A life in images

Rishi Majumder

rafeeq ellias

What does a coffee table book containing 30 years of a photographer’s work represent? If Rafeeq Ellias’ career as award-winning documentary filmmaker and famous photographer provokes amazed befuddlement, then this showcase brings into focus his statement. “I would professionally restrict my skills to photography and filmmaking only.” Personally his interest zooms further into categories chosen for an upcoming exhibition on November 5 (Musuem Gallery, Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum): Travel and Portraiture. “There are overlaps between these ‘categories’,” Ellias clarifies. “Portraiture can happen while traveling or in a studio. They form a common oeuvre.” Yet traveling by itself remains an addiction, being the best way to “eliminate prejudices and bridge divides”. He also talks about how this addiction was intertwined with his photographing the ballet and opera, over a decade: “My fashion photographs prompted a dance festival company to invite me to shoot a ballet in Uzbekistan. On seeing the results, I was invited again, and again, to Eastern Europe, Russia, Hungary…”
Vying for pride of place beside the ballerinas is the depiction of communities by the maker of The Legend Of Fat Mama (on the Chinese community in Kolkata). “We have singular and multiple identities,” Ellias explains. “While the Jews in Brooklyn merge their Hungarian origin with being New Yorkers and the Punjabis in Southall with being Londoners, the Chinese in Calcutta love Luchis as much as Bengalis do.” Even more identities arise on his images with age: “I remember working with two distinct generations in England – a Punjabi grandmother who was occupied by old Hindi films on Zee, and her completely modern, nearly British granddaughter.”
The pages turn over, as does the conversation, to fashion: “This has limitations, being advertising photography. You have to work with a commercial brief.” And yet, in his portrayal of saree draped models besides rural folk wearing complementary colours, or a black model standing in sharp focus before a dissolving landscape, he adds elements to his frame as deftly as he would have captured them while photographing that suit clad Palestinian smoking a hookah, or the portrait of a poet in Gulzar. “That’s because I’m lucky to work with clients who allow me to experiment because of long standing relationship,” he answers, humbly.

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/743x

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