Two books about Kolkata

2224 Kolkata by Pierre Defaix.


Rarely a photography book has been such a discovery. Kolkata, previously named Calcutta is a place deeply charged with imagination. I never set foot in India, and even, strangely enough, I have never been tempted by that country, perhaps still too much associated in my mind to a whole generation of hippies in search of spirituality.

On the other hand, my senses kick into gear instantly with the mere mention of India. The films of Satyajit Ray first, with his trilogy of Calcutta. The beautiful documentary film by Louis Malle then, realized in 1969. The sound of India, first brought to the West by Ravi Shankar then, reinterpreted by the second generation of immigrants in England as Nitin Sawhney. Odors, finally, that blend subtly spices that perfume the dishes including the spicy Vindaloo.

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Kolkata by Pierre manages to summon all these imaginary within the pages of his book. Photographs full page matched facing one another. Saturated colors, abstract forms that become an object magnified by the grace of light. And then, water, meat, flowers, textiles, hands, feet and, recurring in the work, blood. Sometimes, we think we can take a break but the gilding of a page returns us to the image seen before. The only real break is actually a cry of rage: a quote from Pier Paolo Pasolini discovering this town and already hard-pressed by the beast lurking in him!

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The frames are tight, images are closed, details succeed the details, and we lose ourselves in a sense of déjà vu, a kind of “I’ve already been there,” but no, it is only the city that continues, that constrains us in itself, that saturates us with feelings. We never really “see” the city, which is, here, presented in a fragmentary way, no spatial recognition, no large views, but a perpetual strong and effective evocation. The noise swells, smells invade us, the sounds become deafening, the city explodes in front of our eyes … We try to breathe, to take a break. The book even manages to make us feel the exhaustion of a walking day through the streets. The work of Pierre reaches a huge level of immersion that confines to a form of empathy. We are not only spectators crossing scenes but we become actors. We make our way, we stop on a detail, our mind wanders, looking for eyes which we fail to cross, a look that coyly escapes ours, all in an endogenous chaos that seems to be rebuilt every day from its own traces.

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And finally, we have this question that remains: what does the number 2224 mean. We will perhaps need to go there to find the answer and experience full-scale sensations already perceived all along the pages. It is not so common that a photography work can get as much in tune with the different senses that hearing, touch and smell.

2224 Kolkata, hardcover book published in 2015 by Peperoni Books. 19 x 28,5 cm, 148 pages with 122 color photographs.


Kolkata by Tiane Doan Na Champassak


Finally, it would be unfair not to mention that other great book published last year about the same city of Kolkata by photographer Tiane Doan Na Champassak and published by Editions Bessard. We find the same energy, but the evocation is not the same. The comparison is interesting, it reveals the singularity of the photographic gaze. The city is not experienced in the same manner, it is therefore not represented in the same manner. It includes the sounds of chaos, but Tiane’s Kolkata is traversed by ghosts. Inaccurate pictures of characters that appear, and we do not know if they are real or merely a memory. The photographs make us switch to the violence in the city which is no longer soothed, but becomes the negative of the previous work. We came across drugs, poverty, prostitution, a trance seizes us. We are behind the scenes, with the people that moves the night. The light has changed, and so are the gestures ; the city is shared : the uses are not the same, and we came across the remains of the day …

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Kolkata, hardcover book published by Editions Bessard in 2014. 22x30cm, 152 pages, 121 color and black and white photos. 500 copies numbered and signed.

More info on those books:



One Comment on “Two books about Kolkata”

  1. Great post – nice to be able to compare two books documenting the same subject matter and see how different photographers respond to it.

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