Camera as a tool for expression

There is peace, serenity even provocation in the works of Madhur Dhingra.

NIKHIL MISHRA has a chat with the man for whom photography is a passion

       ‘They are not ugly. They are a part of life which has never been exposed,” says Madhur Dhingra whose first photo exhibition “Where man meets God” recently concluded at the Indian International Center (IIC), It took him 10 long years to exhibit his first work, which has been widely acclaimed. The photographs exhibited present myriad feelings in one section i.e. Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, the artist finds out the monasteries charged with peace and serenity which perfectly reflects out in this frames. While another section of Manikarnika Ghat (The Mahashamshan) presents disregard for the dead bodies. As he himself says, “Never before had I encountered the disrespect being shown to dead as I saw there.”

          35-year-old Madhur belongs to a Punjabi business family which came to India from Gujrawala now in Pakistan after partition. The reminiscences are still there embedded in his heart, as he recalls how on reaching Delhi with his grandfather and father they were all penniless and shattered.

          After graduating in Economics, from Khalsa College Delhi, he ran away and joined the Merchant Navy as a deck cadet. Later he became a navigating officer but still was in search of his destiny. As he did not like to live an isolated life, he came back to Delhi. “I wanted to prove myself and come out of the quagmire and find out a space for myself. So finally I chose a medium to express myself. I tried my hand for sometime in sculpture and finally came to the conclusion that I was not good at it,” says Madhur. The next medium with which he wanted to experiment was photography; the camera in his hand was now fast becoming a tool for his expression. So he finally came across the medium he was in search of.

          He started studying photography under Satyasri Ukil who at that time was working in Triveni Kala Sangam. His honest and unbiased approach towards his medium drove me very close to him and finally it has turned out to be a good friendship. After Triveni he took to advertising photography. He did a lot to advertising campaigns with leading agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, MAA, Interface etc. He left advertising  because according to him there was no freedom of expression, here he was working on others instructions and had no chance to exploit his creativity. A couple of years later he diversified his business to land developing and colonising.

          Adding to his views, he says, “I am totally a restless person I don’t enjoy doing the same kind of work at a stretch but this is not there with photography. I may get bored with a particular location that is why you may find out different moods and moments in my frames. You may find out the whole scope of life beginning from the mundan ceremony to the final rites, which includes devotees, the maverick tantriks, copulating dogs, and funeral pyres.”

          He has personally always equated light with God. The rich blacks you see in his pictures relate to the darkness of the human soul. Which suddenly comes alive with the play of light on it. Recalling his memoirs he says, “I would spend hours sitting there looking at the Lamas performing their daily chores, the sound of the gong would echo inside the prayer hall and I could feel it seep deep inside my soul”.

          The play of light and shade inside these monasteries was beautiful. “I have tried to bring back to you through some of my pictures the peace I found there.” The exhibition which began there (Ladakh) finally culminated at Manikarnika which is an ancient ghat where from all over India people come to perform the last rites. The pyre is lit day in and day out. The air smells of burning flesh. The worst ever thing which he came across there was that bodies of the poor and downtrodden who could not buy enough wood were burnt in a stranger manner.

          Initially he started working out on this exhibition from Gangotri but finally only one frame from Gangotri was included in the exhibition. Rest all the 38 frames are from Ladakh, Varanasi, Hazrat Nizammuddin’s Dargah and Humayun’s tomb, a blend of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Madhur, who is by profession a developer, wants to pursue photography as a profession and he is waiting for the day when his son Kshitij will take over and he can have a free hand then to exploit his talent.