Interview with Nandita Raman (Daylight/CDS Photo Awards)

Interview with Nandita Raman
Winner and Juror’s Pick (Julie Saul), 2010 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize

Conducted by students at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University—Jesse Forman (Bellmore, New York) and Danzhou Doujie (Tibet).


We read that the inspiration for the theme of your series, Cinema Play House, came from the fact that your mother used to own a movie theater. Can you talk about the connection you have to the cinema and why it means so much to you?

My inspiration came from the fact that I had spent interesting times of my childhood in a cinema hall where I had access to spaces which are usually out of reach, as an audience. I got to witness the cinema backstage. At that age it was a thrilling experience.

But of course my childhood association with movie theaters was a point of entry—I discovered these spaces in a very different way when I started photographing in them. There is a certain amount of fiction I associate with these spaces. The way different objects and parts of the cinema hall arrange themselves can be read like occurrences in themselves. The interaction of the people who worked in these spaces rendered a certain character to the place, perhaps telling of the people. I am drawn to these possibilities.

Given your personal connection with movie theaters, how do you feel to see cinemas in such disrepair? What are your thoughts about the movie industry in India, given that movies made in India touch the lives of over 3.6 billion people? How do you feel about the fact that newer, smaller cinemas are being built to cater to the middle class, and what happens to the lower class citizens who don’t fit in this category?

The way the cinema halls were designed and run until twenty years ago resonated with the social scenarios of that time in India. The work culture was different. Now, India has a different standing economically. It is becoming increasingly a consumer-based society with greater affordability and bigger aspirations. The state of the older cinema halls is, to me, a state of passing. I would love to see them restored and reintroduced, and at the same time I am curious to see what the new multiplexes will look like fifty years from now. I do feel concerned that the multiplexes sell cinema experience at a very steep price which forces exclusions based on economy. The mainstream films find their way into the more affordable, no frills theaters, but independent parallel cinema remains constrained to the elite spaces, barring a few exceptions.

In your photographs that did not focus on inanimate objects, such as the last image in the Cinema Play House series of the ticket window and the people in the background, how many exposures would you typically make until you found the moment you were looking for?

It really varies and works instinctively for me. For the box office window I probably shot 3 frames.

Was your work designed to entertain people or did you want to educate others as well? In other words, was it just coincidence that you photographed an old projector because it looked interesting and made a good photo or did you want to show people how movie theaters used to run?

It wasn’t my intention to explain the running of the cinema or educate an audience. It is an exploration of these spaces and the possibilities of narratives they contain.

We noticed that in most of your photographs, you choose not to depict people. Can you talk about your decision to only include, with one exception, inanimate objects in your work?

I think a portrait of a person doesn’t necessarily require his or her physical presence within the frame. The way an individual interacts with a space and arranges it, tells of the person. In the context of the theater staff, I felt their physical portraits were appropriating them to ethnographic and social notions. For me, they are individuals with unique psyche which is affected by the sociological context but not limited by it.

Read more about Nandita Raman’s work

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