Updated: Jul 4
by Georgina Maddox
Hasnain Soomar’s photographic imagery conveys a sense of peace and purpose
A black-and-white photograph captures a boy crying furiously while hiding behind an intricate ornamental stone screen, commonly known in Urdu as a Jaali. It is an image filled with lament and can be read as disturbing, yet the illuminating shaft of warm sunlight that falls upon the boy's retracted form presents the viewer with a sense of hope—that he will transition from the sadness. The duality of this imagery strikes one as a powerful metaphor for life’s situation.
This image is part of a selection of photographs under the title Meeting Point presented by photographer Hasnain Soomar at his ongoing exhibition at Dhoomimal Art Gallery, New Delhi. The selection of imagery by Uday Jain conveys the multiplicity of faith and open-ended nature of spirituality, the quality of life that pervades our very existence.
This body of work was shot over the period of last six months, especially during the Pandemic Lockdown, on his Digital SLR and even his phone camera. A few had been shot earlier. Soomar strongly believes that it is not the camera but the intent behind it that defines a good photograph. His main concern in this body of work is to capture the transition from darkness to light and from despair to hope. He has anchored his visual language around religious structures like mosques, temples and ghats, yet the intention is not so much as to speak of religion, rather it is to capture that moment of spirituality.
“We are all one is the message I see around me. Differences of practices, in calling out to our higher power, and different rituals are different, but our essence is singular. The diversity is an illusion, creating separation, in coming back to our true essence we only meet with love,” says Soomar, who hopes to capture the meeting point of love, hope and joy.
An entire section is dedicated to the Jaali (mostly shot at Salim Chisti’s Dargah). In many of the works the Jaali filters the light as a chimera of emotions that are part of our diurnal existence. One image that stands out is of the shadow of a Jaali as transfers its intricate pattern on to a tree, changing the geometric nature of the form of the window into one that is biomorphic, tree-like, almost sensuous, and it is this magical quality that changes the entire nature of the image.
“With this photography I created a series that gives my audience a sense of true peace,” says Hasnain who has studied art and photography at the Chelsea College of Art in London. He has worked as a still photographer on Bollywood films with Ramgopal Verma, Karan Johar, Kaizad Gustad photographing Bollywood’s actors, while in his free time he works with NGO’s and underprivileged children. He has taken time off to work specifically on his exhibition drawing inspiration from established photographers like Raghu Rai and Pablo Bartholomew along with international names like Henri Cartier Bresson.
Next, Soomar captures one’s attention with the image of a woman dressed in white with her head covered, shot against a ghat with a shikara-like boat floating on the water and a dark island in the backdrop. One may assume that it is perhaps shot in Kashmir but it is in fact an image of the Maheshwar ghat on the banks of the Narmada shot in MP. This image speaks of the permeable nature that is part of culture and religion, where one place can capture the magic of another and be universal.
In another work we are presented with an image of the Anandmai Ashram where Nandi, the bull, is carved in stone, sitting outside the inner sanctum of a Shiva shrine as a priest performs his rituals. What is remarkable about this image, besides the play of light and dark and the patterned flooring, is that it brings to us the heightened sense of anticipation and eagerness of ‘waiting’ for the divine, one that senses coming forth from the still and heroic Nandi-bull. Once again Soomar has managed to transfer more than the obvious to his imagery and bring to it a depth and balance.
One may end the black-and-white section with the rather predictable yet undoubtedly joyous image of two boys jumping into a water tank. The image has been presented by several photographers in different moods and perspectives, perhaps because it captures that moment of freedom and joy that is experienced by every young boy who can swim, irrespective of his class, caste or social standing. It is a celebration of burgeoning manhood and every photographer has paid tribute to that moment of transition.
Soomar has presented just three colour images where we see a glimpse of a golden, rippling reflection of a mosque in the rainwater, while in another a man performs his wudu – the washing of hands, feet and face before Namaz (prayer). The photographer reminds us that cleansing is an important aspect of spirituality irrespective of religion or faith and one may leave cleansed after communicating with the divine.
(The exhibition which opened on 10 December 2021 and was initially till 10 February 2022, was extended and is now on till the mid-July 2022 Exhibitions & Fairs — Dhoomimal Gallery)
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Hasnain Soomar)
Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.