“It’s amazing how such a seemingly simple, common and universal concept as ‘home’ actually becomes incredibly complicated and difficult to pin down, once you really start to consider it on a personal level,” says Aaron Schuman, curator of this year’s JaipurPhoto festival in India, which is themed Homeward Bound.
After discussing with the festival’s artistic director, Lola MacDougall, he discovered that JaipurPhoto was originally established as an “open-air travel photography festival”, a label he was initially wary of. For him, the term travel photography “generally alludes to a type of imagery that’s often rather simplistic, generic, stereotypical or predictable”, he says – but he liked 2017 edition of the festival, which was guest-curated by Federica Chiocchetti and themed Wanderlust.
So when MacDougall approached Schuman several months later asking if he had any ideas for JaipurPhoto 2018, Schuman looked to “what might conceptually be defined as the ‘opposite’ of conventional ‘travel photography’”, settling on the idea of “looking at artists and photographers who – instead of travelling to far-flung, unfamiliar and ‘exotic’ places (at least to them) – were exploring something much closer to ‘home’”. By coincidence, he realised that many of the photographers he’d been involved with in recent years were doing just this.
“Tereza Zelenkova’s A Snake That Disappeared Through a Hole in the Wall explores the Czechoslovakian landscapes of her childhood through remnants, symbols and sites of local folklore and legend, creating a darkly mysterious world infused with storytelling and imagination,” says Schuman.
“Similarly, Sebastian Bruno’s Duelos y quebrantos examines the central regions of Spain, following in the footsteps of the story of Don Quixote, and drawing parallels between its contemporary society and that described by Cervantes.”
For Schuman, the concept of home is hazy. Raised in New England, studying in New York City, and living in the UK for what he regards as most of his “adult life”, he considers three places ‘home’. “They’ve all nurtured me in their own way, and have helped to define who I am and ‘where I come from’,” he says. “Yet today, when my brother asks me over the phone, ‘So when’s the next time you’re planning on coming home?’, I hesitate, look around at my house, my wife and my children, and think ‘But I am at home?’”
This thinking helped him “embrace the ambiguity” of the theme ‘home’ he says, allowing him to “celebrate its underlying complexity”. He says Jason Fulford, one of his favourite contemporary photographers, did something similar in the text he sent to accompany his exhibition at JaipurPhoto, A Dozen Doors.
“I once read that citizens of Switzerland have three official ‘homes’ — the place where their families traditionally settled; the place where they were born; and the place where they currently live,” writes Fulford. “My own life is nomadic, so this idea appeals to me. As I get older, the notion of ‘home’ shifts from a geographical place of identity to something more abstract. Home, literally, is a roof (or a cave) over one’s head. But it is also a state of mind, from which you look out into the world.”
While Schuman was working on the festival, he was also introduced to a broad range of Indian artists and photographers by MacDougall, including Arko Datto, Aveek Sen and Mr. Ram Chand – each of whom also offer new twists on the theme. “Arko Datto’s series, Pik-Nik, struck a chord,” says Schuman. “It celebrates the phenomenon of the picnic in Eastern India, which is taken very seriously during the winter months.
“Large groups of families and friends travel to riversides around the region and create what might be considered temporary ‘homes’ for themselves, where they cook, feast, drink, dee-jay and dance, rebuilding and re-establishing their own community for a few days in the midst of an otherwise ambiguous countryside.”
Presented in large-format, the JaipurPhoto exhibitions are installed open-air at significant historical and heritage sites across the city. “In a sense… the exhibitions themselves ‘take up residence’ in these historic sites – they make themselves at ‘home’ throughout the city,” says Schuman, “and hopefully offer new insights into a wide range of international takes on what ‘home’ is and how it can be understood, through the medium of photography.”
And in this way, he adds, what started out as a rejection of, and alternative response to, the concept of ‘travel photography’ got neatly turned on its head. “Homeward Bound is in many ways a considered reflection and representation of how the idea of ‘home’ itself, its ‘boundaries’, and the medium of photography, travel,” he says.
“Nola Minolfi’s The Man Who Never Saw the Sea reflects upon a very small and remote place – a village of ninety inhabitants, high in the Italian Alps that accessible only by foot or cable car – and is conceptually underpinned by the story of an 85-year-old man who has lived his entire life in the house where he was born,” he says.
“Visually it’s a celebration of the notion of ‘home’ as a tranquil and clearly-defined place, and at the same time it seems to suggest a certain sense of longing, as if such a bucolic yet isolated ‘home’ can be both a paradise and a prison at the same time.”
“Regine Petersen’s Find a Fallen Star is an exploration of stories of various meteorite falls around the world – a rock crashes through the roof of a house in Alabama in the 1950s, and hits a woman; a group of children recover a meteorite in their village in post-war Germany; two Rajasthani shepherds stumble upon a mysterious stone in the desert in 2006,” he continues.
“Within the context of the exhibition programme, this project represents a much more expansive notion of “home” – the Earth itself being a home to all of us – and the mystery, confusion and wonder that flourishes when that idea of “home” is interrupted by and collides with something entirely unexpected, unfamiliar and literally otherworldly.”
JaipurPhoto is open from 23 February-04 March in various locations across Jaipur, India. The full exhibition and speakers programme can be seen on the festival website www.jaipurphoto.in