India: A Personal Perspective – A Photographic Exhibition in Support of Seva Mandir
Tej Kunj, a private house overlooking Lakes Pichola and Fatehsagar, played host to a photographic exhibition from 19 to 26 February 2016. The exhibition was called ‘India: A Personal Perspective’. The photographs on display were taken by a former lawyer and avid photographer, John Pheasant from England. John first visited India in 2003 with his wife, Felicia, and has been a regular visitor ever since. Having taken photographs of the various cultural, historical and social aspects of this dynamic country, John decided to display his photographs in a fundraising effort for Seva Mandir, with whom he has been connected for some time. Although the entire exhibition was free-to-view, all the photograph were available to buy with all the proceeds going to Seva Mandir. In addition to the photographs, there were postcards and art books of a few of the photographs available for purchase.
John carefully went through his collection and selected 101 of his best images to be put on display. He says: ‘I did not set out to present themes when selecting the photographs, but some do emerge. I think there are four in particular which identify special subjects for me.’ The four themes, all beginning with the letter W, were Water, Washing, Worship and Women’s Empowerment. Guessing these four ‘W’ themes became a little competition for the viewers, and three winners would receive a photograph of their choice on the final day of the exhibition.
To kick off the exhibition on 19 February, Seva Mandir’s Chief Executive, Priyanka Singh, introduced John, who then said a few words. There followed a short speech and then a formal ribbon cutting by the NGO’s most senior Trustee, the distinguished Mohan Singh Kothari.
An introductory panel explained the idea behind the exhibition and introduced Seva Mandir and its work, and a small catalogue was available which contained a few words about each photograph, a purchase price and a suggested route around the exhibition. At the end, the visitors were requested to leave comments about their experience and take part in the themes competition if they wished.
A video room ran films showing Seva Mandir’s work and John’s personal account of his travels in India and his vision for the exhibition. John also organized three photographic workshops for beginner, intermediate and advanced photographers. During these sessions John described in depth the dynamics of photography and the various aspects of a camera and its functioning. A large audience during these sessions spoke volumes about the enthusiasm that people showed for the workshops and photography in general.
The entire display was more than just an exhibition. It was the personal perspective of a foreigner who saw India with a fresh set of eyes. John found art in people, places and things that an Indian would consider quite normal in daily life. The exhibition also aimed to spread awareness of all the good work Seva Mandir has done and is continuing to do for the rural poor of southern Rajasthan. An entire section of the exhibition was dedicated to the NGO’s work in health, education, early childhood care, natural resource development and women’s empowerment.
Every photograph on display was thought-provoking in its own way. From a picture as simple as a common bicycle to one looking deep into the eyes of a small child collecting garbage, each told a different story.
Most visitors were able to connect with the pictures on a personal level and would narrate instances in their lives related to it. Eight groups of school children, anywhere from 3rd grade to 12th grade, were also among the audience during the week.
Their active participation in guessing the themes and taking part in a drawing and colouring competition showed how the exhibition was successfully able to jog their imagination and make them think outside the box. The only person who guessed all four of the ‘W’ themes in the competition was a middle-school boy from Vidya Bhawan Public School (two other winners being chosen from those who guessed three themes correctly).
As a cherry on top, John was invited by the largest and most prestigious government radio broadcaster, All India Radio, to give his account of the exhibition on a personal level. John, accompanied by two Seva Mandir employees as translators, visited the AIR facility in Udaipur and took part in a recording which was aired on 101.9 FM. The visit of students from several schools, mothers and children from Seva Mandir’s Short-Stay Home (a shelter for abused women), local media such as the Udaipur Times and All India Radio, national and foreign tourists, as well as local visitors gave everyone an opportunity to see special scenes from all around India, and get acquainted with the work of Seva Mandir. This is how John Pheasant, with his: ‘India: A personal perspective´, invited us to discover this beautiful country through his lenses.
The closing ceremony was very vibrant with speeches from SM Executive Council member, Vijay Singh Mehta, and Chief Secretary, Narayan Lal Ameta, short reminiscences of the exhibition from a visitor and one of the volunteers who helped throughout the week, and emotional and thoughtful closing speeches by John and Felicia, who was able to announce that a significant sum had been raised from the sale of photographs and donated to Seva Mandir. Some local business people had also expressed an interest in discussing CSR links with the NGO.
There followed a musical session courtesy of Seva Mandir employees and volunteers. It was a fitting end to what had been a brilliant effort by the entire team in preparing for and conducting the first ever solo photographic exhibition by John, in support of Seva Mandir.
All the unsold photographs remain on display in Udaipur (at Seva Mandir, Bougainvilleae Art Gallery, and at Rajesh Soni’s studio, Gallery One, at Chandpole) and the proceeds of any sales will again go to Seva Mandir.
The Facebook page set up for the exhibition contains more information and photographs, as well as an album showing all the photographs exhibited.
Aneesh Kotru and Itzel Ivania Rosillo Robles
Photographs taken at the exhibition by Rajesh Soni, Lalit Soni, Manish Kumar Shukla, Anuj Kalra, Felicia Pheasant