Some Thoughts on Swapan Parekh

A little more than a year ago, Homegrown had asked a few young photographers to write on one photograph that has greatly influenced their practice. Raj Lalwani on this photograph by Swapan Parekh.


In the summer of 2010, I was atrociously late, an aberration I am guilty of almost all the time, for a meeting with a photographer called Swapan Parekh. In the midst of my frantic apology, he gave me a catalogue of his work ‘Between Me and I’.

I could not connect with the photos. What were these seemingly random moments about? But in the awareness that this was an important photographer whose work had been validated by a lot of significant voices, I kept aside the catalogue and tried to revisit it, every few days.

Over time, I started to appreciate the vision behind the photographs, now to a point where his way of seeing, especially in the journey that it has traversed (and is still wandering) has been a huge personal inspiration. It’s true, I guess, one shouldn’t be dismissive of art, but probably store it in one’s memory bank, since understanding may dawn at a later moment. Sometimes, the viewer has to grow in his way of viewing, to see the photographer’s way of seeing.

There was this one photograph that would make me stop almost every time. It was almost apologetic in its tentative quietude, but was inherently playful in suggestion. Who was hiding behind the curtain? Why were there two cigarettes in front of him? Oh wait, are those cigarettes at all? Or just light? Is the picture that ordinary? That’s extraordinary!

It’s perhaps a little naïve to define a photographer’s work with just one image. But there’s often one image that draws you in and allows you to piece together the others. Someone who compulsively listens to EDM may not appreciate jazz, but Dave Brubeck’s Take Five may provide that one bit of magic that would allow him to embark on a fresh journey.

‘Between Me and I’ is an ongoing series of musings that Swapan has with his daily existence. They may be perceived by the impatient, untrained eye as snapshots, but look closer and you will see a measured and intuitive set of responses to the visual arrangements around him, a celebration of the mundane.

The photographic possibilities within the everyday and the power of a single image, which, piece by piece, connects the larger jigsaw of one’s personal vision, are things that I am constantly reminded of, when I see this photograph and the overall work. That sometimes, photography can just be about the photographno information, no contextualisation, just the sheer joy of the visual. That a photograph is not about the moment, but about the moments that have led to the moment, the years of brewing one’s vision. And that the best way to swim through the sea of imagery that surrounds us today, is to see.

First published in Homegrown.

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