Critics’ Picks

Dileep Prakash, Untitled, 2008, pigment print, 12 x 15”.

Dileep Prakash, Untitled, 2008, pigment print, 12 x 15”.

New Delhi

Dileep Prakash

A-4 Green Avenue Street Off Green Avenue, Church/Mall Road, Vasant Kunj
February 3–March 17, 2018

The otherworldliness of Dileep Prakash’s black-and-white photographs of moonlit forests and bungalows is intensified by the way the works are generously spaced throughout this wide-walled gallery. In “Sleeping in the Forest,” his third exhibition in this venue, Prakash presents a series featuring British-era rest houses and the Himalayan jungles in which they were built. The prints (all Untitled, 2007–2016) loom large, their size befitting the architectural and arboreal solidity on display.

These bungalows made an impression on Prakash when he stayed in them as a child, and he has been photographing them for years, imbuing his images with a melancholic texture. Medium-long shots of atmospheric landscapes frame a high-contrast theater, the use of long exposure causing firefly-like light streaks of various shapes. The chiaroscuro of white facades and dark foliage is leavened by a subtler choreography of light: the bulb left on, the door ajar, the lichen on tree bark, a slice of sky.

Shooting under the moonlight imparts an obvious intrigue to pictures; they are rescued from banality by the way in which the exposure suggests a reflective period of anticipation. It is in this longueur that Prakash’s history with the terrain comes into play, phantomlike. A country path vanishes into a bend; deciduous trees slant sharply on slopes; and certain angles at which the houses are photographed suggest a haunting. Michael Kenna’s experiments with nocturnal photography and remote landscapes come to mind. So does O. Winston Link’s level of detail, with which Prakash might be familiar, having previously created a series on the extinction of India’s steam locomotives.

Forests are a trope in the South Asian aesthetic canon—in epics such as the Ramayana and in Mughal miniature paintings, for example. In Prakash’s work, they become a site of tension between self-knowledge and the unknowable nature of the world.