Two cultures meet at the Lightroom Gallery

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by Alyssa Greenberg

The opening of the Lightroom Gallery’s Two Cultures exhibition, featuring the work of the photo gallery members Ranjoo Prasad and Tony Rocco, saw a steady turnout, with audience members drawn by the magnetic qualities of both photographers’ work. Although rooted in two different parts of the globe, Prasad and Rocco’s photographs were given a sense of unity by their highly composed styles and close attention to the inner lives of their subjects. Both artists’ work also dealt in some way with distance, as evidenced by their respective biographies. But the similarity ends there.

Ranjoo Prasad, People on Roof, at the Light Room

The sense of distance evoked by Prasad’s work comes from the Philadelphia-based artist’s outsider approach in photographing people in India.

Prasad’s photographs are set in her birthplace and her parents’ ancestral villages, located in East Champaran, a remote district in the rural Bitar State of India. In her biography, Prasad speaks of the difficulties she encountered as a woman and as an outsider approaching her subjects, which added no small degree of difficulty to her work. The insularity of these communities added a layer of tension that is evident under the surface of many of the photographs. Her work, although warm and intimate, in many cases also gives the very real impression of a considerable cultural and gender gap between Prasad and her subjects. Her magnificent attention to detail and ability to capture hints of her subjects’ inner lives and emotions belies a certain struggle to connect and bridge the gulf; her subjects’ eyes frequently appear guarded, and the sense of insularity is magnified by the elegant composition. Prasad’s candid discussion of the difficulties of this project makes the heartfelt appreciation of her culture and her home even more powerful.

Tony Rocco, Woman Sweeping

Rocco’s work shows distance in the disconnect between his subjects and the elements of their surroundings. His series of photographs was taken in his mother’s ancestral home of La Florida, Colombia. The works are, in his words, “an homage to the spirit and tradition of the people.” The content of these photographs deals with the rapid pace of modernity and its effects on the people of La Florida, many of whom seek to leave behind tradition in favor of more appealing new technologies.

Gallery shot at the opening of Two Cultures at the Lightroom.

Rocco, in his biography, writes that he spent a great deal of time teaching the children of La Florida photography so that they could document their farming traditions for themselves and, hopefully, for future generations. Some of the most striking of Rocco’s photographs feature the juxtaposition between traditional life and the rapid pace of urbanization. Here, the distance that is present in Rocco’s work is expressed in the stark contrast between children and their surroundings; two different worlds are seen in uneasy, implausible co-existence. The sheer scale of the changes visible in Rocco’s work brings into question the ability of the people of La Florida to adapt to the pressures of urbanization. Rocco, having invested so much of his time and talent infinding ways to help its people successfully make the transition while preserving their heritage, takes an optimistic view of this ability.

This exhibition is a testament to skilled, thoughtful curating; the two photographers’ work, shown side by side, complement the intense personal meaning inherent in each body of work.  The show is up to Dec. 2.

–Alyssa Greenberg is a writer living in Philadelphia.

Tags

lightroom gallery, ranjoo prasad, tony rocco, two cultures

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