Monday, September 17, 2012

Henri Cartier-Bresson's Photos of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with Diary Notes




NOTE FROM BRESSON’S PERSONAL DIARY:
‘Four times a year, Sri Aurobindo puts in an appearance before
his disciples. They are allowed to file past him, one by one, and
many deposit  flowers in a hold at his feet. He sits immovable for
hours, in a sort of tabernacle with silk ornament. Next to him is
the Mother, his counterpart in divinity, in long gold veils covering
her forehead down to the eyebrows and looking like a Byzantine
Empress’.




ANOTHER DIARY NOTE: ‘The (bed)room was so neat and tidy and so impersonal,
dark wood furniture, waxed big arm chair – everything seemed right out of
a large furniture magazine. The old man did not wink an eye for the 10 minutes
I was watching him. He did not seem to belong to that impersonal setting, yet
he was entrenched in his chair'.



OBSERVATIONS: ‘Sri Aurobindo’s room and bed, with the inevitable
tiger skin which seems the companion of those aiming at spiritual
achievement’.




The Mother


The Mother playing tennis


Rare Cartier-Bresson photos of Sri Aurobindo on display

NEW DELHI | Thu Sep 20, 2012 

(Reuters) - Artist Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs of Sri Aurobindo, the guru nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and his French-born spiritual companion are on exhibit in New Delhi, offering a rare glimpse of life at the Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry.

More than 100 prints from a photo album purchased at a London auction by an Indian art collector are on display. The photos were taken just months before Sri Aurobindo, founder of the commune in the former French colonial town of Pondicherry, died in 1950.

Widely regarded as the father of photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson's fascination with India saw him capture remarkable images of Mahatma Gandhi's funeral in January 1948. Two years later, he undertook a lesser known project, becoming the first person in 30 years to photograph Aurobindo and his partner, known as the Mother.

The black-and-white photographs taken by the French master, who died at the age of 95 in 2004, show Aurobindo inside his bedroom, and the Mother interacting with devotees. In one series of Cartier-Bresson's images, the Mother, born Mirra Alfassa in Paris, is seen playing tennis.

"It's kind of an exploration of his more amateur side," Rahaab Allana, the exhibition's curator, said. "He's sort of a photographer in practice rather than an established photographer that we know Bresson to be."

The pictures had been kept out of public sight for decades. Some of the images were published in the British magazine Illustrated in 1951, but the Mother objected to the way Aurobindo was described in the accompanying article, with her personal secretary describing it as "unspeakably vulgar" in a letter sent to Cartier-Bresson.

As a result, the Mother bought all the photo negatives for $3,000 from Magnum Photos, the agency co-founded by Cartier-Bresson, and printed 50 albums that were sold to devotees.

"When you take those images and distribute them quite liberally, I guess the Mother felt that was not the original intention of taking the images," Allana said. "She wanted them to be a testimony and a chronicle of activities happening at the ashram itself."

In an interview in 1990, Cartier-Bresson explained that he was persuaded by Robert Capa, another photographer at Magnum, to sell the negatives because of financial difficulties at the agency.

It was "something I never did before in my life, and never did again," he said.

Allana believes the collection of photos on display at the Alliance Francaise cultural centre is a "collaborative endeavour" between the Mother, who selected the images, and Cartier-Bresson.

Notes by the renowned photographer in his personal diary during the assignment are also on display, offering an insight into how he and the Mother, who died in 1973, were at odds on how to capture photos of the ashram and Aurobindo in his room.

The exhibition in New Delhi runs until September 30 and heads to Pondicherry, now known as Puducherry, later this year.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine Lies)

A Note about the Exhibition 
By the Alkazi Foundation
At Alliance Francaise de Delhi 
(15th-30th September)
Exhibition by the Alkazi Foundation at Alliance Francaise de Delhi

This exhibition is an attempt to trace the development of photography and the other allied art in Pondicherry spanning the late 19th and early 20th century. At the core of this initiative is the unpublished album of Cartier-Bresson, founder of Magnum photos, who visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1950. He clicked the last pictures of Sri Aurobindo Ghose in the company of his spiritual companion, ‘The Mother’. Also, he has meticulously penned his observations, creating a meta –text to the images.
The visual material is further enhanced by some of the extraordinary images of Indian practitioners such as Tara Jauhar (our very own Tara didi) and Venkatesh Shirodkar of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
A conscious effort has been made to bring out a non-linear, yet credible biography through the archive of how Pondicherry has been witness to the development of a unique visual trajectory. The use of images as ‘evidence’ and ‘document’ creates a subtle interplay between historical context and artistic intent, a conceptual linking of mannerisms and tropes - those of landscape, architectural and portrait photography.

A tribute to Master of the lens

Sept 27, 2012 
Delhi is playing witness to some of the finest works by the late celebrated legend Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered to be the father of modern photo  -journalism. 

‘Mastering the Lens: Before and After Cartier-Bresson’ in Pondicherry, which opened on September 15, at the Alliance Francaise will go on till the end of the month. The exhibition is dedicated to the late Martine Franck, Bresson’s wife and companion of 34 years, who succumbed to cancer in August last. The exhibition has been curated based on the photographer’s visit to Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry during ’50s.

