of improvisation. For example, in Patience, he uses the spring of a slinky toy on his lens to achieve the tunnel effect.
Traverse is Maira’s solid attempt at making his own statement. He admits it is an experiment in the making and has no one theme. But it brings together five years of travel, work and discovering his skills and preferences with the camera.
Aradhna Wal is a Sub-Editor with Tehelka.