Parthiv Shah, photographer-filmmaker:
What does self portraiture mean to you? Give us some great examples to go by.
Historically, self portraiture evolved as a thoughtful process, which was about an artist's state of mind, his state of being. Rembrandt is a name that comes instantly to mind. His self-portraits are perhaps the best admired even today. Self portraiture is also rooted in some sort of a narcissism which is about looking at oneself and believing there is no one better. You find that even in elaborate Mughal miniature paintings depicting the emperor’s grandeur, the artist would almost always draw a little image of himself somewhere in the corner. Then look at examples of stories of Snow White. It’s only about the self-image.
My whole body of work over the last three decades as a photographer, designer and communicator, is to analyse what I see and to find stories in every visual. Self portraiture to me is like watching a documentary where you can find multiple stories and meanings.
Which are the most interesting portraits you've shot?
There have been many but some I will always cherish are of Shabani Azmi with her father Kaifi Azmi, and those of Husain and Subodh Gupta.
What inspired this project?
I started noticing the trend of people taking selfies during my travels. It seemed to me that people have stopped enjoying what was around them in the haste to take selfies and then post it on social media. Also, when I was in Kashmir, my son showed me some pictures he had shot. Interestingly, all these were images of people taking their selfies in beautiful locales such as Shalimar Bagh and the Dal Lake. It was both funny and thought-provoking. That really made me feel I needed to do this workshop.
How will the workshop unfold?
The aim of the Habitat Photosphere workshop is to discuss how we are projecting ourselves as, through these selfies. I would want people to understand how we can take selfies which go beyond just a personal picture, it should throw light on a unique, little known aspect of our personalities, and only then we can raise it to the level of art. We will also talk about how to take better selfies, how to contexualise the image, so that people read a story in the image. It’s about making selfies—which are now the hot trend—a part of mainstream photographic discourse. So through a slide show and some exercises, I will discuss self-portraits starting from the Renaissance period to modern times with images of people taken by photographers like Raghu Rai, myself and others. Another aspect will be to discuss how much and what should be made public. Should a selfie be natural or staged etc.
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