Manifest XIV (2023)
Manifest XIV (2023)

Tenzing dakpa's 'Weather Report' exhibition: A journey through accidental art and environmental concerns

Photographer Tenzing Dakpa’s new show is a manifestation of unprecedented observations and events that made nature the focal point of his practice

If meaningful accidents had a poster boy in contemporary Indian art, photographer Tenzing Dakpa would be a strong contender. The 15 works, displayed in his ongoing exhibition—Weather Report—at Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery, are outcomes of such seemingly innocuous events.

Take the Manifest series, for instance. It started taking shape when the Goa-based artist would make frequent nocturnal forays into forests in the area to record sounds for another project he was working on at the time. During one such visit to Assonora, he stumbled upon the sound of crackling fire.

“Assonora is very close to a mining belt, and I came across this person who was going around lighting fires. It was a controlled situation, and I ended up spending an entire evening just looking at him doing his thing,” recalls Dakpa. He documented the episode in Manifest I, which shows a blazing trail of grassland.

Equally incidental was the process, and the time of the day when he clicked the images. Unlike most photographers, who wait for the perfect natural light to get the optimum balance of exposure and contrast, Dakpa ventured out in the dark, and used the perennially mocked flash to put a literal spotlight on things that get ignored in daylight.

He explains, “Initially, the flash drew my attention to all the dead foliage in the forests. It gave them a certain kind of glow. Eventually, shooting at night seemed to generate images that do not reveal everything, yet are suggestive in a lot of ways.”

Tenzing Dakpa
Tenzing Dakpa

Hailing from Sikkim, the 39-year-old artist has a BFA degree from Delhi’s College of Art, which was followed by a Masters in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design. His return from the US became a turning point in his career. As he navigated Delhi’s chaotic life from a barsati, struggling to belong amid rampant racism against Northeasterners, he began documenting his toxic environment. When life became too tough to handle in the capital, he shifted to balmy Goa. The documentation continued, only the nature of the environment changed. The tempo of high-paced city life was replaced by green forests, and its plunderers.

Manifest is more than a collection of photos.

A close observation reveals that the paper on which each image is printed is crumpled, with prominent creases. These render the photographed terrain an uneven texture. “Again, it is something I just stumbled upon—crushing the paper in my fist and then opening it to see if the design reflects a landscape similar to the actual area. The idea was to add a level of abstraction and create a relic out of it; or to imply the act of discarding,” explains the artist, who is also showcasing another three-work series that lends the exhibition its name. All works are priced between Rs 1,20,000 and Rs 3,00,000.

Retracing the progression of Dakpa’s career shows that environmental concerns became the focal point of his practice; also accidentally. He continued clicking pictures daily in Goa, like he did in Delhi, and simply followed the vocabulary of his images of the coastal state.

“My work is a result of active photography every day. Nature became my area of interest through observation of my immediate environment.

I cannot go out to click photographs with a preconceived notion because then, the pictures tend to repeat themselves without reveal much. Simply going out and taking photographs, and in the process identifying something new and building on that is better,” he says, adding, “The reason I decided to show these works is also because ecology is a very active conversation in Goa at the moment, at least in the last three years, because of all the deforestation caused due to work on new railway lines.

There’s a lot of activism and discourse around the environment. Being in the middle of that narrative, it was something I could not unsee as an artist.” Through the lens darkly? No, there is the unmissable shade of green that colours the work with the perception of a natural-born nature chronicler.

The New Indian Express