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On November 18th we hosted a “Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image” Instagram Live with artist Abhijit Deb. He has been selected for our Guest Room "(make) belief" curated by Daniel Boetker-Smith & Tanvi Mishra. He gave us an in-depth look into his ongoing project "An Odyssey," offering a fresh perspective on India's North Eastern Region through folklore.
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Der Greif: Can you tell us what this scholarship means to you?
Apart from providing financial support for the project, the scholarship helps me reinforce my conviction towards the work. There are times when doing a long-term project where you reach a point of stagnancy and start questioning the progress. At such a juncture, something like a scholarship can provide much-needed positive reinforcement both to the project and the artist. Hence, I am grateful to Der Greif for providing me with this scholarship. I would also like to thank Daniel and Tanvi for selecting my work and eventually nominating me for the scholarship.
Der Greif: What kind of gear do you work with?
I generally work with both analogue and digital cameras. At times, I intervene in scanned prints and use instant film cameras and the Holga.
Der Greif: Can you tell us the story behind your winning Guest Room image?
Tiklu was a young collaborator from Bomdilla in Western Arunachal Pradesh, where the photograph was made in early 2022. At that point, I was obsessed with the idea of physical transformation, a widespread occurrence in folklore. There was a lingering thought regarding how such a transformation could be adapted into a photograph without being too obvious about the same.
On my very last day in Bomdila, while exchanging pleasantries, Tiklu and a few others were playing, and mustard greens were abundant with bright yellow flowers all around. There was something analogous about the energy of the children and the bright yellow of the mustard flowers. I thought the metaphor would be a fitting one and made the photograph.
Der Greif: Can you expand on the themes that your photography explores?
A one-word answer would be ‘ephemerality’.
Having said that, I think my difficulty surrounding the sense of belonging has always influenced my image-making. Hence, to sum it all up, I would say my work engages with personal history, migration, and the idea of the malleability of identity in the backdrop of history or the contemporary world.
Der Greif: Who are some photographers that inspire your work?
I have been inspired by the works of Eikoh Hosoe, Miyako Ishiuchi, August Sander, Prabuddha Dasgupta and Laia Abril.
Der Greif: What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am working on my long-term project 'An Odyssey.' It revolves around a fictional tale created by me and visually interpreted as adaptations from the folklore of Northeast India. I envision this body of work in a book format and am conducting research for it. Simultaneously, I am also working on "Activations" (working title), a project focused on the temporary architectural structures and their peripheral arrangements that emerge during festivals in my hometown.
Der Greif: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in photography?
For me, the biggest challenge lies in the love-hate relationship I have with the medium. Initially, I had certain notions about photography and its capabilities, but they gradually changed, causing me to drift away. Eventually, I made peace with this shift, but then the cycle repeated itself. This ongoing struggle is demanding but necessary, as it allows me to rediscover my practice each time.
Der Greif: How do you engage with new technologies in your work?
I am naturally drawn to technologies related to image-making. Whether they are new to the world or new to me, if I have access to them and find a justifiable use, I will try them out and assess the output.