At the core of this initiative is an unbound and unpublished album of Cartier-Bresson, who visited Aurobindo Ashram in April 1950. He clicked the last pictures of Sri Aurobindo Ghose in the company of his spiritual companion ‘The Mother’. 

According to Rahaab Allana, the curator at Alkazi Foundation, “It is an attempt to briefly trace the development of photography in Pondicherry spanning the late 19th and early 20th century. These photographs show his experimental items on Pondicherry. He has also shown the influence of France in India post independence in smaller regions like Pondicherry.”

Featuring 60 photographic works, the exhibition is a collaborative effort along with the Embassy of France. The photographs showcased include the historic exchanges that took place when Cartier-Bresson met some of India’s most important philosophers Sri Aurobindo, together with the Mother. The photographer and his wife, were among the privileged few to be admitted into the Ashram.

Cartier-Bresson’s photographs give viewers a peek into the personal lives of the philosopher and his spiritual companion and their activities showing not only their dedication but also their reception and responsibility to the cause of human understanding and creative development. 

The centuries-old black and white photos bring alive the beauty of Pondicherry, wonderfully capturing the lives of its people.

Courtesy:   
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/281332/a-tribute-master-lens.html


Cartier-Bresson photos of Sri Aurobindo and Mother are amateurish & average

RAKESH BEDI

Cartier-Bresson is truth. But within the bounds of the ashram even he feels circumscribed, and a bit artificial; his style cramped and his truth restricted.
Cartier-Bresson is truth. But within the bounds of the ashram even he feels circumscribed, and a bit artificial; his style cramped and his truth restricted.

This is an artificial world; there's no truth here - Kannadiveedu, Kakanadan

When Gandhi was fighting repression in South Africa and trying to improve the stifled lives of multitude of penurious Indians,  Ghosh, incensed by the partition of Bengal, was stirring nationalistic fervour in India. Both men, three years apart in age, followed different trajectories in their middle age.

Gandhi came back to India and became the Spartan-yet-shrewd mascot of nationalism, and Aurobindo, after a series of mystical visions, repaired to Pondicherryand took to spiritualism. Like Gandhi the politician, who was given the holy prefix of Mahatma, Aurobindo the spiritual seeker added a more austere Sri to his first name and, with his collaborator and spiritual associate Mirra Alfassa (The Mother), went on writing philosophical treatises and drawing resolute followers the world over.

By the time he was assassinated in 1948, Gandhi was a widely photographed man, his gaunt visage making fat the portfolios of world-famous photos such as Margaret Bourke-White. But the sombre photos of Gandhi's death that travelled around the world were taken by 39-year-old French man Henri Cartier-Bresson, making him and his agency Magnum, which he had founded with Robert Capa and a few others in 1947, famous.

Through a Leica, Starkly

There's one crepuscular moment of a visibly shocked Nehru astride the Birla House gate announcing the Mahatma's death, captured blurrily by Cartier-Bresson's Leica. The iconic photograph's half-lit funereal gloom flashed around the world India's sudden plunge into darkness and its acute loss of losing its most beloved leader. Taken hurriedly without a flash, for HCB never used one, the photo is still a poignant reminder of India's fragility and its new, precarious independence.

Two years after Gandhi's passing, in 1950, Cartier-Bresson went with his German camera to the French-influenced Pondicherry and took shots of Aurobindo and the Mother. Aurobindo died in December of that year, and HCB's shots of him, rarely seen until now, with his spiritual ally are tight and closely framed, and as signifiers carry an oppressive feeling of foreboding of the master's coming death.

There are also energetic photographs of the Mother playing tennis, and in these mid-shots Aurobindo's associate is almost alone, hardly missing the company of her long-term collaborator. Seen together, the cramped shots of both of them sitting close, and then of the mother playing tennis, the photographs convey a sense of abrupt, bizarre but not rueful loss.

Link: 
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/et-cetera/cartier-bresson-photos-of-sri-aurobindo-and-mother-are-amateurish-averag

US-PHOTOGRAPHY-CARTIER-BRESSON

Photographer Martine Frank (R), widow of photographer
Henri Cartier-Bresson talks with Glenn Lowry (L), Director,
The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), at the exhibition
‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’: The Modern Century’ during
a press preview April 6, 2010 in the MOMA at New York.
It is the first major retrospective in the US of Cartier-Bresson’s
work in more than 30 years and includes many photographs
previously unknown to the public.



