Tea and biscuits. Sitting opposite us on his New Delhi terrace, Sunil Gupta is not really there. All the way from Mundia Pamar, his remote clan’s village, to the backrooms of London and back again, the world has played quite a few tricks on him. At 15, he arrives with his parents in snow-covered Montreal where people speak French and it requires all his talent to find his way. From his immigrant’s viewpoint, Sunil has a birds-eye view of hypocrisy, shame and humankind’s less noble quirks. Of everlasting love as well. And because Sunil is never really there, he offers us his Pictures From Here1 to convince us that he really is with us and that he will stay around a little longer, inviting us to share in his elixir of exile. Let us understand the whole story through his keen eyes and unhurried voice. Peau lisse contre voyou; a smile of lifelong brotherhood and combat; calmness stemming from lifelines and questions; modesty from a desire to travel and to share. Faithful in the rendering of his colours as he is in loving.
1. Pictures From Here is the title of his book, published in 2003 by Chris Boot, Ltd.
LOVE & LIGHT
“I returned to India in the summer of 2005. A move precipitated by meeting and falling in love with an Indian man in Delhi. An event I recorded with the first of a series of diptychs called Love & Light. In the photograph I tried to encapsulate the emotional intensity between us as well as the intensity of the location, a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. My photography has become intrinsically bound up with my life and sometimes it’s hard to see where the boundaries lie.
I met the man during my first major solo show in Delhi in 2004. There had been an overwhelming response and, I suppose, I emotionally opened up to the place for the first time after a thirty-seven year absence in the West. Something I didn’t realise was happening at the time, so I was caught off guard. It had been a long time, nine years, since I had been diagnosed HIV Positive and my last lover had left for good. It was a surprise to me that it was still possible to find love. The picture was made as an artist’s page for the New York based Poz magazine for HIV+ people. People have since written to me that they too found it inspirational. AIDS rhetoric is so bound up with medical jargon and sociological studies that people forget about love.
Soon after I turned fifty I found myself making a short interview video with the British scholar, Stuart Hall. The University of the West Indies was honouring him. Naturally we talked about being people of the Diaspora and the pull our places of origin had on us. Sooner or later most of us wonder if we will ever go “home”. Or whether home is in our adopted lands. Hall had struggled with the same questions. He advised that if I was so inclined and seeing that I had reached middle age, I should make the return journey now so that I could play an active role once I got back. It was the little encouragement I needed to get back to Delhi. Later might be too late for me. I could see that I certainly wouldn’t want to come back as a retired person and be cut off from my working life and friends entirely.
I belong to a family of economic migrants. I found myself in New York in the mid-seventies enrolled in an MBA programme, however I stopped attending the classes and enrolled in a class with Lisette Model. Modern photography had arrived by 1976. She said, I think you had better give up business school and take up photography. My first critical mentor; I decided to be a little bold and took her advice, not knowing quite how I would survive.
What happened in between these two life-changing encounters and subsequently is what I am presenting here. The Indian lover is no more, but instead I have become wedded to the place. In 2004, Radhika Singh, Director of the agency Fotomedia in New Delhi, chose works by me for the show in Delhi, entitled Exiles, Trespass, From Here to Eternity and Homelands. Now I’m following on with series called Country and Love & Light, which are simply about my relationship to this place called India; its geography, history, spirituality and the love it has to offer.”
Sunil Gupta, New Delhi, 2007.
Executive producer : Le Tambour Qui Parle.