Saturday, February 20, 1999
By Kuldip Dhiman
HIS love-affair with Chandigarh began way back in 1963, when he came here as a tourist. But it was not love at first sight for Pier Giorgio Sclarandis, the master photographer from Italy. He, actually, did not like the city then. "I found it very difficult to understand the pattern of the city. Most of the buildings were incomplete. My response was not positive, and I continued with my India trip for another five months".
When returned to Chandigarh, more than two decades later, he realised that he had been wrong about the city and its creator, Le Corbusier. Three decades later, enriched by his long experience in photography, design, and publishing, and with more than 30 books on major cities of the world Libya, Iraq, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Manila, Quito, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Petra, Thailand, and many others Pier returned to Chandigarh in the late eighties. And this time he was impressed.
"When I was here for the first time, I felt Chandigarh was a new city designed by a European architect who was trying to impose his creativity on a Third World people. But now I realise my first impression was wrong; it was very superficial. It was wrong because my knowledge was limited then. I had no idea about the Chandigarh project. I knew very little about Le Corbusier and his work. That was a long time ago; 36 years, to be precise. I was then a 22-year-old man who wanted to become a photographer".
While Pier has shot almost all the other cities in colour, it is curious that he chose to shoot Chandigarh in black and white. "When I started to photograph Chandigarh, I found it very, very difficult. I actually started with colour, but I was not at all happy with the pictures. So I decided to shoot in black and white using the medium format roll film camera. I used the Silvestri 6X12 format camera of Italian design. You could use this camera for any subject, but it is best suited for architectural work. It takes German lenses such as Schneider, Rodenstock, and even Nikon lenses of Japan". And when Pier made the prints, he was sure that the entire Chandigarh series must be done in black and white. His wife, Alice Franklin, who is herself a professional photographer, is an expert in the darkroom. While Pier was concentrating on shooting part, she was the one who made those excellent prints.
It is surprising that while most western tourists seem to be preoccupied with traditional tourist centres like Jaipur, Udaipur, Khajuraho, Goa, Kerala, Manali, Srinagar, or Agra, Pier chose to photograph Chandigarh which is hardly on any tourists travel itinerary. But that is exactly, what prompted Pier to come here and capture it on film.
"Taj Mahal has been shot by almost everybody; there is nothing left to do there. I like Chandigarh, because Chandigarh for a photographer is a contradiction. It is Indian, but at the same time there are many things that are not Indian at all. I am not talking about its architecture alone. The way the people move about. The roads are wider; there is no confusion like we have in the other big cities no traffic-jams, no pollution. Chandigarh, certainly, does not conform to the stereotype image that we have about other Indian cities".
Does this mean that the architecture and the town-planning has an effect on the behaviour of the people?
"I think in some ways, yes", says Pier, "But not to a very great extent".
He has, after all these years, changed his opinion not only about the city, but also about its master architect. "I like Corbusier because this great architect played with raw cement; very harsh and yet delightful. I like this interplay of rawness and delight. I am more interested interaction between the light and the architecture, rather than the architecture itself. So you see, my pictures are not strictly architectural pictures; they are something more".
Was shooting in Chandigarh any different from shooting lets say in Iraq, or Yemen?
"Well, I first of all, I shot there in colour, and try to get the feel of the country, but here I am not so much interested in the culture, because, in my opinion, Chandigarh is not real India. It is not typically Indian".
Pier uses human figures in his work to add some life, and some sense of motion, to break the straight lines and curves of the architecture. The figures are mainly silhouetted against the sky, as in the striking photograph of the Open Hand Monument, or are even blurred in some of the compositions. But when they are the main element in the composition, they tend to stare directly into the camera resulting in a picture that looks posed.
"I asked some people to pose", Pier explains, "but that didnt work too well".
In sharp contrast to Le Corbusiers geometric straight lines and curves, Nek Chands Rock Garden is like a free-hand drawing. In this case, it was love at first sight! Pier took to it immediately. Here again he first shot in colour, and was not very happy with what he got back. So, just as he did with his Chandigarh series, he tried black and white. And it really worked!
"The Rock Garden to me is a kind of cycle; a cycle of the never-ending life. Nek Chand used scrap and gave it a new life; but remember, it will again be turned into crap one day. I found this concept very interesting, and I started to develop it. I tried to interpret Nek Chands work as I see it. He is a very creative person. I find the Rock Garden very interesting, but I was not very impressed with the last phase of the Rock Garden: the first, second and also the third phase were superb".
Does he have any plans to return to India for some other project? Well, certainly, but Pier would not like to talk about it. "It is a sort of superstition. I cannot tell you because if I disclose my plans beforehand, they may not materialise. In Italy, we call it scaramanzia".
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