I’ll Be Looking at the Moon, But I’ll Be Seeing You

 

Harikrishna Katragadda and Shweta Upadhyay use pictures, writings and textures to piece together an ode to their relationship.

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Better Photography.

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris was once declared “the greatest work of art produced in postwar Europe.” The 1963 drama features a scene with Brigitte Bardot as Camille, running a roster of each of her body parts for Paul Javal, played by Michel Piccoli.

Do you see my feet in the mirror? Think they’re pretty? Very.
You like my ankles? And my knees, too?
I really like your knees.
And my thighs?
Your thighs, too.

When every part of her body is listed, she concludes, “Then you love me totally.” To which Piccoli replies, “I love you totally, tenderly, tragically.”

In 2012, after our marriage, my wife Shweta and I, were watching a lot of films together, in an attempt to create new habits together, while getting adjusted to each other’s old rhythms and rituals. One of the movies that we were both moved by was Le Mepris. The scene that I just mentioned is the opening scene of the movie, but was added as an afterthought. The producers wanted at least one nude shot of Brigitte Bardot in the film. The exchange between the couple is ironical—in the scene Bardot equates love with love of the body parts. If Piccoli loves all her body parts then he loves her completely! This opening made me wonder about the nature of love and desire—what do we love when we say that we are in love?

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

During that time, I was also photographing Shweta in different domestic situations and moods. We had  moved to Bombay from Delhi because Delhi, to us, seemed to have been exhausted of all potentialities and future events. We believed nothing new could happen to us in Delhi anymore. In Bombay, we were besieged by rain. For months, the rain lashing at our house, seemed to make us feel like an anchorless ship.

This also gave me enough time to think about what I wanted to do with the photographs I shot of Shweta. I did not want it to be a mere personal account, but a more universal project on the expressions and registers of love. I wanted to address the issues of intimacy, liminality, alienation in a new city, and the ghosts of past lovers.

Taking a cue from Le Mepris, I began with the love of her body parts. And then extended it. For me, desire is not just about body parts, but the entire world, reflected and refracted through those body parts. It is about ways of seeing one’s lover, the longing and heartache of looking for the elusive other in the world around. I decided to make a photobook in which the portraits of Shweta appear in dialogue with other images, across the spreads that reveal the body of a lover, and relate it to the organic world, wherein identity, memory and desire draw on a universe of meaning making.

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

The aim is to suggest that desire cannot remain hidden inside the body. That desire creates an abyss, and simultaneously leaps unencumbered, like an apparition springing a fountain of images. The shadow of an absent lover can be hairy and fanged like a dog, while the screech of malignant birds at dusk and whorls of dark clouds portend doom. The cat, an animal that stands behind people on raised parapets, is like the lover who always follows us with eyes glowing with its tapetum lucidum.

Desire supports the exercise of image-making because the other is always elusive. We know them only as fragments and we understand them only through metaphors. To sum this idea, I decided to name it after the Billie Holiday song, I’ll be Seeing You. Interestingly, the song appears in Michael Ondaatje’s book The English Patient, another inspiration for our book, about an impossible love, and stresses that human beings are palimpsests, composed of several lovers and landscapes.

– Harikrishna Katragadda

I was involved with the book, alongside Hari, right from the editing stage. I wanted to make sure that this was not a simplistic representation of a lover’s body and psyche. I was also particular that the photographs should not just focus on the beauty of the female form, but should depict what is inside the body. It should bring out the messiness of coupling, the love and the squalor, and the specters that populate and animate a relationship.

We tried doing that through the edit, through the intermixing of real and subconscious images. There are several photographs in which my body seems uncomfortable and contorted. These bring out the feelings of alienation and invisibility that I felt, after moving to Bombay. The sleeping gure also suggests that the narrative is being dreamt in the person’s head. This was in uenced by the Urdu writer Naiyer Masud’s fragmentary, non- linear stories in which characters go off to sleep often and wake up to a different time period. The reader has to guess between the real and the dream worlds.

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Photograph/Harikrishna Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Yet, I felt that the book was too clean and did not reveal my internal state and anxieties during the phase in which these photos were taken. That is when I decided to make direct interventions on the surface of the images. The pictures become the background, almost the surface of a diary, on which feelings and thoughts are foregrounded and articulated. I also use paint, text as a means of erasure, while stitching is used to repair torn photographs. The materiality of the pictures had to be disrupted and layered to reveal a complex body. One of the books that have inspired me is Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient in which a character wants his body represented as a complex cartography, marked by old lovers, nature, landscapes, inner demons and joys. He says, “We are communal histories, communal books.” The moon has several faces, lights, and so is the feeling of love. The moon is also a metaphor for a lover and belongs to everyone. We wanted this book to be like the “communal book of moonlight”.

– Shweta Upadhyay

Harikrishna Katragadda is a Mumbai-based photographer whose work explores communities, environments, and personal memories. Using a long-term documentary approach, Katragadda works with alternative photographic methods to incorporate found materials in images. Shweta Upadhyay is a writer and an artist who uses text, erasure, and defacement on photographs. She uses fragments from her diary, poetry, and cinema in her appropriation art practice.

The article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: better photography, Visual Musings, Perspectives, January 2019, Harikrishna Katragadda, Shweta Upadhyay