Photographer Sebastian Cortés’s new exhibition “Sidhpur – Time Present Time Past” at Tasveer is a stunning look inside Sidhpur, a Bohra Islamic community within Gujarat, India. Cortés, who had chanced upon the town while on assignment for a magazine, focuses his lens on the interiors, exteriors and inhabitants of a city hovering between past and present and marked by a unique architectural style and the culture of its elusive religious community.
The works in Cortés’s exhibition mark his second series that explores a specific location in India. (The first was “Pondicherry.”). In “Sidphur” he finds an intensity in color and detail that is unique to this legendary town, which has experienced periods of flourishment and downfall throughout history. In its architecture, Sidhpur shows the aesthetic influence of its luxurious past. But the artist also found that its residents, while interacting with its extravagant spaces, were often disconnected from its history.
“The inhabitants...seem to have a rather distant relationship with the homes and the content,” he recalls. “Efforts to share glimpses of their rich heritage were limited.” Exterior shots of the town, such as Street of Islampura (2012), show a richly ornamental style in Sidhpur’s historical architecture that retains echoes of its past glory. But once the viewer is allowed behind closed doors, the simple, daily life of the inhabitants of Sidhpur comes to the forefront, in which they use these previously treasured spaces in realistically utilitarian ways.
The artist, born in the United States, has lived in India since 2004, and supplements his art practice with travels around the world as an editorial photographer for travel, leisure, and fashion publications. His fine art work is strongly influenced by the history of American photography, finding fraternity with predecessors including Walker Evans and William Eggleston, and sharing their preference for using photography as a means to elevate the texture and feeling of the everyday.
As is the case with “Sidhpur,” an interest in architecture and the particularities of how place influences behavior has pervaded his past projects: “Luoghi Poetici (Poetic Places)” was made up of 21 portraits of major Italian poets in their spaces of work; “Infinite” took photographs of a post-hurricane ocean from tall residential buildings in Miami; “Venetian Nocturne” compared Venice to the lost city of Atlantis. Capable of imbuing his images with a palpable sense of history and a fascinating depth, Cortés pulls back the curtain on varying ways of life, and the perceptual experience of alternative environs.