Kiss of Sepia



It turns out that couturier JJ Valaya has had a mistress for the last 20 years. The secretive affair that went through its share of ups and downs was first discovered by his wife. The noble lady chose to look away,while some of Valaya’s indulgent friends actually egged him on. Decoded Paradox,Valaya’s upcoming debut photography exhibition in Delhi and Mumbai is a result of that hot-lukewarm-hot relationship the designer has had with his camera. At 43,JJ,as he is popularly known in the fashion industry,is ready to announce it in black and white.

He is a trifle worried that a piece on his photographs may mistake these as works in fashion. “This has nothing to do with fashion,” he corrects tentatively. True signs of a first-timer,right? No,yes,no,yes,he dimples. A cautious interviewee,who is never going to give any journalist a scoop ever,JJ gives himself away through his work. As a fashion designer on photo shoots,he was always hands-on with image direction. In fact,he would want to be the ghost creative director,barely able to keep his hands off the camera. Soon he started photographing his own campaigns.

The collection of black-and-white and “kiss of sepia” photographs taken in Delhi are all of Delhi. It is the city which provokes intimacy and familiarity in him and he has,in his own words,“caught Delhi’s past and present at the same time”.

Inspired by historical Delhi,he has used “juxtaposition and contradiction” as his visual language. “The almost frozen form of fictitious,historical personages from a nostalgia-evoking past,surrounded by a very alive and vivid present…” he writes in the introduction of a coffee table book of these photographs that will be launched on the opening day of the exhibition in Delhi. If his words strike you as jargon,they are. Thankfully,the entire introduction is not as tedious. A rather prosaic foreword,written by noted art restorer Aman Nath,adds insight. It digs into nuances,but it will take concentrated effort to decode its language. Quite a paradox that.

An attempt to read the few photographs that JJ says he is “free to share before the opening” may leave the spectator thoughtful. Insufficient in number for a review,they do reflect an unmissable eye for detail and an almost 3D texture created through the way the photographer has chosen his imagery and frozen the frames. At the same time,images of Delhi old,Delhi then and Delhi now are nothing new in the consciousness of any photography enthusiast. They have been done before and rather notably. It is too early to conclude that this series will open a new road to the way Dilli was or is.

The exhibition will be held from February 16 to 18 at The Foyer,One Style Mile,Mehrauli.