‘TP’, as Thomas Patrick Kiernan is known here, has a knack of slipping unobtrusively into the flow of life. With a sharp presence of mind, he perceives the drama of the ‘ordinary’. It is this confluence of qualities, as a photographer, that freezes the fleeting moment in an arresting, evocative image; and even the commonplace come alive in an intimate, meditative sort of way.
Over the years, TP has photographed in many countries, including Egypt, Vietnam, Morocco, Burma, Ireland and India. But it is Calcutta that fascinates him the most. To him, the people here embody the resilience, madness, and celebration of spirit in the midst of seeming chaos. They may appear absorbed in the local and the immediate, the here and now. But there is something more, says TP, that transcends the daily struggle for material needs – a smoldering spark, perhaps springing from deep human bonds and cultural roots. (One cannot help wondering whether TP’s empathy springs from some past life born as an India!)
TP’s photographs were taken over a number of visits to Calcutta, beginning in the 1990s. What makes them particularly significant is the sobering reflection that the life and the unselfconscious character they portray, are fast disappearing from the Indian cityscape, now globalizing into a feeble, limping clone of western counterparts. As TP poignantly remarks, the elements of surprise and authentic individuality are almost dead in Western urban public spaces.
There are parts of Calcutta still largely untouched by mass consumer culture and the modern economy. These are difficult to find in the west, where people are so immersed in the material world surrounding them that they seem to have quite forgotten about the loss of spirit. There are few surprises left in the west. Perhaps they were there fifty years ago. And what is lost has (perhaps) gone forever.
Calcutta too is not immune to change. As modern economic influences dictate the aspirations of the affluent and the middle class, the entire world around them – material and social – begins to change. Hopefully, the new tinsel wave will not sweep away all that is exciting about Calcutta. TP would like his photographs to serve as a ‘mirror’ that motivates people to preserve what is so original and moving in this city. Failing this, the images may at least serve as ‘historical documentation’ of what was once a most fascinating urban center of the east.
Earthcare Books is proud to publish Calcutta Full Frame – Photographs in Black and White by Thomas Patrick Kiernan.