Ratik Asokan

  • Rahul Jain, Machines, 2016, DCP, color, sound, 75 minutes.
    film August 26, 2021

    Modern Times

    WHEN THE FIRST PANDEMIC WAVE swept through India last year, television stations briefly turned their attention from the elite’s fever dreams of jingoism and celebrity to the nightmarish condition of the working poor. It wasn’t so much the virus as the government response. Days after Prime Minster Narendra Modi declared a lockdown on March 24, there was a vast exodus of workers, who fled cities for their villages, largely on foot. More than 130 million lost their jobs overnight; wages had been so low and protections so scarce that they lacked even a few days’ savings. “The images of this restive

  • Randeep Maddoke, Landless, 2021, DCP, color, sound, 68 minutes.
    film April 23, 2021

    Against the Grain

    MIST BLANKETS LUSH YELLOW FIELDS. Mud paths and canals snake between neatly ordered plots. The juddering of tractor engines is drowned out by the plaintive horn of a freight train, which slowly crosses the landscape. The wind picks up and is answered by the murmur of wheat stalks. An aerial shot shows a grid of closely planted holdings, stretching to the horizon.

    This opening sequence evokes a familiarly bucolic image of Punjab, described in developmentspeak as “India’s breadbasket.” There will be other glimpses of the state’s agrarian prosperity: close-ups of dew on paddy stalks; long takes of

  • Keith Smith, Untitled, 7:12 PM, 24 Dec 71, 1971, mixed media on paper, 4 x 5".
    picks March 31, 2017

    Keith Smith

    Postcards don’t usually say much: On the front, there may be a picture from the museum or country your friend is visiting; on the back, a few lines that convey some small affection. This delicacy is what makes postcards special. They carry feeling but not the freight of too much personality—they delight and ask for nothing in return. Or at least that’s what I felt about Keith Smith’s postcards, which the artisan bookmaker has been sending to friends for five decades now, a number of which have been brought together for this exhibition.

    The postcards sit well in the gallery precisely because they

  • Ming Smith, Sun Ra Space II, New York City, New York, 1978, gelatin silver print, 28 x 40".
    picks January 27, 2017

    Ming Smith

    A black photographer who began her career in the 1970s, Ming Smith was always driven by strong social commitments. And as the titles in her present retrospective suggest—Rememberin’ Billie (for Billie Holiday), New York, NY, ca. 1977, and Farewell to Alvin Ailey, New York, NY, ca. 1989—she was an elegist, commemorating a community whose existence this country tries to deny. Indeed, her sense of social erasure is so strong that it accrues a metaphysical significance. Carefully blurred, often foggy or dim, sometimes so overexposed they resemble Rorschach blots, Smith’s black-and-white prints embody

  • Susan Lipper, Untitled (Grapevine), 1992, gelatin silver print, 35 x 35".
    picks December 09, 2016

    Susan Lipper

    These photographs, shot between 1988 and 1992 in Grapevine Branch (a small community in West Virginia) were made collaboratively. Not wanting to rehearse the old narrative of “poor isolated rednecks,” Susan Lipper involved her subjects in the storytelling process, visualizing their personal myths. It’s surprising, then, that her work features those familiar tokens—guns, Klan hoods, bibles, booze—that decorate the liberal’s imaginary tableaux of the rural South. How did these props end up there? And, more to the point, what is it that is so unsettling about the results?

    For a start, we might

  • Andrea Grützner, Untitled 5, 2014, pigment print, 59 x 39 1/2''.
    picks November 18, 2016

    Andrea Grützner

    “The house protects the dreamer,” Gaston Bachelard wrote. “The house allows one to dream in peace.” Andrea Grützner is drawn to visual liminality: to the moment, or rather the angle, at which physical reality threatens to dissolve into aesthetic abstraction. Though these photographs are all shot in the same East German village guesthouse, it’s often hard to tell just what the artist is looking at. Her carefully geometric shots—devoid of any messy human traces—are closer in spirit to László Moholy-Nagy’s abstract paintings than the feature spreads of Dwell magazine.

