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Urban Indian Families Feel At Home on a Wall

By Priyanka Sacheti, Womens Feature Service

At first glance, each image appears unremarkably identical. There’s a brick wall, feathery tree branches and creepers forcibly peering over it, and a river of grey concrete. Yet, upon peering closer, one observes a distinct myriad of objects in each image that separates one from the other.

However, a collection of handbags, slippers, broom and bedsheet seemed to be scattered around the surroundings. Faux flowers enliven one while a shrine of garlanded images of gods and goddesses grace the other.

These images attempt to preserve a wall in photographic posterity. They are actually thoughtful meditations on street homes in Indian urban spaces by French photographer Anne Maniglier.

“I was in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) in December 2008 conducting a photo-journalism workshop at the National Institute of Design when I first encountered these ‘homes’ on the walls of a prestigious institution,” Maniglier recounts. The wall was “ornamented” with strings on which were hung pieces of clothing and furniture. “What at first glance seemed as a humble form of a market, turned out to be ‘homes’ of hundreds of homeless people,” she recounts.

Maniglier was drawn to the unusual homes. She took pictures over a period of two years. Of course, the inhabitants are absent from the frames. This is largely due to the fact that Maniglier captured these ‘homes’ at a time when their occupants were away at work.

Maniglier has extensively photographed performers at work earlier where basically a handful of shots full of motion, activity and expression. These images are undeniably static in comparison.

“I like to play with what I see. It is a crazy combination of leaving things as they are and attempting to metamorphose them at the same time,” said Maniglier.

Maniglier was also particularly interested in the re-definition and re-interpretation of what a home represents. Despite their inherently fragile, ephemeral nature, the homes featured still exude a sense of a domestic space, albeit peculiar to their particular context.

“I feel that homes in India are much more grounded. The family structures are really strong and I feel that the homes are conveying this through the material objects,” believes Maniglier.

Apart from the social significance of homes, the photographer also interrogates the notion of a two-dimensional home, rather than the traditional three-dimensional one.

“As opposed to the common concept of a house as a closed box, here, people live in one big horizontal line in the public sphere. I was drawn to the geometrical aspect of this surrounding without horizon, an overlapping desolation that managed to portray intimacy exposed to the public eye,” she explained.

Another aspect that fascinated her was the role that privacy played in these homes. While homes often evoke associations of being intimate sacred spaces in this context, the notion of privacy does not exist. These houses are on public display permanently, so to speak.

“I feel that the terms, intimacy operate on different levels in India. People are always looking at each other over here, for instance,” she opines.

Furthermore, Maniglier also feels that people in India have accepted these public homes as a part of their visual urban scape. “In Europe, we are trying to hide so much more,” she says.

Recently on display in Mumbai, a city where people don’t even give a second glance to these public homes that have sprung up all over, Maniglier’s work received curious feedback. “Many came up to me asking whether I had staged the objects!” she remarks. “It is always a surprise when you present your finished work – the viewers are really creative in their questions and feedback.”

A woman of few words, Maniglier finds it best to let her pictures do all the talking. “If I wanted to explain, I would have been a writer. For me, photography is the silent reflection of my statement.”

What she was concerned about was that her work is not be perceived as a poverty narrative seen through the lens of a foreigner. “I did not want people to think that I am offering a critique of their country or of the situation of millions of people living in such a fashion. This is not what I was trying to do,” she strongly emphasized.

Yet, the truth remains that the fear and insecurity of losing one’s home is a universal one, differing only in its style around the world. In the end, a home is a home, no matter how fragile or secure.

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