Monday, April 18, 2016

Making Beauty Out of Decay

French photographer Louimari Maudet focuses on the decayed posters that can be found all over India

Photo of Louimari Maudet by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

Jean Gauthier, 30, a teacher from Brussels, walks around the OED Gallery at Mattancherry, near Kochi, with widened eyes. “This is a most unusual exhibition,” he says.

Indeed, it is. French photographer Louimari Maudet's show, 'Ca Vous Regarde' (What are you looking at), is about decayed, torn and mutilated posters, which can be seen all over India. “These are things we see, but we ignore,” says Gauthier. His friend, Kim Mertens, a translator, says, “The posters look transformed. On the road, it looks ugly, but, now, it is a thing of beauty.”

Many have been ripped off. So, you can only see an eye or a nose. Sometimes, other posters have been placed on top of one. Not surprisingly, there are many cinema posters. In one, you can see the left eye of Amitabh Bachchan and, in another, there is the face of Kamal Haasan, from the Tamil film, 'Virumandi', with unblinking eyes and a black moustache. The white sandalpaste on the forehead, has turned brown and so has the black hair.

These posters suffer from the effects of the rain, wind, sun, human intervention, insects, dust, and smoke from small fires,” says Maudet. “And they are pasted everywhere: not only on walls, but also on lamp-posts, doors, fences, and abandoned old cars.”

Altogether 26 posters are on display, although he has taken more than 4000 photos. “These digital images have been transferred to canvas through a pigment print process,” he says. “Their hidden beauty is revealed in this way.”

Like most passions in life, Maudet stumbled on to it by accident. One day, in 2009, he was photographing a watchmaker in Chennai. Right next to the shop, he noticed an old poster on a wall. “The poster seemed to be looking at me,” he says. “I finally took a photo.”

The same day, while Maudet was walking around, he suddenly noticed that many posters had the same powerful look. “I began taking pictures,” he says. “Soon, it became an obsession.” Thus far, he has taken photos in places like Srinagar, Kanyakumari, Mumbai, Chennai, Jaïpur, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Madurai, Pondicherry, Mysore and Hyderabad. Over a ten-year period, he has gone to 60 cities.

Maudet follows a particular method of work. “When I am in a city, I select a location and walk down the street,” he says. “Then I come back from the opposite side, all the time looking for old posters. Thereafter, I go down parallel and perpendicular roads. I end up walking about 25 kms. But, at the end, I would have selected the posters I want to click.”

Asked whether ordinary people notice these posters, he replies in the negative. “The impact of the posters diminishes over time,” he says. “But when people see me take pictures, they ask me what I am doing. My answer makes them have a re-look at the posters. And we end up having extraordinary conversations.”

One day, in Chennai, while he was shooting, three men arrived with new posters, as well as a pot of glue. They were going to paste them over the old ones. “I told them, 'Please don't destroy these beautiful posters which I want to photograph',” he says. “They were kind enough to give me the time. But, later, they came and did their job.”

These decayed posters are also a metaphor for life. “We win fame, awards and honours,” says Maudet. “But, later, we suffer from decay, and, ultimately, death. I often ask myself: 'What has happened to the person in the photo? Is he alive? What did he become? What would he want to tell us if we met him today?' These posters are short-lived, just like our life on earth.” 

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

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