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Home ENTERTAINMENT Art In these Raja Ravi Varma portraits Army wives are the muses

In these Raja Ravi Varma portraits Army wives are the muses

When you look at Garima Dixit’s work, you discover her innate ability to turn photographs into mini-dramas.

Whimsical, aesthetic and powered by the play of light, Garima’s latest project of recreating renowned colonial artist Raja Ravi Varma’s works blurs the line between portraiture and painting, with a little help from the Army fraternity she belongs to.

Garima, 38, recently relocated to Pune from Udhampur, a cantonment town in Jammu and Kashmir. In the years she followed the drum, moving across the country with her Army officer-husband, Garima discovered the world through the lens of her Canon DSLR after she became a mother.

Photographer Garima Dixit  

“I had post-partum blues and entire months of my daughter growing up went by in a haze. That was when I picked up the camera to document her growth. Her first birthday cake smash image was shared on a mother’s group and I began to get offers to photograph children. Photography saved me,” says Garima over phone.

Garima laughs when she says that living in a town that not many people can point on a map did not deter work offers from pouring in. “People travelled from Jammu to get their children photographed. By the time I left Udhampur I had taken pictures of nearly every child in the cantonment. I was learning so much and initially I did it for free,” says the self-taught photographer, who used to be a software engineer.

Winner of 35Awards

“My daughter is my inspiration. In the three years I worked with my Canon 6D Mark II, I read up all I could find on portrait photography and even set up a home studio.” In 2018, Garima’s portraits won international recognition with AFNS (for new-born and maternity photography) and 35Awards.

After her ‘My Dad Your Freedom’ series portraying the human side of fathers in uniform and their daughters went viral, Garima wandered into the ethereal genius of Raja Ravi Varma while on a visit to the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery at the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore.

From the My Dad Your Freedom series

From the My Dad Your Freedom series  
| Photo Credit:
Garima Dixit

Ravi Varma’s distinct aura of an India gone by, whether mythological, patrician or plebeian, are captured in illuminating detail. Dramatic and with a play of shade and light, his secular and sacred oleographs hit India like a thunderbolt at the turn of the 19th Century when they were mass produced and broke the barriers of caste and class when they were featured in calendars.

“When I visited the gallery I was drawn to both Ravi Varma and SL Haldankar’s famous Glow of Hope and to how women are represented in our culture. The images stayed with me and one evening when I was at a park in Udhampur observing Army and BRO {Border Roads Organisation} wives and daughters I thought why not shoot a series with them as Ravi Varma’s muses,” says Garima.

She adds, “I had no trouble sourcing the saris and the jewellery as defence wives tend to have every type thanks to their travels across the country.”

A recreation of SL Haldankar’s Glow of Hope

A recreation of SL Haldankar’s Glow of Hope  
| Photo Credit:
Garima Dixit

Garima decided to recreate eight paintings and says that setting up the shoot took about an hour although the project stretched to a month before the lockdown. “Most of the saris had to be draped in the nauvari fashion. For some shots I used strobe lights. I then choreographed the subject in the same manner as the original.”

Recreation of Raja Ravi Varma’s Radha waiting for Krishna

Recreation of Raja Ravi Varma’s Radha waiting for Krishna  
| Photo Credit:
Garima Dixit

The photographs are painterly. The light captures the traditional stamp of Ravi Varma and Haldankar amalgamating European technique with Indian sensibility. Some sitters stare into the camera shyly, others look away into the distance, with longing. The luminosity of every pearl in the necklace, the deep ruby of the nagpada chain and the graceful fall off the sari lend old-world charm.

While many have recreated these paintings as photographs, where Garima’s non-commercial work scores is that she has understood light well and not used professional models.

While her camera and her studio travels with her, putting down roots wherever the Army sends her, Garima says that photographing “people will always be my focus”.

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