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Bonfire of convention

Anil C.S. Rao's photo exhibition in the city is causing no less than a debate over the use of his technique

EMPTY SPACES, YOUNG LUST The artist (below) made a photographic representation of urban angst

When art is born of pain and puzzlement, the artist and audience share the birthmarks. Anil C.S. Rao's photo exhibition recently at Gallery Space, looked out of lonely eyes at urban clutter and mind spaces, where people once lived. "Bonfire of my vanities: a retrospective, 1998-2005" was organised by M.C. Mohan, teacher and art-critic who felt that this unique photo-art needed to be showcased in the city. Says Mohan, "Artists in India don't use the techniques that Anil Rao employs, though it is common in the West. At the inauguration, his works sparked off a debate on whether such expression was right or justified. I felt that was a very healthy outcome of the exhibition." Fiction writer, short filmmaker, photo artist and engineer, Anil C.S. Rao was born in Hyderabad but brought up in the US. He studied technology and chose to live by art. At 16, he worked and learned filmmaking in Bollywood. He graduated from the Washington School of Photography in 2003 and took to fulltime camerawork. This artist, whose objective is "to enjoy life" and "follow one's heart", uses his camera with a rare balance of skill and creativity.

Stark reality

At the exhibition, light and thought played hide and seek on artworks that were neither photos nor paintings. Digital tools used delicately as a paintbrush, touched up images coming, from a creative mind. From the cold gleam of a tower to the wistfulness in a woman's eyes to the flowers on a bedspread, the details stood out stark.

The nightlights from the stylish US cityscape cast shadows on a cold emptiness within. Contrasting against this, were the daylight images of small-town India where cables run crisscross over buildings that lean badly to one side. Walls ended suddenly, staircases led nowhere and women smiled only with their lips, in other photos. The digitisation of images seemed to allow the visual representation of thoughts as they melted and took a new form. Some blurred-line images seemed like frames from a midnight dream. In one striking photograph, the grey sky of reality was set off against the bluer-than-blue sky of fantasy, in a hoarding. Pigeons and crows sit atop the large hoarding where a car advertisement displays images of success and fun.

The artist calls the exhibition "A summary of the desires of a photographer in the midst of a mid-life crisis." The mix-n-match of seemingly diverse images seemed like an extension of life - as the global-villager knows it. Now in Hyderabad, now in NY, the body wears different clothes and feels different temperatures. But the soul reads it all in the same tongue. Anil C.S. Rao's works light up a metaphysical mind.


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