Thursday, May 04, 2017

People And Buildings

The Dutch-based photographer Iwan Baan talks about his work, during a recent visit to Kochi

Photos: Iwan Bahn by Jonas Ericksson; a Chandigarh scene 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the Dutch-based photographer Iwan Baan arrived in Kochi, the heat him so hard, he had to mop his face several times with a handkerchief. But he adjusted quickly, as he delivered a talk, organised by the Indian Institute of Architects, Cochin Centre, at the Bolgatty Palace.

But this was not Iwan's first visit to Kerala. Five years ago, he had come to take photographs of the buildings made by the late architect Laurie Baker. “He was an architect who did amazing things, with minimal means,” says Iwan. “I found it very appealing.”

Asked to describe the buildings in Kochi, he says, “In tropical climates, nature grows so fast around concrete structures,” says Iwan. “There is a kind of exuberance and an openness to buildings.”

In fact, Iwan's next book is on Bangladesh, which has a similar climate like Kerala. In August, he is planning to spend three weeks in Bangladesh during the middle of the monsoons. “The water and the monsoon play an important part in how people construct their buildings,” he says.

Iwan is known the world over as being one of the earliest to focus on people, rather than on buildings, as most architectural photographers did. “I wanted to tell stories about a place through the people, as well as the buildings,” he says. “Why is the structure in that particular location? How does the city evolve and change around it? Who are the people who live near it? And in it?”

Thus far, he has taken photos in places as diverse as the Western Sahara, Peru, United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Taiwan, Brazil, Scotland, Azerbaijan, Mexico, China and India.

In India, he has shot in Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and several other places. “Tradition plays an important part in the construction of buildings in India,” he says. “And that makes it fascinating.”

Interestingly, when Iwan goes to a new place, he does not do too much of research. “That's because I like to look at a place with the freshness of a child's eye,” says Iwan, who passed out from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.

For his work, Iwan uses a Canon EOS-ID X Mark 11 because he prefers a smaller camera. Thus far, his output has been much appreciated. Iwan is the recipient of the inaugural Julius Shulman award for photography (2010) as well as the Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award given by the American Institute of Architects last year. His work has been featured in prestigious magazines and newspapers like 'The Wall Street Journal', 'The New York Times', and the 'Architectural Digest'.

Regarding the qualities needed to be a good photographer, Iwan says, “You should have an endless curiosity about people and places. There is always something new to see. And you should have an urge show it to the world. In other words, you need a tremendous passion for the job.”

Which Iwan also possesses. And his incessant travels have given him a sharp insight about people. “What I have observed is the unquenchable thirst for life among ordinary folks,” he says. “They want to make the most of what they have, even under difficult circumstances. When you show interest in their cultures, people are quick to invite you into their homes. This type of hospitality is universal. As a result, I have been blessed with so many unforgettable moments.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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