Thursday, 22 April 2010

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I run a monthly reading group where I work and at the last meeting we discussed our latest book - The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

The book was greeted with mixed reviews. Myself and another member loved the book whilst other members found it hard to get into and did not really enjoy the book at all.One thing we did all agree on was Adiga's ability to describe India, the Caste system and the division of rich and poor in such a vivid way that we were able to gain some understanding of the system within which Balram (the White Tiger) lived and worked within. The sewage filled streets in parts of Dehli and the servants who appeared to have their own pecking order, at which Balram was at the bottom for most of the time, to name just a couple of examples.

The book follows the life of 'The White Tiger'. A man who worked his way up from the 'lowly' servant status to that of a self claimed 'social entrepreneur'. The Premier of China is due to visit India and Balram decides to write emails over 7 nights to the Premier describing India in his eyes and, in particular, his own experiences and life to date. He does not paint a pretty picture.

From the offset we know that Balram has committed a crime, that of murder, yet we only find out how this was committed towards the end of his letters. Balram illustrates a palpable hatred towards the system in India which has created such poverty and distinction between the rich and the poor. The masters and servants. He writes in such a way that brings humour to often traumatic circumstances. However, the hatred he holds towards the system and its' masters is often meted out and clear for all too see.

Balram was brought up in 'The Darkness', another word for the villages and outsider, poor areas. He rises to become a driver for a wealthy coal merchant, although is at pains to tell us a driver is not just a driver but also performs whatever duties a servant would need to perform. Eventually, however, it is his deepest wish to go to Delhi and drive for his master that turns into his undoing.

Whilst the book raised mixed reviews from the group, it did have a very bittersweet feel to it. Balram conjures up a myriad of feelings in us ranging from sympathy, anger, humour and hate. As a character it is hard to know whether to hate him, like him, feel sorry for him or even begin to understand him. The things he does and the conclusions he comes to could be as a result of his harsh experiences and one feels sympathy for these, however, not for the actions he takes as a consequence.
Overall, I feel Adiga has written a book that provides us with a wonderfully vivid and stark image of India and its' underbelly. So much so, you can almost smell the open sewers and envisage the servants paan stained teeth!

He has also created a character who is so deep and complex that by the end of the book I am still unsure as to what to make of him!Balram, is indeed an illusive White Tiger both in the telling of his story and in our understanding and grasp of him.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Gregory Crewdson : A photographer on a mammoth scale.

Plate 19

I stumbled upon Crewdson just by chance, in fact it was probably looking for photography books on Amazon! The images I saw just drew me in and I just had to get one of his books to see more.

Crewdson may not be viewed as a photographer in the traditional sense and not be to everyone's taste but that's the beauty of photography, it moves around, changes and evolves and, as I have read many times now, does not necessarily mean one lone person travelling the country and globe to capture the shot. I enjoy many different styles of photography and Crewdson's is one of my far!

Crewdson is different in that he uses the skills of an elaborate production team. His work is on a large scale, setting up scenes in, more often than not, small town America. Scenes that are dreamlike, unusual and that make the usual seem out of place.

Take the 'Twilight' photography series. This was the first book I bought by Crewdson and it will not be the last. The book includes 40 untitled photographs (plates) which are all seemingly shot at 'Twilight' which he says is an evocative time for the 'movement of transition between before and after' which is what the shots are about ( see more in The Guardian Article here ). The photographs all include people in everyday situations but with that added extra or a missing component.
Plate 18

I find them very striking in that all the people in them appear dislocated from their current surroundings with almost blank features and stiff, motionless bodies they appear, to me, like the walking dead. Probably not a great comparison but that is what strikes me as I gaze through the photographs.

On the more subtle ones (if subtle is a word to be used here!), a first quick glance and you would almost not notice anything out of place. But something starts to make you feel uneasy, it's un-nerving and you find you have to look for longer, taking in all the surreal dreamlike and, often, haunting visions. You just have to question what is going on here? What came before and is coming after so, in effect, the purpose of showing the transition of before and after has, for me, been achieved.
Plate 6

One of the most striking images for me is Plate 6, that of a woman dressed in her nightie and underwear, kneeling in her kitchen/dining room on a bed of flowers. Dirt covers her legs, and her expression is vacant, her neck is covered with sweat. Amazing streams of light come in through the windows shining into the room. The kitchen itself seems to have been transformed into some kind of greenhouse, it looks hot, plants and flowers are growing in abundance yet there is a woman sat in the middle of frame, in the pile of flowers. I keep looking at this and wonder, was she just gardening and has stopped in mid-thought!? Is she angry and has been beating it out of the flowers? Why the heck are there a load of flowers in the kitchen/dining room?? What is the metaphorical meaning if any?

Plate 19 though is my favourite from the whole series (see above). This is also used as the cover for the book and with good reason. A woman lies face up on a floor, of what seems to be water, in the living room. She is motionless, yet, I find something quite alive about her. The image is quite haunting, as with all the photographs here, and quite disturbing too. But, for me, the beauty and depth shines through. The reflections are wonderful and, once again, the lighting is just so perfect.

That's what I love about this photography, the ability to make me look at it for ages and contemplate what has happened? What is happening? and what is about to happen? A small part of me, maybe the working class, northern 'neigh lass what d'yer want to look at stuff like that fer'
wants to fight against it and questions whether it is a little pretentious, but that is a very small, minuscule part of me and one which, for many years in the quest of my creativity, I have had to strongly fight against (another blog on that I think beckons).

Plate 7 Plate 27

But for now I can just sit back and enjoy, reflect and contemplate the photographs of Crewdson and look deeper into the photographs to find my own meaning of such images. I shall be looking for more work from Crewdson and I think 'Beneath the Roses' will be my next purchase!

Till next time!