Art, Photography, and the power of the medium

Art, Photography, and the power of the medium

August 20, 2019 | Author: Abhishek Poddar, Founder and Trustee of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP)

“My people are not the rich and the famous. They are the simple, ordinary folk. They do not hit the headlines, yet my people are people who matter.”

— T S Satyan, Reaching Out from his book In Love with Life


When the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) in Bangalore was first ideated, we sat together and wanted to ensure that photography played a pivotal role in the design and future of the museum. 

The camera phone has literally turned everyone into photographers – quality notwithstanding – people are often unknowingly recording their daily lives, documenting personal histories and setting up a narrative that will be decoded by future generations. Why then, should a museum give so much importance to a medium that has now been adopted en masse? Aren’t museums places where gallery spaces are reserved for the best in arts and culture for people to admire for centuries?


Women working at the Indian Telephone Industries factory in Bangalore, T. S. Satyan (1923-2009), Date: Undated, Medium: Silver gelatin print, Region: Bangalore, India

Photographs challenge old perspectives

The advance of digital technology has made photography a prolific medium through which people create ‘art’ – whether that is through capturing a definitive moment or working and re-working an image using post-production processes. This new media is where people are at. It is where social media is at. By being at the forefront of it, MAP hopes to question the dialogue between ‘high art’ and ‘low art’; ‘pure art’, ‘real art’ and encourage an art space that is inclusive. 


Photographs are powerful

Beyond the binaries, however, there is also the sheer power of the visual. 

A photograph sometimes has the ability to get governments to sit up and take notice – I’m thinking of Nick Ut’s photograph of the Napalm girl when I say this. This photograph of a terrified nine-year-old girl, burnt to her skin running towards the camera became the defining image of the conflict in Vietnam And just one year after that photograph, the United States and North Vietnam signed a ceasefire bringing an end to the war. That one stark image collectively screamed the stories of hundreds of journalists who filed daily reports from the war front.


Photographs are experiences 

On the flip side, today the sheer volume of images jostling for mind space also means there we have become desensitized to tragedy. A bombed Syria, drowning refugees, babies even – nothing moves us beyond liking a post or sharing an image. The repeated viewing of a viral image instead of propelling us towards action has actually dulled our senses, which is why I think photographers are looking at newer ways to engage people and turn a simple viewing into an experience. 


A collage of people’s interactions with Georges Rousse’s works at the MAP Project Space in Kochi.

Last December, MAP invited French artist Georges Rousse to respond to an 18-Century Dutch warehouse in Kochi, Kerala, India. Rousse’s epic installations combine mathematics and architecture which at first glance, may seem disjointed until the mise-en-scène is released from a single perspective and then photographed – at which point the work is deemed complete. However, in our experience, visitors to the Kochi Muziris-Biennale, in which MAP was part of the Collateral, added their own dramatic flair to the image, posting and sharing their creations on social media, making the site one of the most visited and photographed in the Biennale. 


A collage of people’s interactions with Georges Rousse’s works at the MAP Project Space in Kochi.

With India’s museums often seen as some of the most empty spaces in her crowded cities, it is critical that MAP engages with newer and younger audiences. And at this point in time photography is possibly the tool that can initiate a wider exposure to our visual heritage.

Bride in full regalia at a South Indian wedding, T. S. Satyan (1923-2009), Date: 1980, Medium: Silver gelatin print, Region: Karnataka, India.

MAP’s photography holdings remain one of our most important and we have been the recipient of a number of donations by key photographers like T S Satyan, Jyoti Bhatt, Deepak Puri amongst others. Do visit our website, to view portions of these collections. 


Abhishek Poddar is the founder and trustee of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) an upcoming museum in Bangalore, India that is set to open its doors to the public in the latter end of 2020. Designed as a 44,000 square foot facility in the heart of the city, it will be spread across five floors and will house multiple galleries, an auditorium, a research library, a conservation lab, classrooms, a museum store and cafe.  MAP has a growing collection that includes over 18,000 works of art, predominantly from the subcontinent, ranging across mediums and time periods (from the 12th century to the present). These are organised into six key areas: Pre-Modern Art; Modern & Contemporary Art; Photography; Folk & Tribal Art; Popular Culture; Textiles, Craft & Design. Motivated by the belief that museums should play a positive role in society, MAP’s vision is to serve as a catalyst of change in the sector and to facilitate greater public exposure to the important cultural history of the visual arts in India.