Cochin Colors

  • Artist:

    Bob Duncan

  • Location:

    Kashi Art Gallery, Burger Street, Fort Kochi

  • Date:

    05 February 2020 - 19 February 2020


Artist Statement :
I began photographing people wearing vivid colors while still living in Los Angeles. I had discovered an underground group of photographers there that met at random times each week - usually in obscure locations in the downtown area. The group was called TFTI, which stood for “Thanks for the Invite”. One of my favorite locations was a deserted street in the industrial section of the city.

At around 9:00 PM cars starting pulling up and soon what had been an abandoned street would become, as one kid put it, the center of the universe. Music would start playing and fire breathers would begin performing. Usually around fifty or more photographers would show up and most importantly, half a dozen people dressed in fantastical costumes and wearing outrageous makeup would also appear.

I brought along a piece of black velvet as a backdrop and there on the street had subjects stand in front of it. Most often they were dressed in horror makeup but there were also clown costumes, Day of the Dead makeup and of course Halloween was always a boon. Each week participants vied for attention as the most sought after subject of the night. Those with the showiest concoctions would find themselves posing in front of a large throng of photographers. I’d wait til the crowd was finished and then ask if they’d step in front of my black velvet, which I usually had clipped onto a hurricane fence. The years passed and I accumulated hundreds of images from these makeshift studio sessions.

By the time I moved to Rome I was well into the rhythm of these offbeat portraits and was hard pressed to find a new source where I could continue adding to this unique portfolio. I discovered a cabaret that staged theatrical productions and as luck would have it they allowed me backstage. I was taken into their fold and soon became a regular fixture photographing the performers before they went on stage. However, it was becoming more challenging to find new sources of persons wearing vivid colors or fabulous costumes.

When I moved to India I had stereotypical expectations of what I’d find on the streets. I had many of the riveting images from National Geographic magazines imprinted upon me; profound close-ups of holy men or people doused in holi color. However when I arrived in Fort Kochi such vivid color and spectacle was not to be found in daily life.

Here in Fort Kochi, I invariably passed the shops on Princes Street and couldn’t help but notice the conical shaped mounds of holi color powders featured in front of shops. One day it occurred to me to buy the colors and apply them myself to local faces.

It was pointed out that the annual holi color festival is more akin to Northern India than Kerala. I decided to break the rules and create my own version of it here. I was very fortunate to find subjects willing to be covered in the bright colors and so these portraits came to life.

Artist Bio :

Bob Duncan is from Los Angeles, California. He’s worn many hats in his lifetime but one identity that’s always stayed with him since childhood is being a photographer.

Over the years he’s made a living within a wide range of occupations. He was a narrator of documentary films in Los Angeles from the 90’s; before that a shop owner in New York and more recently he self published a short story and provided the voice over for the audible version of the book currently available on Audible.com.

His original intent in coming to India was to launch a new identity as a motivational speaker by promoting the positive message of his book, “You’re Freer Than You Think”. The short story relates the first two in a remarkable series of experiences Duncan underwent. Every experience came as a result of his having taken a “hell of a leap of faith” into the unknown. Over the years the “taking of risks” resulted in more miraculous occurrences until he finally felt compelled to write about them.

Upon his arrival in India in early 2019 circumstances changed and the promotion of his book became secondary to his visual love affair with India. As Duncan explains it the very premise his book was all about began playing itself out but in terms of photography. One circumstance led to another and photography became a way of life.

Shortly after landing in Fort Kochi, he realized that Kerala culture did not provide the vivid imagery often associated with India at large. The men were not wearing turbans and there was no brilliant pageantry in the day-to-day existence of life in Cochin.

One day an idea occurred to him: to photography local people doused in Holi colour powder. Locals quickly pointed out that Holi colour festivals were part of northern Indian culture and not germane to Kerala. As a foreigner he took license to combine the one with the other and came up with a series of portraits he’s entitled “Cochin Colours”.

He approached the Kashi Art Café in Fort Kochi and the art curator found his work appealing. A month long exhibit of “Cochin Colours” ensured for the month of February, 2020.

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