Colours of India by Sophie de Brignac at Kalakriti Art Gallery
I met Sophie a few years ago when Stephane Bloch Saloz, our dear friend, convinced Sophie to join our first Deccan Heritage Foundation trip to the Deccan, in 2011. Sophie has since become a staunch supporter of the DHF and a loyal participant in our annual trips to the Deccan and other parts of India.
Her Indian debut, during the memorable 2011 trip, was not an easy one but then no Indian debut is easy and even more so when your first acquaintance with India is the Deccan. The Deccan is a vast territory that spreads from the Arab sea to the Bay of Bengal and from the Vindhya mountains in the north to the Krishna River in the south. An area that is little known and not much visited since it does not offer the comforts of other regions of India. And yet, historically, it is perhaps the most exciting region of India, where one can enjoy monu¬ments that date from Neolithic to modern times and where all civilisations that flourished in the subcontinent have left some of their finest architectural examples. Its landscapes can vary from dramatic, to serene and spectacular.
The trips that the Deccan Heritage Foundation organises,once a year, encourages its friends to view their foreign¬ness, in this alien land, as a vehicle of discovery, a stepping stone, to a path that will allow them to unravel them¬selves through their Indian experiences. Sophie was able to take this challenge. The result of Sophies appreciative and non judgemental encounter with India is responsible for this discerning, sensitive, compelling and emotionally "polychrome” collection of photographs, even though they are all in black and white. She took these during her four trips to India, with the Deccan Heritage Foundation, from 2011 to 2014.
Her early photos are bashful but, as her appreciation of India grew, so did her determination to record the experi¬ences that India enforces on those who delight in its complexities.
Sophie is not only an accomplished traveller. She is also a consummate dendrologist, ecologist (environmentalist) and natural historian. Her garden at Mas de Payan, a 13th century fortified farm in the South of France is celebrat¬ed for its impressive park and the dedicated restoration of its historic home.
In her photos, her love, observation and understanding of nature are combined with her perceptive reflection of life in the different regions of India she visited during these last four years. Her technique of treating a subject through volumes of detail, recall the approach of a botanist and might express a deterministic view of human life; a view that is not too different from Karmic laws according to local beliefs. This "deterministic” technique has been developed in extraordinary ways in Sophies photographs. This is illustrated in her portraits, landscapes and inter¬active photos between sentient beings.
Monkeys resemble ascetics with their abodes on top of amalaka ornaments that decorate the top of domes. Others sit to observe wisely their environment as does the shop¬keeper on a cold day up on the hills.
Nature's genetic ability to transform itself throughout the year is evident in a number of her images as are the changes that nature imposes on those that communicate with it. Trees bear on their trunks the growths of change and the women that of labour, both emblematic of transition.
There are a number of characteristics that one has come to appreciate in rural India. The alertness and attachment Indians have for their surroundings and their deep belief and devotion to the power of the sacred that permeates life and nature, with them as the orchestrators of this composite score.
On photos, such as those of the vegetable vendors, where each vegetable is respectfully arranged within cane baskets or images of the placid veneer, she caught in the por¬trayal of poverty, seen on the two owners of the carts, with their humble harvest of the day. In the "Harvest”, women have stopped their work to understand the reasons for which they became Sophies subject and they reveal in their gaze scepticism and distrust These are images that become engraved in our visiting minds as they portray the hidden complexities of Sophies subjects.
These complexities are different in the urban environments where Sophie introduces the “invisible”. A modest elderly lady and her younger companion in their humble but becoming local garb are being observed by the driver of a three wheeler. It is not clear, however, whether he hoped to convince them to drive with him or that he just stopped to follow, like them, the "invisible” that was unrolling. Even though no contact is evident between these three and those others that sit in the background, yet all partake of the event that is never pictured. Sophies relation with architecture developed during these last three years and here too she was able to establish an interplay between sentient beings, the built world of In¬dia’s magnificent architecture and nature.
The Ghats describe an ambiguous social activity where work, ritual purification and architecture have come together. This and a few other images describe the total in¬volvement of each participant with himself or his work but also their interaction with others, either before or after the end of their various activities. These are images that though static exhibit changes in time. In others, it is architecture that becomes a determining factor. The haunting picture of the scattered bodies lying on the steps of the Ghats is images of loneliness. They also intimate, at the restorative effects of sacred water the loners aspire to and that we know is there, but remains invisible. In this, it is the architecture that takes the bodies to the water and unravels the inconspicuous meaning of this image in our minds.