    Their effect is initially

  • Tomas van Houtryve, Suspect Behavior, 2014, gelatin silver print on Baryta paper, 40 x 60''.
    picks October 21, 2016

    Tomas van Houtryve

    Four months ago, the Obama administration released its first public report on drone-related civilian causalities. A total of 116 noncombatants were killed by US drone strikes over the past eight years. Empirically speaking, far more civilians, plus armed forces, die in a single year of on-the-ground combat. But the murder of those 116 people haunt us: Their deaths are a moral disgrace, and the Belgian photographer Tomas van Houtryve tells us why.

    Since 2013, van Houtryve has been traveling across America with his camera attached to a small drone. The places he visits—beaches, malls, gated

  • Alex Webb, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985, digital C-print, 25 x 34''.
    picks September 30, 2016

    Alex Webb

    Alex Webb has been working in Mexico for three decades now. His is the lonely traveler’s aria that’s been diffused into a symphony of saturnine colors—colors found in the small-town streets of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Tijuana, Cuernavaca—in a Mexico that’s not Mexico City, but also not rural, let alone pastoral.

    The dramatic texture of these shots is omnivorous, ruthless. They are formally controlled but emotionally unmoored, extraordinarily dramatic but decidedly indecisive, tightly framed but pointing elsewhere. Webb has expressed his desire to capture how, in his words, “multiple states, multiple

  • Kohei Yoshiyuki, Untitled, 1971, gelatin silver print, 9 x 13''. From “The Park” series, 1971–79.
    picks August 19, 2016

    “The Limits of Control”

    Landscapes can be deceitful. The city park you thought was a haven of innocent wonders is, at night, swarming with sexual activity. Parking lots, which Joni Mitchell considered the opposite of paradise, are sometimes used for religious ceremonies. And a refurbished kitchen—domestic landscape—that so impresses a dinner guest might actually feel like a prison cell to its owner. So how can we know what a landscape means to its inhabitants? Susan Sontag noted that understanding “starts from not accepting the world as it looks.” Taking these words to heart, Finnish curator Ilari Laamanen has assembled

  • Sasha Rudensky, Karaoke Europa, 2013, archival pigment print, 20 x 29''.
    picks July 01, 2016

    Sasha Rudensky

    Were these photographs staged? Not really. So they were naturally captured? Well, not quite. The trouble, you see, is that Sasha Rudensky’s subjects themselves can’t tell illusion from reality. Children of post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia, they grew up with nothing to believe in, inhabiting an ideological void. Now, in a rush to cultivate identity and transcendence, they aridly ape American-style capitalism—its money, spectacle, sex, and clothes. In a profound sense, they are always playacting. The photographer sometimes orchestrates the setting, but she needn’t ask them to pose.

    Indeed, Rudensky—who

  • Kenneth Josephson, Chicago, 1960, vintage gelatin silver print, 6 x 9''.
    picks April 29, 2016

    Kenneth Josephson

    “Life is not a dream / Beware! Beware! Beware!” So wrote Federico García Lorca after a night of fitful walking through Manhattan. But life is a dream, especially for Chicago-based photographer Kenneth Josephson, and a lovely one at that.

    Multiple exposures, collages, time lapses, and doctored colors: Since he began working in the late 1950s–early ’60s, Josephson has used just about every available technique to question our accepted notions of reality. Which is to say that in his best work—much of which is on display at this greatest hits–style exhibition—formal experiments are really metaphysical

  • Bhupendra Karia, Old Bombay Dwellings, 1970, gelatin silver print, 14 x 20''.
    picks March 04, 2016

    Bhupendra Karia

    In the early 1970s, Indian photographer Bhupendra Karia set out to travel across his home country and depict its surging population rate. The grimly beautiful photographs on display here, all shot in Mumbai, were culled from the resulting project, “Population Crisis.” The decision to focus on one city makes sense, as Mumbai is not just India’s most populated city, it is India’s most visibly populated city. “Bombay is a crowd,” wrote V. S. Naipaul.

    As a student at the Tokyo University of Fine Art, Karia studied wood-block printmaking, and this method of making images informed his photographic