Monday, September 20, 2010

Moving out of Mayalokam, the World of Illusions: Photography of Leo James

(Leo James)

I am not an ornithologist. However, today I feel like comparing artists with birds. Going by their studio arrangements, artists are of two types: pigeons and hummingbirds. Artists were pigeons when the idea of bohemianism was still relevant. Now most of the artists have become more like hummingbirds.

My analogy comes from the way these birds in question make their nests. Pigeons invade a place, make their very skimpy nests and once the chicks are hatched, they make a mess out of that place. Hummingbirds are a clear contrast to pigeons. They are very orderly, meticulous and dexterous in natural engineering.

(a corner at mayalokam by Leo James)

In a real and imagined zone of bohemians, the occupants behave like pigeons, littering their dwelling spaces with anything and everything they deem to be important to their lives. Artists’ studios used to be like pigeon coves. Today things have changed; many studios look like the office room of a chief executive officer of a corporate establishment.

(Mayalokam by Leo James)

There was/is a beauty in bohemianism and the pigeon nests like studios. The photographs that you see here are the evidence of the existence or former existence of such a studio in Mattancherry, Kochi. These photographs are taken by Leo James, a young photographer, trained in visual communications, apprenticed photography under the ace photography artist, Abul Kalam Azad and currently this twenty seven years old Leo James lives in Dubai.

(Stairs to the world of illusions by Leo James)

Before you make any judgment on these pictures and my relationship with the artist, let me tell you one thing; I have never met this artist. Till this morning, I did not even know that he was living in Dubai. I have been following the pictures of Leo James that he posts quite regularly in his Facebook profile. I was hooked on the very first day itself. I knew this young photographer was gifted and he belongs to a school of photography that I am quite familiar with.

(The Door by Leo James)

You know well that Facebook for those expatriates who are now known as Non-Resident Indians or more theoretically the diaspora Indians (Indian diaspora), now is a window to their nostalgic past. What we consider irrelevant and almost comic/trivial in our daily lives, many of these NRIs post in their FB accounts with a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

(Table at Mayalokam, by Leo James)

I feel that Leo James does not do it for the nostalgic purpose. It is time, I believe, for him to reach out which he could not do when he was in Kerala. Let me come back to the issue of the school of photography, which I was referring to.

(Mayalokam, Leo James)

This school of photography, which I would name today as the ‘Mattancherry School of Photography’ or the ‘Kochi School of Photography’ obviously is led by Abul Kalam Azad (about his works I had posted a blog earlier). Abul Azad works on the local and liminal. He trains his camera at the lost and the neglected. And he posits these deep ironically witted images against the points of the mainstream artistic/cultural discourse.

 (N.N.Mohandas and Abul Azad)

Abul Azad makes the play of shade not as a medium to create ‘effects’ but as a predominant element in his works. Today Abul Azad has left all his sophisticated equipments for a plastic camera. He takes photographs out of this and he calls it lomography. ( I will be writing about lomography soon).

(Abul Azad by Leo James)

Leo James belongs to this Mattancherry School of Photography led by Abul Azad. These photographs document, intervene and trigger off a discourse on the sociology of culture and its changing facets against the light of the socio-political changes happening in Kerala. Of course, when these artists move out of Kochi, they carry this sense of purpose intact along with their equipments.

(studio is getting stripped at Mayalokam, by Leo James)

What you see here today is the documentation of a studio moving or the wrapping up of a studio, which a few artists along with Abul Azad had invaded in one of those dilapidated Mattancherry buildings in the former Jewish Kochi. The first floor building was a studio for Azad and his friends for almost ten years. They lived, worked, ideated, quarreled, boozed there like, yes like pigeons.

(This is how Mayalokam looks from outside, by Leo James)

The studio was called ‘Mayalokam’ (The world of illusions) adequately because it was from where all the illusions were created in the form of reality, I mean in the form of work of art. Leo James was a regular visitor there, spending time with Azad and learning the finer details of photography. These pictures reflect what the studio was like and what it became and how it was left behind by the artists.

(a neat corner at Mayalokam by Leo James)

These photographs tell you the story of an erasure and registration. Erasure is a sort of physical act. You take out your stuff, pack it and move it. Registration is virtual act caught in the photography; like the Kirlian photography that registers the halo of human beings and captures the images of ghosts. What Leo James does in these photographs is a Kirlian act. He reflects his high voltage sensibility on to the images, objects and people that have been so familiar to his eyes and self for a long time and these resultant photographs are halo of the space; the invisible things that otherwise would fail to notice.

(From Mayalokam by Leo James)

The corridors, the wooden staircase, the enamels, framed posters, vases, trivial sculptures and the view from windows impart you with a sense of the space and place. You identify some of the posters there, for example a poster of the Double-Enders or a poster done by KM Madhusudhanan. You think they come from another century and suddenly you realize how the years have passed by, how the acts of culture have become part of the history with a capital ‘H’.

(From Mayalokam by Leo James)

Then you see the objects. They were there all the time, supplementing the life of the artists in Mayalokam.

(From Mayalokam, by Leo James)

The empty walls and the packed stuff. The gloomy interiors. Abul Azad walks like a spirit inside. Faces.

(From Mayalokam, by Leo James)

Leo James is a wonderful photography artist. In the name of digital art, we celebrate anything and everything that comes through photoshop. In the name of photography, we showcase third rate pictures with no effect. Leo James is a young photographer with a wonderful eye.

A few portrait photographs taken by Leo James for your reference:

(Anil Dayanand by Leo James)

(Javeed by Leo James)

(Ajith by Leo James)

(Ali by Leo James)


jai kallikkal said...

Actually it is moving into a Mayalokam!....Illusions are images encapsulated in the grains of light and shadows that get ingrained in our mind...Leo does exactly that...amazing.

Sha Nawaz said...

Prof. R Nandakumar led me, and later my friends, to mayalokam. The spaces abul created at, is amazing, and I got a lot of 'pearls' from there, enriching my knowledge and changing my life. Each and every day with abul are different and providing different angles and visions. Slavoj Zizec says, philosophy is a repetion, like sunrises, but each one is different from other. Likewise, mayalokam made such repeting, yet different, refreshing philosophical moments to me. I became new human being everytime I return from his space. Thanks Johny and Leo James...

pp shanavas

JohnyML said...

thanks Jai and Shanavas....


Unknown said...

Lovely images, text that takes you by the hand and lead you to the Mayalokam that was. Great work.

Unknown said...

great text..,
love ur observations..
one small correction on 25...not 27.
thx so much...
waiting for ur article about lomography in india.
good luck johnyetta..

Unknown said...

He is indeed a gifted visual artist with a different blend of tastes.

Explore the U.N.K.N.O.W.N said...

Good Job Leo. Sasikumar.