Home on a wall: The one-dimensional abodes of India's street dwellers

Home on a wall: The one-dimensional abodes of India's street dwellers

French photographer Anne Manglier introduces India to the street homes it has become blind to, and the concept of literally living your life in public
Anne Maniglier
"Public Housing" by Anne Maniglier, Courtesy Matthieu Foss Gallery, Mumbai.
"One-dimensional homes" are what Anne Maniglier, the photographer behind the ironically titled Public Housing show, calls the street-side living spaces in urban India.

"I was very interested in the arrangement of these one-dimensional homes. You can find the kitchen, the bathroom, the household idols all lined up. What was interesting was that I returned three times from 2008 to 2010 to take photographs, and every time I came back the homes had changed," says the French photographer in a telephone interview. 

Anne ManiglierThe wall she photographed, and which her exhibition is based on, is located in Ahmedabad, and is part of the Institute of Management campus. Maniglier came across it when she was in the city doing a workshop at the National Institute of Design. "One of the things I noticed was the very Indian interiors. There was the fire burning, Indian symbols, the household Gods, the steel dishes. It was all very intimate, and this is what I wanted to capture." 

It was a conscious decision of Maniglier to leave the residents out of the photographs. "Sometimes you can feel more close to human beings without putting them in the frame," she explains. Looking at her photographs, you can see what she means. The make-shift clothes-lines draped with work uniforms and the other personal belongings are all traces of unique people, each with their own journeys, concerns and interests.

The result is also a visual calm, in which the image is not busied by too much activity -- a meaningful gesture in a city in which over-crowded streets never allow for quiet inspection and observation. The absence of individuals also gives the photos a universal quality about them, as many of them look like they could have been shot in Brooklyn or depressed neighborhoods in Rio, or Mumbai.

Anne ManiglierDespite this universal quality, the exhibition will be especially relevant to an urban Indian audience, which passes similar homes every day and no longer notices the traces of humanity and personal artifacts that are hanging all over the streets in a very public display of intimate life. It is Maniglier's ability to help us notice these details in an otherwise visually over-whelming city that makes her work so precious.

Gallery owner Matthieu Foss agrees that this is one of the strengths of the show. "She brings things that people see every day but no longer notice. Anne has captured the beauty of the homes in the composition of the still-life, but also reflects the reality of life. What emerges is a dual way of seeing the show that is both socially and aesthetically aware." 

In its social aspect, Maniglier's photographs manage to be realistic without being pessimistic. "At first, when I came to shoot the pictures the residents were a bit hostile because "Slumdog Millionaire" had just come out and they thought I was interested in photographing poverty. For me, its not about that. I find it amazing how people survive living in these areas. They work, they have ordinary lives, despite living in a one-dimensional home."

"Public Housing" opens on August 3, 7 p.m.-10:30 p.m. at the Matthieu Foss Gallery, Hansraj Damodar Trust Building, Goa Street, Ballard Estate; tel +91 (0) 22 67477261/62; www.matthieufossgallery.com

Amana is a freelance feature writer based in Mumbai.
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