Monday, April 07, 2014

Taking Art to The Street

Chicago photographer William Jerard showcases his work on a street in Fort Kochi and many people stop by to see it

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

In May, 2012, William Jerard was assigned by his group, Global Vision International, to be a volunteer at the Sree Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SDPY) Central school at Kalathra, near Kochi. “I felt very nervous,” he says. “I did not know how the children would react. I also did not know if I had enough inside me to teach them.”

William's room was at the end of a long corridor. There were several classrooms at one side. And as he walked past, on the first day, the students greeted him and touched his hands. “It was beautiful,” he says. In the end, Williams spent three months and took numerous photos of the children.

They include a group shot of young girls, in brown uniforms, standing in the courtyard and praying during the morning assembly. What catches the eye is a particular girl in the front row, her eyes closed, her hands clasped together. “You can tell that she is connected to something spiritual,” he says. Then there is a photo of a number of students standing next to their teacher, just outside the science laboratory. Another shows a group of boys and girls playing on a patch of ground in front of the school, the dust rising up in the air.

In February, the Chicago-based William is in Fort Kochi. He has hung photos of the school children, placed in wooden frames, alongside a wall on Bastian Street. The location has been carefully selected. “Look up,” he says, and points at a tree, with several overhanging branches. “The tree is almost cradling the exhibition. It is so beautiful and natural. My home town, Chicago, is lovely, but it is a manicured beauty. It is one tree here, a gap, and another tree there. In India, growth is organic. And things are left alone, to be what they are supposed to be.”

William also has another aim. “I want all kinds of people to access art,” says the artist, who is casually dressed in a white sleeveless T-shirt and shorts. “The art community should come out on the streets. We should not keep the work locked away in galleries and museums.”

And, statistically, it may be the right thing to do. “On an average, about 250 people have viewed the street exhibition in Fort Kochi every day,” he says. “In Chicago where I held an exhibition in a gallery, there were 90 visitors during an entire month.”

William uses a Canon D3000 camera. Self-taught, he has no idea of technique, and relies solely on his intuition. “You have to engage with the subjects so that they become relaxed and reveal their true selves,” says this peripatetic traveller, who has taken photos in China, Cuba, France and Mexico, apart from Chicago.

They include a Buddhist monk praying, a couple walking in the darkness towards the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, a homeless man lying beside a busy road, an empty wharf, and a group of smiling people inside a restaurant in China having bowls of soup.

William's work is aimed at fulfilling his definition of art. “I am approaching art through the perspective of Leo Tolstoy, one of Russia's great writers,” he says. “Tolstoy believed that it is through art that one man can feel another. And that is what I want to portray through my photos. As human beings we should be able to feel each other.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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