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The nuances of conceptual photography defy mediums

Diwan Manna uses photography to reflect on the human condition, borrowing aesthetic styles from different mediums of art, literature, painting, and theatre, writes Munish Dhiman.

Munish Dhiman  2nd Mar 2013

Diwan Manna at his Chandigarh residence | Photo: Deepak Chauhan

is visualisation, perception and attitude towards photography are much more than that of a photographer. Hailing from Bareta, a non-descript and economically backward village of Punjab, Diwan Manna has carved a niche for himself in the world of art.

Photography had never been on the charts for Manna, though he was inclined to painting and since childhood. How did photography happen to him, then? Manna reminisces, "I borrowed a camera (Model 110 in the late 70s, then a rage) from a friend before leaving for a college trip to Nepal. During the trip, my teacher, Viren Tanwar, appreciated my photographs and advised me to pursue a career in photography. The first thing I did on returning was to own a camera and start clicking."

Manna, who was trained as a graphic artist and painter, nurtured a passion for literature, cinema, painting, and theatre. All his interests contributed towards the making of his photographic images. Today, Manna, best known for his conceptual photographs, blends photography, painting, acting, body art et al to create an array of striking images. He has till date numerous showings in the country and abroad, with exhibition titled Violence, Shores of the Unknown, After the Turmoil, Alienation, Wheel of Time, Museums, Folk Performers, Jhatpat Studio, to name a few. Many of his photographs are plain posers but entail layered concepts and themes. Being a conceptual photographer, Manna usually embarks on an in-depth study of his theme subject, combining research and immaculate planning. His theme never overrules the aesthetics of a subject that he focuses on.

He does not take to merely presenting awe-inspiring images of human destruction, kindness, audacity, or elegance, but employs in rich measures, the source of sensibility, tenderness, and fortitude as his vehicles of expression. He says, "I have an abiding faith in human existence and, to be always positive in life remains my greatest strength. I never get tired of my work, for it is worship for me. My positive attitude towards work keeps me moving and fighting the odds coming my way" Photography has come a long way from rolls to the digital era. "With the fast-changing times, the role of photographers and photo artists has metamorphosed. Today, with high-tech cameras and software gadgets, even a 12-year-old child can take a photograph, but one need to be well conversant with the grammar of visuals. Visual literacy is essential to recognise the work of a photographer. Recording an image and the art of image- making are two different aspects that need to be taught to the aspirants who mean business", explains Manna.

Visual literacy is essential to recognise the work of a photographer. Recording an image and the art of image- making are two different aspects that need to be taught to the aspirants. — Diwan Manna

He further adds, "Photography is not just about clicking pictures with user-friendly cameras, which even novices can handle today with professional felicity. Capturing or imitating something already published or clicked is not creativity, to say the least. Photography is an art of translating your virgin ideas, concepts, and imagination and infusing life into them. The uncanny ability to translate visuals through your work makes you a good photographer. There comes a point when you become capable of critical and productive self reflection." Today, Manna's photographs occupy the walls of some of the most famous museums across the world, including the Museum of Asian Arts, Berlin, and Deusche Branson.

esides several honours, Manna is recipient of a plethora of national awards, including the NZCC (North Zone Cultural Centre) Award, the AIFACS (All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society) Award and an award from the Lalit Kala Akademi. "Awards have never brought any change in my working. I continue working with equal zeal even after an award is bestowed upon me. The stream of thoughts keeps flowing spontaneously, as ever", he says.

About the recognition he has received for his work, he says, "It feels good when people come and appreciate your work. No artist can deny that. Apart from these appreciations, the unforgettable moments for me had occurred in the UK when, during a workshop with youngsters, a little girl came to me and said in her innocent voice, 'Diwan, I wish you were my father!' This had been one of the greatest compliments I had ever received for my work." Manna has never wanted to work for an organisation and still remais to be a freelancer. He has travelled and showcased his work in various countries, including Europe, America, Indonesia, Singapore, France, Paris, Germany, England, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden.

After working on various projects, Manna now wants to work on a series based on political and religious themes, as these hold adequate sway over an individual's sensibility, besides being an interesting project for him to work on. He is presently the Chairman of Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi.


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