Last night was the opening reception at Corcoran College of Art and Design for Avi Gupta’s, DC local and Director of Photography for US News & World Report, new photo series There is Here. This includes over 30 photographs, a video piece, and the subseries Offerings.
His photos work in the opposite direction of photographers like Vivian Maiers or Gary Winogrand, choosing to focus on shooting spaces rather than people, but never losing a human element. The objects, locations, the happy-face-yellow “thank you” trash can (from his other photo series “lonesum”) are just as ripe with emotion as the faces exposed in Winogrand’s pieces (see more here).
For There is Here Gupta visited Bengali homes in Washington D.C and India to take photos of the food and living areas, focusing on the cultural cues in each household. One of the most thought provoking was the subseries Offerings, a collage of the food offerings he received in each house, providing a side-by-side image of porcelain, paper plates, and floral tablecloths. He spent anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour in each house depending on how immediate his visualizations were transformed into still shots. The people who owned the homes were typically chosen at random, and he asked the person whose house he was shooting at the time if they knew anyone else that would be willing to let him into their home.
He says he sees the home as where people “adapt or conform to life.” The photos intend to make the viewer think about who lives in the houses, where they are, and how they go about the mundane. And you do respond that way when you look at the photos. “There are three used matches after lighting the stove, the indent in the bedspread looks like someone was just napping, is that a cellophane cover or a sheer silk like a veil?” A striking element of the photographs is you never feel like you’re invading the home of the families. The lighting and unfamiliarity with the pieces specific to the families prove to be haunting, if not jarring, but mysteriously remain welcoming.
The juxtaposition of traditional images and a teddy bear hung on a wall in a Ziploc bag, and other obscure and not coincidentally powerful photos, convinced me that Gupta was experimenting with object play in this series. Prior to the reception I asked him if he did toy with the spaces and trinkets in the homes to produce a certain image, “Nothing was staged.” Were you looking for traditional and modern pieces, “No.” The feeling of authenticity in the end product was not shorted in the process of his work.
Although photos of his parent’s home were included in the work, he wasn’t inspired by his own life or childhood to start this project. There is Here was an endeavor separate from himself. In fact, he described his childhood home as devoid of culture. “I grew up in Springfield. There was nothing unique, it was very suburban.” Gupta went on to contemplate whether that was the subconscious inspiration for There is Here; the search for homes bursting with originality that reveal the traditions and life of the family.
After viewing There is Here, you inevitably start to think about what your home or apartment would reveal. Religious trinkets, family mementos, or leftover college decor start to weigh over you. The undepicted families in Gupta’s photos remain stamped on your mind too. You’ll find yourself starting to visualize the families of the home in the same way you create vivid characters when reading a book. Gupta’s photographs resurrect the heritage of the family that keeps a presence in the home.
You can view Avi Gupta’s There is Here in Gallery 31 at Corcoran College of Art and Design from May 28-June 29 2014. All images courtesy of the Corcoran.