Indian photographer Amit Mehra presents a series of social documentary photographs of Kashmir at Alcaston Gallery. This body of work examines interrelations between the natural landscape, the built environment, animals and the people of Kashmir. Mehra’s approach to making this series has been to maintain a committed engagement with the region for over half a decade while retaining the autonomous perspective of an outsider.
Kashmir in north sub-continental Asia into the Himalayas is spread between China, India and Pakistan. The region has been the location of a protracted territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition of the two countries in the 1940s. Mehra’s photographs tell stories of the persistence of the people of Kashmir in the face of the turmoil associated with this conflict. He says: ‘this is a very political body of work. But don’t ask me about azaadi. I’m talking about human emotions, not political agendas.’ Azaadi roughly translates as freedom to the Kashmiri Muslim separatist movement. Mehra’s work acknowledges this context of political conflict but focuses on presenting the heroism of daily life.
Mehra’s photographs demonstrate that there is more to this region than simply beauty and conflict. They see beyond the contrast between pictorialism and journalism that has conventionally represented Kashmir in images. That is, beyond a particular type of pictorial beauty, for instance crystal lakes and snow-capped mountains, and beyond images of violence, which circulate whenever conflict re-erupts. The aesthetic characteristic of Mehra’s view is based neither in a disinterested delight in nature nor the sanguine affectivity of violence. Mehra’s aesthetic is founded in how he makes sense of his view in relation to another’s fight.
Idiocentric compositional gestures accentuate Mehra’s subjective point of view in these photographs. Subtle effects of scale and form along with unexpected colours can actually have a type of political impact when they serve as reminder that photographs always mediates situations. In other words, Mehra’s photographs acknowledge his presents and his view through their intriguing compositions and this differentiates his work from the photojournalism that aims at transparency commonly associated with Kashmir.