Foster's photos capture India's beauty, poverty

Vast nation's pageantry at Creative Alliance

Arts: museums, literature

July 01, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

At the turn of the millennium, India remains for most Westerners a distant and enigmatic land: the world's second most populous nation and its largest democracy, a huge, underdeveloped country armed with indigenously developed nuclear weapons, an economic powerhouse cursed by such crushing poverty that tens of millions of its citizens are reduced to living on the streets.

Photography came to India in the nineteenth century during the days of the British Raj, and ever since then Westerners with cameras have been trying to penetrate its mysteries.

A true image of India would have to encompass all the tragic beauty and cruelty of that vast, colorful land, but that is not easily captured.

Something of it is hinted at in the impassioned films of Satyajit Ray and in the beautiful still color photographs of Raghubir Singh, but only as fragments, shouts and imprecations, ephemeral transcriptions of a waking dream.

Baltimore photographer Giraud Foster's images of India, on view at the Creative Alliance through July 31, are clearly those of an outsider, but one who has fallen under the subcontinent's magical spell, which emanates from this exhibition like a pungent floral bouquet.

Foster's color pictures of circus performers, slum dwellers, religious devotees, tradesmen and market women, holy men and beggars barely scratch the surface of the pageantry of India's street life, but that is itself an achievement. He shows us enough to sense the presence of a profound moral reality underlying the passing parade of life, an intuition of a level of experience whose true dimensions we can only guess at.

For most Westerners, India has meant picture-postcard views of the Taj Mahal and sepia-toned images of turbaned maharajahs seated amid luxuriant oriental carpets. Foster acknowledges that pictorial tradition, both in his own work and in the collection of 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of India he has assembled as a companion to this show (the exhibition also contains a sampling of Foster's black-and-white images of Divali, the annual Indian festival of lights).

But in his best pictures, the photographer is clearly trying to transcend the genre's limitations, and when he succeeds, as in the marvelous picture of children playing hide-and-seek on a squalid city street, or of crowds of men and women bathing and washing clothes at the river's edge, the results are both beautiful and true.

The gallery is at 3134 Eastern Ave. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 410-276-1651 or visit www.creativealliance.org.

For more arts events, see Page 32.

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