The Photographer Frames the Philosopher

When Gandhi was fighting repression in South Africa and trying to improve the stifled lives of multitude of penurious Indians, Aurobindo Ghosh, incensed by the partition of Bengal, was stirring nationalistic fervour in India. Both men, three years apart in age, followed different trajectories in their middle age.
Gandhi came back to India and became the Spartan-yet-shrewd mascot of nationalism, and Aurobindo, after a series of mystical visions, repaired to Pondicherry and took to spiritualism. Like Gandhi the politician, who was given the holy prefix of Mahatma, Aurobindo the spiritual seeker added a more austere Sri to his first name and, with his collaborator and spiritual associate Mirra Alfassa (The Mother), went on writing philosophical treatises and drawing resolute followers the world over.
By the time he was assassinated in 1948, Gandhi was a widely photographed man, his gaunt visage making fat the portfolios of world-famous photos such as Margaret Bourke-White. But the sombre photos of Gandhi's death that travelled around the world were taken by 39-year-old French man Henri Cartier-Bresson, making him and his agency Magnum, which he had founded with Robert Capa and a few others in 1947, famous.
Through a Leica, Starkly
There's one crepuscular moment of a visibly shocked Nehru astride the Birla House gate announcing the Mahatma's death, captured blurrily by Cartier-Bresson's Leica. The iconic photograph's half-lit funereal gloom flashed around the world India's sudden plunge into darkness and its acute loss of losing its most beloved leader. Taken hurriedly without a flash, for HCB never used one, the photo is still a poignant reminder of India's fragility and its new, precarious independence.
Two years after Gandhi's passing, in 1950, Cartier-Bresson went with his German camera to the French-influenced Pondicherry and took shots of Aurobindo and the Mother. Aurobindo died in December of that year, and HCB's shots of him, rarely seen until now, with his spiritual ally are tight and closely framed, and as signifiers carry an oppressive feeling of foreboding of the master's coming death.
There are also energetic photographs of the Mother playing tennis, and in these mid-shots Aurobindo's associate is almost alone, hardly missing the company of her long-term collaborator. Seen together, the cramped shots of both of them sitting close, and then of the mother playing tennis, the photographs convey a sense of abrupt, bizarre but not rueful loss.
Cartier-Bresson had to persuade Mother, who the inmates of the ashram said was "the manifested aspect of divinity", hard to make Aurobindo sit for these photographs, and that's why these fastidious portraits have the quality of sternness and austerity written all about them. The rigidity of the philosopher gives these photos an un-Bressonian feel.
"The old man did not wink an eye for the 10 minutes I was watching him. He did not seem to belong to that impersonal setting, yet he was entrenched in his chair," writes Cartier-Bresson, making his exasperation clear.
Capturing a Private Man
His slight displeasure shows clearly when he comments acerbically on Aurobindo's room, which is almost as austere and rigorous and grim as the man. "The inevitable tiger skin," lying taut on the philosopher's bed, "which seems the companion of those aiming at spiritual achievement," says HCB. An orientalist jibe that can be ascribed to Cartier-Bresson's ignorance or plain annoyance at not being able to make Aurobindo acquiesce to reducing his intense severity for the benefit of HCB's Leica.
The shot of both of them together again reflects Aurobindo's discomfiture at being photographed. He was a deeply private man, and for HCB to manage an entry into the ashram at Pondicherry and somehow being able to take his portraits was a remarkable coup. But for Aurobindo, who put in an appearance for his disciples only four times a year, it was an invasion of his fiercely guarded solitude. "He sits immovable for hours, in a tabernacle with silk ornament," says Cartier-Bresson acidly on Aurobindo's darshan, a remark in its peppy flippancy completely ignorant of the philosopher's profound need for seclusion.
Cartier-Bresson's photos of the Mother, part of the Alkazi collection and recently mounted in the Capital, are more open, their quick compositions reflecting the woman's serenity and big-hearted receptivity. The Mother is shown, in photo after photo, receiving disciples, inspecting physical exercises and gently doing other mundane tasks required to run an ashram.
She, unlike Aurobindo, seems to be enjoying the hubbub. But most of these hastily shot photos would be better placed in a short Sebaldian narrative to evoke the memories and uniqueness of a place, their brisk histories together speaking calmly of a geography erased by time, but kept solidly intact by these black-and-white documents.
Mother, whom Cartier-Bresson calls a "byzantine empress" while clicking her together with Aurobindo during a darshan, bought the entire portfolio from the famous photographer, and he would have readily given the photos away, for the pictures have nothing in them that denote the famous timelessness and artistry of Cartier-Bresson. Another story says Magnum was strapped and needed the money badly.
Perhaps encumbered by the confines of the ashram, HCB's visual narratives are entirely different from what is now considered his storied and widely seen India portfolio. They lack the classicism and immediacy of his other Indian photos, and their visual aesthetic is akin to something loosely defined as Ashram Photography, the many examples of which by other lesser photographers form part of the exhibit.
"The moral backbone of literature," says WG Sebald, "is about that whole question of memory. To my mind it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives." Photographs are living documents of memory, sorrowful or salutary. In them, past is a solid sacrament and its obliteration impossible as long as the photos exist.
Pondicherry's past, with its French and Portuguese and other influences, is narrated through the photos of Cartier-Bresson and others, and it comes alive nicely through these visual signposts, but individually these photographs, including Cartier-Bresson's, fail to excite.
Cartier-Bresson is truth. But within the bounds of the ashram even he feels circumscribed, and a bit artificial; his style cramped and his truth restricted.

(Courtesy: "The Economic Times")
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